7 Important Skills For A Heavy Equipment Operator To Have

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 20 March 2023

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Heavy equipment operators work with machines like graders, backhoes, front-end loaders, tractors, trash trucks and dump trucks. Despite tough working conditions, many individuals pursue this job as it is challenging, requires a niche set of skills and typically pays a good salary. If you want to become a heavy equipment operator, you can prepare by equipping yourself with essential skills that improve your employability. In this article, we examine the important skills for a heavy equipment operator.

What Are The Important Skills For A Heavy Equipment Operator?

Skills for a heavy equipment operator aid them in performing their routine duties and addressing responsibilities without disruption. These professionals may operate heavy equipment for construction projects like roads, tunnels, bridges, flyovers, highways, mines, quarries, metro terminals and residential, commercial and industrial buildings. Heavy equipment operators are essential for work that involves digging, levelling of surfaces or handling of voluminous material. They can work as contractual employees or with construction or mining companies as full-time employees. They can also work with companies that own equipment and lease or rent it to clients. Their primary duties include:

  • Manoeuvring and operating heavy equipment

  • Maintaining heavy equipment

  • Performing excavation and loading dump trucks with gravel and earth

  • Removing debris

  • Tracking and monitoring vehicular movement at the site using GPS

  • Loading and unloading materials

  • Loading and unloading construction waste

  • Working in coordination with other engineering teams

  • filling timesheets and maintaining work logs

A machine operator typically works outdoors under extreme weather conditions and fluctuating temperatures. Their nature of work exposes them to pollution, dust, dirt and smoke. Companies put them through strict training processes where operators learn about safety guidelines and protocols. Following these protocols reduces the risk of damage to themselves, the equipment they operate and life and property in their vicinity. Acquiring these heavy equipment operation skills improves their efficiency and productivity and helps in minimising wastage and losses. If you want to work as a heavy equipment operator, consider developing these skills:

1. Equipment operation skills

Employers may prefer operators who are familiar with operating more than one type of heavy equipment and who have the necessary certifications and licences. To acquire these skills, choose a training programme that teaches you how to operate multiple types of heavy equipment and what their associated safety guidelines are. There are roughly ten categories of heavy equipment and many sub-classifications under each. If you can master the skill of handling heavy equipment from at least six to seven categories, it adds value to your resume and increases employability. The ten categories of heavy equipment that are in use in industries like farming, construction, mining, transportation and ground care are:

  • Backhoes: Backhoes contain a front-loading bucket and a back boom and can perform multiple tasks like digging, compacting material, lifting heavy loads and levelling more than one piece of equipment. Since it is a versatile piece of equipment, learning to operate a backhoe can help you find employment opportunities in small and large projects.

  • Dozers: Dozers are useful for large construction and real estate development projects, farmland clearing, mining and quarrying works. They are ideal for pushing material from one place to another and can work continuously for extended durations of time.

  • Excavators: Excavators are useful for digging small home development sites or large tracts of land for mining projects. They come with standard boom arms and optional attachments like a ripper, auger and rock breaker, making it a versatile equipment.

  • Front-loaders: Front loaders are ideal for transporting material from one spot to another. They are ideal for mining, quarrying and construction, where there is a requirement to remove and transport soil and debris.

  • Graders: Graders are useful for a specific task, namely, levelling of ground. They are useful for road construction projects and for clearing land for large-scale housing and mining projects.

  • Mini excavators: Mini excavators are similar to excavators in their functions and operations. They are smaller and are ideal for smaller construction projects like residential complexes.

  • Rollers: Rollers help compact ground materials once a grader levels the ground or after laying asphalt. They are crucial for laying roads, driveways or yards.

  • Scrapers: Scrapers are large equipment that cut into the earth and remove a big layer of ground material. They are ideal for projects where you remove huge amounts of ground material quickly.

  • Skill steer loader and posi track loader: These are smaller units of heavy equipment useful in construction and farming projects to remove material from a site. They are compact and operators can mount them on wheels or tracks as per the requirement of the job.
    Dump trucks: Dump trucks are useful for any project with a scope for excavation and material removal. There are many dump trucks available for specific terrains and load sizes.

