Material moving machine operators use machinery to transport various objects. Some operators move construction materials around building sites or excavate earth from a mine. Others move goods around a warehouse or onto container ships.

Duties

Material moving machine operators typically do the following:

  • Set up and inspect material moving equipment
  • Control equipment with levers, wheels, or foot pedals
  • Move material according to a plan or schedule
  • Signal and direct workers to load, unload, and position materials
  • Keep a record of the material they move and where they move it to
  • Make minor repairs to their equipment

In warehouses, most material moving machine operators use forklifts and conveyor belts. Wireless sensors and tags are increasingly being used to keep track of merchandise, allowing operators to locate them faster. Some operators also check goods for damage. These operators usually work closely with hand laborers and material movers.

Many operators work for underground and surface mining companies. They help to dig or expose the mine, remove the earth and rock, and extract coal, ore, and other mined materials.

In construction, material moving machine operators remove earth to clear space for buildings. Some work on a building site for the entire length of the construction project. For example, certain material moving machine operators help to construct highrise buildings by transporting materials to workers who are far above ground level.

All material moving machine operators are responsible for the safe operation of their equipment or vehicle.

The following are examples of types of material moving machine operators:

Conveyor operators and tenders control conveyor systems that move materials on an automatic belt. They move materials to and from places such as storage areas, vehicles, and building sites. They monitor sensors on the conveyor to regulate the speed with which the conveyor belt moves. Operators also may check the shipping order and determine the route that materials take along a conveyor.

Crane and tower operators use tower and cable equipment to lift and move materials, machinery, or other heavy objects. From a control station, operators can extend and retract horizontal booms, rotate the superstructure, and lower and raise hooks attached to cables at the end of their crane or tower. Operators usually are guided by workers on the ground who use hand signals or who transmit voice signals through a radio. Most crane and tower operators work at construction sites or major ports, where they load and unload cargo. Some operators work in iron and steel mills.

Dredge operators excavate waterways. They operate equipment on the water to remove sand, gravel, or rock from harbors or lakes. Removing these materials helps to prevent erosion and maintain navigable waterways, and allows larger ships to use ports. Dredging also is used to help restore wetlands and maintain beaches.

Excavating and loading machine and dragline operators use machines equipped with scoops or shovels. They dig sand, earth, or other materials and load them onto conveyors or into trucks for transport elsewhere. They may also move material within a confined area, such as a construction site. Operators typically receive instructions from workers on the ground through hand signals or through voice signals transmitted by radio. Most of these operators work in construction or mining industries.

Hoist and winch operators, also called derrick operators, control the movement of platforms, cables, and cages that transport workers or materials in industrial operations, such as constructing a highrise building. Many of these operators raise platforms far above the ground. Operators regulate the speed of the equipment on the basis of the needs of the workers. Many work in manufacturing, mining, and quarrying industries.

Industrial truck and tractor operators drive trucks and tractors that move materials around warehouses, storage yards, or worksites. These trucks, often called forklifts, have a lifting mechanism and forks, which make them useful for moving heavy and large objects. Some industrial truck and tractor operators drive tractors that pull trailers loaded with material around factories or storage areas.

Underground mining loading machine operators load coal, ore, and other rocks onto shuttles, mine cars, or conveyors for transport from a mine to the surface. They may use power shovels, hoisting engines equipped with scrapers or scoops, and automatic gathering arms that move materials onto a conveyor. Operators also drive their machines farther into the mine in order to gather more material.

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Work Environment

Material moving machine operators held about 741,500 jobs in 2018. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up material moving machine operators was distributed as follows:

Industrial truck and tractor operators 615,000
Excavating and loading machine and dragline operators                                      49,700
Crane and tower operators 46,800
Conveyor operators and tenders 22,900
Hoist and winch operators 3,200
Loading machine operators, underground mining 2,700
Dredge operators 1,300

The largest employers of material moving machine operators were as follows:

Warehousing and storage                                              25%
Wholesale trade 13
Temporary help services 8
Construction 7
Food manufacturing 6

Material moving machine operators work indoors and outdoors in a variety of industries.

