Becoming a Dredge Operator: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a dredge operator career? Get real job duties, career outlook and salary info to see if becoming a dredge operator is right for you.
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A Dredge Operator Career: Pros and Cons

If you like to work outside and perform manual labor, then a career as a dredge operator may be right for you. Consult the pros and cons tables below to learn more about this career.

Pros of Becoming a Dredge Operator
No special education is required*
No licensing or certification is required*
High-growth job projection (13% growth from 2012-2022)*
May advance through experience to crew supervisor*

Cons of Becoming a Dredge Operator
Work can be repetitive in nature*
Physically demanding job*
May be a seasonal position depending on location*
Low median wages ($40,950 median annual wage as of May 2014)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

When operating a dredge, you'll be responsible for clearing waterways, creating channels, reclaiming wetland and managing other water-related areas. As a dredge operator, you may also operate related equipment, such as dump trucks or hydraulic suction machines. Your job may also involve repairing and performing routine maintenance on your equipment.

In this career, you may only work during the warmer months of the year or during periods when the weather is not severe. You may still be exposed to harsh weather conditions, in addition to loud noises and hazardous materials. You may be required to climb, bend, lift or dig. The use of safety equipment is mandatory to prevent injuries and you must follow all safety procedures and regulations. It's not uncommon for work shifts to last over eight hours and include overtime and weekend work.

Job Growth and Salary Info

Dredge operators were expected to see a 13% increase in job growth for the 2012-2022 period, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics or BLS (www.bls.gov). Economic conditions may play a role in job growth for this field, which could lead to variations in the projections.

The BLS reported in May 2014 the median annual income for dredge operators was $40,950. The 10th-90th percentile range earned $25,540-$72,330. The industry with the highest level of employment was nonmetallic mineral mining and quarrying with an annual mean wage of $38,500. The top paying industry, with a mean annual wage of $56,090, was heavy and civil engineering construction.

What Are the Requirements?

Formal education or training is not usually required to become a dredge operator. The skills you need to operate a dredge and properly perform your job are learned on the job. You'll usually begin by working alongside an experienced dredge operator or a supervisor to learn how to operate the equipment and the other job duties. Typically, the only requirements you need to secure a job are to be 18 years old and in a physical condition to carry out your job duties. Employers may also require a high school diploma or the equivalent. You may need a valid driver's license and some employers may conduct drug screenings.

Your physical capabilities and skills are going to be the most important to a potential employer. Some qualities an employer may look for include:

  • An ability to judge distance
  • Excellent coordination
  • Basic reading and math skills
  • Safety conscious attitude
  • Physical stamina
  • Manual dexterity

Job Postings from Real Employers

March 2012 job ads showed that real employers were looking for trustworthy, physically fit individuals to hire for dredge operator positions. Typically, requirements were straightforward and employers' ads stated upfront that experience could bring a higher pay wage. Job ads also stated:

  • A coal preparation and material handling company in West Virginia was seeking someone with prior dredge experience, preferably some diesel experience, and offered an allowance for boots and work clothes.
  • A sand and gravel company out of Nebraska wanted an operator who could pass a background check and drug screening to join its company.
  • A transport and storage company in Florida was looking for someone with two years of experience in operating a dredge.

How Can I Stand Out?

Experience is the main criteria that can make you stand out as a dredge operator. You may consider gaining experience as a laborer before trying to obtain a job as a dredge operator. As a laborer, you may operate other machines, learn the basics of working on a construction site and be able to provide proof that you are physically capable of handling the job of a dredge operator.

Other Careers to Consider

Construction Equipment Operators

As a construction equipment operator, you have a variety of different options, such as operating a pile driver or paving machine. The overall projected job growth for this field was 19% from 2012-2022. The type of equipment you operate may affect your possible earnings. For example, according to the BLS in May 2013, paving, surfacing and tamping equipment operators earned a mean annual wage of $41,730, but pile driver operators earned $56,220.

Construction Laborers

While construction laborers only earned a lower mean annual wage than dredge operators ($35,020 in May 2013, according to the BLS), the job growth for laborers was much better. The BLS projected from 2012-2022 the job growth for this field would be 24%.

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