Related: What Does A Machine Operator Do? (Duties And Salary)

2. Driving

Driving is a fundamental skill for a heavy equipment operator. You can apply for a Light Motor Vehicle (LMV) licence for operating equipment that weighs less than 7.5 tonnes or a Heavy Motor Vehicle (HMV) licence to operate equipment over 7.5 tonnes. The pre-requisites and conditions for obtaining these licences may vary from state to state. Having an LMV or an HMV licence is mandatory for a heavy equipment operator.

Related: What Are Driving Skills For A Resume? (With Examples)

3. Hand and foot coordination

Steady hands and the ability to coordinate hand movements with those of the feet are crucial requirements to control heavy equipment precisely and accurately. Employers may ask you to test drive a piece of heavy equipment to assess your hand and foot coordination. Acquiring these skills helps you in controlling a machine adequately.

4. Ability to follow safety protocols

Employers may expect heavy equipment operators to be familiar with applicable safety guidelines and protocols. Being thorough in understanding and retaining guidelines and protocols can prevent accidents and reduce the risk of damage to life and property in challenging work conditions. A heavy equipment operator can ensure the safety of the equipment and other employees by following these basic steps:

  • Conducting walk around inspections before and after work

  • Ensuring that other professionals follow best practices for safety as per manuals

  • Storing heavy equipment in the right conditions to increase its life expectancy

  • Performing periodic preventive maintenance workflows

  • Being aware of load limits and other restrictions

Related: How To Become A Safety Officer In 5 Steps (With FAQs)

5. Ability to set up safe operating procedures

A safe operating procedure involves a set of step-by-step instructions that enable heavy equipment operators to perform their duties safely. These steps help them carry out routine and complex operations to achieve consistent performance and comply with industry regulations. Knowing these safe operational steps is an essential skill for a heavy equipment operator:

  • Using personal protective equipment like hardhat (protective helmets) and high visibility clothing

  • Inspecting dials, gauges and indicators before and after work

  • Following three-point contact for mounting and dismounting

  • Inspecting machine before and after use, and after repairs

  • Locking and tagging out equipment while not in use to prevent unforeseen movement

  • Maintain cleanliness of windshields, cabins, windows and mirrors

  • Removing debris from equipment

  • Parking equipment on level grounds for easy access

  • Maintaining speed limits and following safety guidelines while travelling on public roads

  • Defining danger zones around operating machines and personnel

  • Following strict lockout protocols to store equipment during service, repair and inspection

6. Equipment maintenance knowledge

The ability to be meticulous in equipment maintenance is a quality that employers look for in a heavy equipment operator. As a routine activity, operators perform basic cleaning of heavy equipment after use. They address both reactive and preventive maintenance workflows on a routine basis. Operators may check oil levels, change oil filters and clean and lubricate components periodically. By maintaining equipment well, operators can ensure that they start the work without causing delays. They also track service and maintenance schedules and monitor warranty plans.

Related: Technical Skills: Definitions And Examples

7. Troubleshooting skills

Troubleshooting is an essential skill for operators, as they may sometimes work in remote areas or difficult terrains without access to technicians. A fault in a single heavy equipment unit can disrupt work or cause other operators and those working at the construction or mining site come to a halt. Fluctuations in temperature, mechanical failures and overload on the electrical or hydraulic systems are common causes of heavy equipment failure. An experienced operator can identify and anticipate problems when driving or operating the equipment and take steps to address the issue as early as possible. Operators are typically capable of:

  • Recognising symptoms in advance

  • Narrowing down the root cause of a problem

  • Correcting the cause of the problem

  • Verifying the functionality of equipment before it goes for work

  • Following up on issues to prevent future breakdowns

  • Maintaining logs of each instance of breakdown and the corresponding correctional measures


  • What Does A Roustabout Do? A Comprehensive Guide To Duties

  • What Does A Rigger Do? (With Duties, Skills And Salary)

  • What Does A Mechanic Do? (With Skills And Qualifications)

  • How To Write An Objective For A Construction Worker Resume

  • Objective For A Machine Operator Resume (With 7 Examples)

  • Construction Skills: Definition, Examples And How To Improve

  • What Does a Firefighter Do? Definitive Guide and Career Tips

Explore more articles