Operating Engineers


Education and Training Requirements

High School

A high school education or its equivalent is valuable for the operating engineer and is a requirement for apprenticeship training. Mathematics, physics, and shop classes can provide useful preparation for operating construction equipment.

Postsecondary Training

There are two ways to become an operating engineer: through a union apprentice program or on-the-job training. The apprenticeship, which lasts three years, has at least two advantages: the instruction is more complete, which results in greater employment opportunities, and both labor and management know that the apprentice is training to be a machine operator. Applicants to an apprenticeship program generally must be between the ages of 18 and 30.

Besides learning on the job, the apprentice also receives some classroom instruction in grade-plans reading, elements of electricity, physics, welding, and lubrication services. Despite the advantages of apprenticeships, most apprenticeship programs are difficult to enter because the number of apprentices is limited to the number of skilled workers already in the field.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

To move construction equipment to various job sites, construction equipment operators and operating engineers often are required to have a commercial driver's license. States issue commercial driver's licenses based on rules and regulations. Certification from a training school can enhance an operating engineer's employment opportunities by proving to the employer that the applicant is skilled in handling various types of construction equipment.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Aspiring operating engineers obtain experience by completing an apprenticeship or on-the-job training. 

Mechanical aptitude and eye, hand, and foot coordination are essential in skills for operating engineers. Due to the high risk of accidents when an operating engineer is inattentive, competent operating engineers must be serious and responsible on the job, making sure that everyone follows safe operating procedures and setting a good example for other workers on the site. Other personality traits found in an exemplary operating engineer include a cooperative attitude toward others and initiative and independence in taking on responsibilities.                                                                       

Qualified operating engineers should be healthy and strong in order to be able to work in sometimes noisy and dirty conditions and in all kinds of climates and weather.