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How to Become a Material Moving Machine Operator

There are generally no formal education requirements. Some employers require previous work experience. 


Although it is usually not required, some companies prefer material movers with a high school degree.


Most material moving machine operators are trained on the job in less than a month. Some machines are more complex than others, so the amount of time spent in training will vary with the type of machine the operator is using. Training time also can vary by industry. Most workers are trained by a supervisor or another experienced employee, who decides when the workers are ready to work on their own.

The International Union of Operating Engineers offers apprenticeship programs for heavy equipment operators, such as excavating machine operators or crane operators. Apprenticeships combine paid on-the-job training with technical instruction.

During their training, machine operators learn a number of safety rules, many of which are standardized through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Employers must certify that each operator has received the proper training. Operators who work with hazardous materials receive further specialized training.


Several states and many cities require crane operators to be licensed. To get a license, operators typically must complete a skills test in which they show that they can control a crane. They also usually must pass a written exam that tests their knowledge of safety rules and procedures.

Work Experience

Forklift operators usually have a few years of experience in a related occupation, such as hand mover or conveyor operator. For more information see the profile on hand laborers and material movers.

Crane operators and excavating machine operators usually have several years of experience in related occupations. They may start as construction laborers and work as construction equipment operators or hoist and winch operators. For more information, see the profiles on construction laborers and helpers and construction equipment operators.


Some material moving machine operators become construction equipment operators. Others find work as a production or mining worker. In warehousing or retail environments, experienced workers can move to other parts of the company, such as the sales department.

Important Qualities

Alertness. Machine operators must stay aware of their surroundings while operating machinery.

Manual dexterity. Operators sometimes have to maneuver their machines through tight spaces, around large objects, and on uneven surfaces.

Mechanical ability. Operators make minor adjustments to their machines when necessary.

Visual ability. When operating their machines, operators must be able to see clearly where they are driving or what they are moving. They also must watch for nearby workers, who may unknowingly get in their path.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition