Material moving machine operators use equipment to transport objects. For example, some operators move goods around factories and storage areas or onto container ships. Others move construction materials around building sites.


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 and unload materials
  • Keep a record of the material they move and where they move it to
  • Make minor repairs to their equipment

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

In construction, material moving machine operators transport objects around building sites. 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. (For information about workers who operate heavy machinery for building, road, and other construction sites, see the profile on construction equipment operators.)

All material moving machine operators are responsible for safely controlling 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 monitor sensors to regulate the speed with which the system’s conveyor belt moves. They move materials to and from places such as storage areas, vehicles, and building sites. Operators also may check the shipping order and determine the route that materials take along a conveyor.

Crane and tower operators use cable and tower equipment to lift and move materials, machinery, or other heavy objects. From a control station, operators 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 transmit voice signals through a radio. Crane and tower operators usually work at construction sites or major ports, where they load and unload cargo. Operators also may 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 to maintain navigable waterways, allowing larger ships to use ports. Dredging also is used to help restore wetlands and maintain beaches.

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. Operators regulate the speed of the equipment on the based on the needs of the workers.

Industrial truck and tractor operators drive trucks and tractors that move materials around storage yards, warehouses, or other 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.

Work Environment

Material moving machine operators held about 852,200 jobs in 2021. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up material moving machine operators was distributed as follows:

Industrial truck and tractor operators                 767,400
Crane and tower operators 45,100
Conveyor operators and tenders 34,600
Hoist and winch operators 3,200
Dredge operators 2,000

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

Warehousing and storage 37%
Wholesale trade 10
Temporary help services                8
Food manufacturing 5
Construction 3

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

Injuries and Illnesses

Hoist and winch operators have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations.

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

Work Schedules

Most material moving machine operators work full time, and some work more than 40 hours per week. Because materials are shipped around the clock, some work overnight shifts.

Education and Training

Education and training requirements vary by occupation. Crane operators typically have several years of experience in a related occupation.


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


Material moving machine operators typically are trained on the job in less than a month, but the amount of time spent in training varies with the type of machine. Some machines, such as cranes and towers, are complex and may require several months of training. Others, such as industrial trucks and forklifts, may take only a few days to learn how to operate. New workers usually are trained by an experienced employee.

During their training, material moving machine operators learn safety rules, many of which are standardized through the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). Employers must certify that each operator has received the proper training. Operators who work with hazardous materials receive additional training.

The International Union of Operating Engineers offers training programs for heavy-equipment operators, such as crane operators.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Some states and cities require crane operators to be licensed. 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. Check with your state or city licensing agency for specific requirements.

Employers may require or prefer that workers become certified. For example, the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) offers several certifications for crane operators and related workers.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Crane and tower operators typically 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.


The median annual wage for material moving machine operators was $38,380 in May 2021. 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 $29,810, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $58,220.

Median annual wages for material moving machine operators in May 2021 were as follows:

Crane and tower operators $62,240
Hoist and winch operators 52,300
Dredge operators 46,210
Industrial truck and tractor operators               38,380
Conveyor operators and tenders 36,420

In May 2021, the median annual wages for material moving machine operators in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Construction $62,600
Warehousing and storage              38,810
Food manufacturing 38,080
Wholesale trade 38,010
Temporary help services 31,250

Most material moving machine operators work full time, and some work more than 40 hours per week. Because materials are shipped around the clock, some work overnight shifts.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of material moving machine operators is projected to grow 7 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 105,700 openings for material moving machine operators are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire. 


Projected employment of material moving machine operators varies by occupation (see table).

Material moving machine operators will be needed to move materials or products to and from various locations, such as warehouses, stockpiles, or processing stations. The continued growth in e-commerce will contribute to the amount of materials and products needing to be moved. However, the expansion of automated machinery may limit employment growth of material moving machine operators as technologies, such as sensors and scanners, improve operations and increase efficiencies.

For More Information

For more information about careers as a material moving machine operator, visit

International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE)


National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO)

Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC)




Where does this information come from?

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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