The ability to control and guide a massive piece of machinery is not second nature for most people. It is a skill that needs to be trained and learned. Some people can do incredible things with heavy equipment – just take a look at the equipment rodeo and machinery tricks video out there. Bulldozers, excavators, graders, loaders, and other heavy, driver-operated machines fall under the heavy equipment title. Unfortunately, those videos above are becoming shorter and shorter, as there are fewer and fewer skilled heavy equipment operators left.
A Shortage of Operators
As construction output continues to rise in our recovery from the recession of the past decade, it is outpacing the introduction of skilled workers, including heavy equipment operators. Don Whyte, the president of the National Center for Construction Education and Research in Florida notes that there is a nine percent deficiency in heavy equipment operators, sometimes also called operating engineers. This means that for every ten jobs that are filled, there is one position that is not.
The uptick in growth also comes as the baby boomer generation is beginning to age out of the workforce. This is the generation that helped to build the tunnels, dams, roadways, pipelines, bridges and more that are used to day. It’s also the generation that makes up the majority of current heavy equipment operators, meaning there will be a vacuum as they leave.
For many companies, they are faced with two choices, both of which are grim. One option is to have equipment sit idle, as a handful of operators run from one piece of equipment to another trying to get work done. This is a waste of manpower, and can drive schedules long. The other option? Put an unqualified operator in the seat. Given the potential hazards of using an unqualified or unsafe operators, most supervisors will opt for the first option and not put the safety of their workers in danger.
The Need for Skill Training
Getting the proper training is important for heavy equipment operators. In many cases, the companies that are hiring heavy equipment operators are prepared to provide on-the-job training. However, they are also increasingly looking for potential operators who come with training and education, particularly as it relates to the safety and dangers that are inherent in using such a massive piece of equipment.
Basic formal training is often available at local trade schools, or even from local trade unions. More recently, specialized heavy machinery operator programs have become increasingly common at construction schools, while certification programs have become stronger. There are even schools around the country that are aimed specifically at heavy machinery operation, teaching the skills to operate and maintain these beasts. One such school, the National Heavy Equipment Operators School, even offers distance education that can make it more convenient – and cheaper – for an operator to receive the proper training.
Even the companies themselves are finding that investing in skill training for heavy equipment operators is worthwhile. While it does cost money, and it can mean losing able-bodied workers for days as they undergo their classroom training, the end result is a safer, more efficient operator. Accepting the short-term headaches to ensure long-term professionalism is an excellent investment for many companies.
A Chance at a New Career
Becoming a heavy equipment operator isn’t something that needs to be accomplished right out of high school. The good news is, it is a career that you can get into later in life – an excellent option for folks in the construction and excavation fields looking to get off their feet but who want to stay in the field. It can be a great second chapter for workers, and it can allow them to extend their career beyond where they thought they would have to retire. It doesn’t have the physical labor you’ll deal with in labor roles.
Becoming a heavy equipment operator also allows for flexibility in your career. Sometimes, the amount of work on hand is hard to control. By learning the skills to operate heavy machinery, a worker has an extra arrow in his quiver if they need to start looking for a new place of employment. The skills you learn also translate from one type of heavy equipment to others, so making the transition from one area to another – say, from construction excavation to heavy equipment operation in quarrying or mining – will be easier. You’ll already have a lot of skills that are sought, and will be seen as being easier and faster to train.
Regardless of what stage of your career you are at, becoming a heavy equipment operator is an excellent choice for the future. It’s a well-paying job, doing something that many of us dreamed of doing when we were in the sandbox playing with Tonka trucks. Here at SEH Excavating, we know the value of heavy equipment operators, and how they can make the jobs easier. We invest in the right training and education to ensure all our operators know the proper safety and technical skills to operate our machines. Maybe in the future, you too could be part of the SEH team operating our earthmovers! Apply to become a Heavy Equipment Operator today!