How Do I Become an Equipment Operator?

Amanda R. Bell

There are several different ways to become an equipment operator. In many areas, you can join an apprenticeship program and receive paid, on-the-job training in operating heavy equipment. There are also several accredited schools that provide training and certification on various pieces of equipment. Depending on your area, you may be able to become an equipment operator by obtaining employment with a construction company as a general laborer and working your way up. It is also often helpful to obtain a commercial driving license (CDL) before applying for training or jobs. While a college degree can be helpful, it is not necessarily required; in some cases, joining the military can help you gain experience in operating heavy equipment.

A heavy equipment operator may be certified to operate excavators.
A heavy equipment operator may be certified to operate excavators.

Going through an apprenticeship program is often the easiest way to become an equipment operator. These programs provide on-the-job training and classes on several different types of equipment. They typically last for one to three years. In an apprenticeship program, you can obtain quality training, and certification when necessary, all while bringing in a paycheck and developing job experience. In general, all that is required to join these programs is a high school diploma or associate's degree as well as a clean driving record.

For faster training, you may want to look into specialized schools to become an equipment operator. These schools often provided training and certification on everything from a forklift to a crane. While they can be expensive, many schools offer financial aid and job placement once you’ve completed the courses; in some cases, the school may have specific relationships with local construction companies looking to hire new operators. Before attending any heavy equipment operator school, however, make sure that it is accredited by the local heavy equipment operator association and that it has a good reputation among construction companies.

In some cases, companies may be willing to hire you as a general laborer and train you on the equipment. If you are looking to become an equipment operator this way, it can be helpful to have some experience driving large trucks or tractors. Experience with a forklift, which can be obtained through factory or warehouse jobs, may also be helpful.

Before you decide which path to take to become an equipment operator, it can be extremely beneficial to obtain your CDL license or the equivalent. The requirements for this license vary by location; in most cases, you will have to pass both a written test and a driving test. A CDL is often required for many heavy equipment jobs, because this license will allow you to move equipment from a construction company facility to the job site; it also proves to employers that you are capable of operating a large vehicle.

Depending on your area, you may be able to become an equipment operator with only a high school diploma, although obtaining at least an associate’s degree in a related field is often helpful. Another career path is the armed forces; many countries need heavy equipment operators in the military. In this case, you can receive training to become an equipment operator as well as job experience while serving your country and potentially be eligible for veteran's benefits once you complete your service.

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