Material Moving Machine Operators

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Material Moving Machine Operators Do[About this section] [To Top]

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 of Material Moving Machine Operators

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.

Work Environment for Material Moving Machine Operators[About this section] [To Top]

Material moving machine operators hold about 682,000 jobs. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up material moving machine operators is distributed as follows:

Industrial truck and tractor operators 549,900
Excavating and loading machine and dragline operators 50,600
Crane and tower operators 46,000
Conveyor operators and tenders 28,100
Hoist and winch operators 2,900
Loading machine operators, underground mining 2,600
Dredge operators 1,800

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

Warehousing and storage 19%
Wholesale trade 15
Temporary help services 9
Construction 7
Food manufacturing 6

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

Injuries and Illnesses for Material Moving Machine Operators

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

Crane and tower operators, industrial truck and tractor operators, and excavating and loading machine and dragline operators all have higher rates of injuries and illnesses than the national average.

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

Material Moving Machine Operator 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.

How to Become a Material Moving Machine Operator[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Material Moving Machine Operators near you!

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 for Material Moving Machine Operators

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.

Material Moving Machine Operator 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 for Material Moving Machine Operators

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 for Material Moving Machine Operators

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.

Important Qualities for Material Moving Machine Operators

Alertness. Material moving machine operators must be aware of their surroundings while operating machinery.

Communication skills. Material moving machine operators signal and direct workers to load and unload material. They also receive direction from workers on the ground when moving material.

Coordination. Material moving machine operators should have steady hands and feet to guide and control heavy machinery precisely. They use hand controls to maneuver their machines through tight spaces, around large objects, and on uneven surfaces.

Mechanical skills. Material moving machine operators make minor adjustments to their machines and perform basic maintenance on them.

Visual ability. Material moving machine 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.

Material Moving Machine Operator Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for material moving machine operators is $33,890. 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 $22,980, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $53,430.

Median annual wages for material moving machine operators are as follows:

Loading machine operators, underground mining $53,420
Crane and tower operators 52,170
Hoist and winch operators 42,530
Dredge operators 42,420
Excavating and loading machine and dragline operators 41,030
Industrial truck and tractor operators 32,460
Conveyor operators and tenders 31,410

The median annual wages for material moving machine operators in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Construction $46,820
Food manufacturing 33,500
Wholesale trade 32,770
Warehousing and storage 32,350
Temporary help services 28,780

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 for Material Moving Machine Operators[About this section] [To Top]

Overall employment of material moving machine operators is projected to grow 6 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Employment of industrial truck and tractor operators is projected to grow 7 percent over the next ten years, 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 excavating and loading machine and dragline operators is projected to grow 8 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Many of these operators work in the construction industry, where projected growth will drive job growth in this occupation.

Employment of crane and tower operators is projected to grow 9 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations. As global shipping increases, more of these operators will be needed at ports to load and unload large cargo ships. However, increasing automation at ports may moderate growth. Employment of crane and tower operators also will be driven by growth in the construction industry, which employs about 2 in 5 of these workers. Employment of crane and tower operators is projected to grow 14 percent in construction.

Employment of conveyor operators and tenders is projected to show little or no change over the next ten years. 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 hoist and winch operators is projected to show little or no change over the next ten years. Like crane and tower operators, they will be needed at ports to help load and unload cargo, but employment growth for this occupation may be limited by port automation.

Employment of underground mining loading machine operators is projected to decline 4 percent over the next ten years, largely because of an expected employment decline in coal mining, an industry in which many of these workers are employed.

Employment of dredge operators is projected to grow 5 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations. In order to improve traffic on waterways and promote their recreational use, dredging of various water areas, including canals, lakes, rivers, and harbors, will be necessary. Demand for dredging of various water areas will drive employment growth of these workers.

Job Prospects for Material Moving Machine Operators

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

Employment projections data for Material Moving Machine Operators, 2016-26
Occupational Title Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26
Percent Numeric
Material moving machine operators 682,000 725,700 6 43,700
  Conveyor operators and tenders 28,100 27,700 -1 -300
  Crane and tower operators 46,000 49,900 9 3,900
  Dredge operators 1,800 1,900 5 100
  Excavating and loading machine and dragline operators 50,600 54,700 8 4,100
  Loading machine operators, underground mining 2,600 2,500 -4 -100
  Hoist and winch operators 2,900 2,900 -1 0
  Industrial truck and tractor operators 549,900 585,900 7 36,100


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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