Injuries and Illnesses

Some material moving machine operator jobs can be dangerous. For example, crane operators work outdoors at great heights in all types of weather.

Dredge operators and hoist and winch operators have some of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. And although fatalities are uncommon, hoist and winch operators experience one of the highest rates of occupational fatalities of all occupations.

Many workers wear personal protective equipment, including gloves, hardhats, harnesses, and respirators to guard against injury.

Work Schedules

Most material moving machine operators work full time, and overtime for them is common. Because materials are shipped around the clock, some operators—especially those in warehousing—work overnight shifts.

Education and Training

Education and training requirements vary by occupation. Crane operators and excavating machine operators usually have several years of experience in related occupations, such as construction equipment operators or hoist or winch operators.

Education

Although no formal educational credential is usually required, some companies prefer to hire material moving machine operators who have a high school diploma. For crane and tower operators, excavating machine operators, and dredge operators, however, a high school diploma or equivalent typically is required.

Training

Although most material moving machine operators are trained on the job in less than a month, the amount of time spent in training will vary with the type of machine. Some machines, such as cranes and towers, are more complex than others, such as industrial trucks and forklifts. Learning to operate a forklift or an industrial truck in warehouses, for example, may take only a few days; training to operate a crane for port operations may take several months. Most workers are trained by a supervisor or another experienced employee.

During their training, material moving machine operators learn a number of safety rules, many of which are standardized through the Occupational Safety & 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.

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.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

A number of states and several 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 must pass a written exam that tests their knowledge of safety rules and procedures. Some crane operators and industrial truck and tractor operators may obtain certification, which includes passing a written exam.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Crane operators and excavating machine operators usually have several years of experience working as construction equipment operators, hoist and winch operators, or riggers and signalers.

Personality and Interests

Material moving machine operators typically have an interest in the Building interest area, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building interest which might fit with a career as a material moving machine operator, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Material moving machine operators should also possess the following specific qualities:

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

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

Mechanical skills. 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 must also watch for nearby workers, who may unknowingly be in their path.

Pay

The median annual wage for material moving machine operators was $35,850 in May 2018. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $25,270, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $56,780.

Median annual wages for material moving machine operators in May 2018 were as follows:

Crane and tower operators $54,140
Loading machine operators, underground mining 51,160
Hoist and winch operators 45,490
Dredge operators 45,260
Excavating and loading machine and dragline operators                                       44,270
Industrial truck and tractor operators 34,750
Conveyor operators and tenders 32,980

In May 2018, the median annual wages for material moving machine operators in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Construction $48,970
Warehousing and storage                                                   35,250
Food manufacturing 35,250
Wholesale trade 34,380
Temporary help services 29,820

Most material moving machine operators work full time, and overtime for them is common. Because materials are shipped around the clock, some operators—especially those in warehousing—work overnight shifts.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of material moving machine operators is projected to grow 4 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Employment growth will vary by occupation.

Occupations tied to moving material in the construction industry, including crane and tower operators and excavating and loading machine and dragline operators, are projected to add jobs.

Employment of industrial truck and tractor operators is projected to grow 4 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Employment of this occupation is concentrated in warehouse environments. The demand for warehousing will continue to grow as more consumers choose to purchase products online. However, employment growth may be tempered for industrial truck and tractor operators as more warehouses begin using automated machinery to improve their operations. This equipment increases the efficiency of operators, allowing warehouses to employ fewer of them.

Employment of conveyor operators and tenders is projected to show little or no change from 2018 to 2028. Employment growth will be limited as more warehouses use equipment such as high-speed conveyors, high-speed sorting systems, and robotic pickers. This equipment increases the efficiency of operators and tenders, allowing warehouses to employ fewer of them.

Employment of dredge operators is projected to grow 6 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Dredging of various water areas, including canals, lakes, rivers, and harbors, will be necessary in order to improve traffic on waterways and to promote their recreational use.

Job Prospects

Job prospects are expected to be favorable. Many job openings should be created by the need to replace workers who leave these occupations.

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FAQ

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The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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