How do you get a job operating heavy equipment?

It’s a childhood fantasy of a lot of kids to operate a wrecking ball or a bulldozer or steamroller. But in reality how does one get that kind of job. Is there a “wrecking ball school”? An apprenticeship? Need to know someone in the business? Just show up to the office and apply? Take an “entry level” job pushing a wheelbarrow and digging ditches and work your way up?

You go to Heavy Equipment Operator training then get certified. I suppose it’s possible to work your way up from laborer, but you’re still going to need to get certified before you can do actual work on a site.


You’d better “know” someone in order to get accepted into the training program.

This is very much UNION territory.

You could join the Army:

My brother got drafted… our country had draft back then, he ended up in Artillery, getting his driving license upgraded for both “dangerous materials” and “heavy equipment” (no shit on both counts, those are some damn big guns) and then training other soldiers on “how to drive a truck loaded with ammo, explosives and/or soldiers without anything going boom”. Since the same licenses were needed to drive basic construction equipment, his later employees were happy to take advantage of it and train him further.

The armed forces can be an alternative path into a very large amount of careers, but they do tend to take their contract length seriously.

ETA: ninja’d!

Or the Navy Seabees as an Equipment Operator (EO). You’ll get more clutch time on more pieces of equipment than you ever dreamed of: Dozers from small TD-20 up to at least D-9, loaders, scrapers, backhoes, graders, cranes, cherry pickers, asphalt plants, dump trucks, concrete mixers, 5-ton trucks, 10-ton trucks, semis, highboys, lowboys, fork lifts both large and small, perhaps snow plows and blowers, ditchers, etc. Hell, I was an electrician and operated a lot of those.

A number of community colleges offer programs in this area.

During my misspent youth, I worked on this vessel for awhile (the big one in the background, not the little ship in the foreground). A large part of that time was spent as a crane operator. Mine was the one on the far left, not the huge one.

I started as a rigger working the deck. I was really curious about the cranes, and I spent any downtime up in the cab quizzing the operators about how they worked. Eventually one of them let me move the crane around and try lifting a few things. After 3 or 4 months, a crane operator was fired and the foreman gave me a “battlefield promotion.” He told me to climb up and show what I could do (he’d seen me hanging around them while on deck). I did OK, and after a few weeks was doing the same as the other operators, lifting loads from ships and moving things around on deck. After a few months, I was even working with the deep divers in the bell (the cranes had insane amounts of cable and we worked with divers on the ocean floor, moving pipes/risers/etc. around for them).

I guess this is just anecdotal, but I never had any certification or formal training.

Need answer fast?

Off subject a bit…

You can always rent it. I’ve rented a number of backhoes and trackhoes. And even a CAT D-4 dozer to work on my property. Sign here. No license required.

In my experience, backhoes are a pain in the ass, but certainly have their place. They do many jobs. A good backhoe operator is really amazing.

Trackhoes are fun. There is no real forward or reverse front/back since the whole thing rotates 360. It’s interesting.

When you need a bulldozer, you need a bulldozer. But don’t get it stuck. It will really, really ruin your day.

If you just want to fulfill that fantasy, there are places that rent out time on earth movers after a brief classroom session.

A couple of examples are:
Dig This in Las Vegas
Extreme Sandbox in Minnesota
People at Play in Florida

There are others - search for something like “heavy equipment playground”

Maybe this varies from place to place, but at least around here most of the construction jobs that employ equipment operators aren’t union jobs. The training programs are just through the community college, so no palm greasing required beyond tuition.

Go down to the local of The Internaional Union of Operating Engineers and apply for the apprenticeship program.