Becoming a Heavy Equipment Mechanic: Salary & Job Description

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Heavy equipment mechanics earn a mean annual salary of around $48,720. Is it worth the education and training? Read real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to decide if becoming a heavy equipment mechanic is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Heavy Equipment Mechanic

Heavy equipment mechanics, also known as heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians and mechanics, work in various industries, from construction to railroad transportation, repairing and maintaining all aspects of heavy equipment. If you're uncertain if this career is right for you, reading the pros and cons of this career might help you decide.

PROS of Being a Heavy Equipment Mechanic
Specializations available*
Advancement opportunities*
Conventional work hours*
Satisfaction of fixing things*
Seldom work in inclement weather*
Average growth expected in job opportunities (9% increase from 2012-2022), about as fast as that for all occupations*

CONS of Being a Heavy Equipment Mechanic
Heavy lifting required*
Must handle dirty, greasy parts*
Bruises and minor cuts common*
May have only seasonal work (farm equipment mechanics)*
Noisy work environment*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information for Heavy Equipment Mechanics

Job Description and Duties

Heavy equipment mechanics are often the 'behind-the-scenes' masterminds responsible for heavy machinery and equipment operating smoothly and efficiently. Whether dealing with construction, industrial, agricultural or rail equipment, heavy equipment mechanics or technicians diagnose, repair and maintain them all so the equipment can get the job done correctly and safely. With the use of diagnostic computers, stationery tools and hand-held tools, they're able to diagnose and troubleshoot equipment and make the appropriate adjustments and repairs. The mechanics might only need to hear the operators describe the problem to know how to fix it, based on their knowledge and training, though they might also have to dismantle specific parts to examine them for damage.

Some of the duties of heavy equipment mechanics can include cleaning, lubricating and replacing parts; re-calibrating systems; looking for ruptured hoses, fluid leaks or worn gaskets; welding broken parts; repairing brakes; and fixing electrical systems. At times, the mechanic might have to travel long distances to repair a large piece of equipment that can't easily be moved.

Job Growth and Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), heavy vehicle and mobile equipment technicians and mechanics were expected to see an employment growth of 9% between 2012 and 2022, which is about average for all occupations; however, the construction industry's increase in the use of heavy equipment is expected to keep these workers in demand, and individuals with formal training should see excellent employment options. As of May 2014, workers in this profession earned a mean annual wage of around $48,720.

Education and Training Requirements

Although heavy equipment mechanic programs don't usually have prerequisites, you might need to meet some requirements for admission. Most programs require that applicants have valid driver's licenses, pass drug screenings and have physical examinations. In addition to having high school diplomas, applicants might be required to take tests to determine their academic skills.

Education Requirements

The goal of most heavy equipment mechanic training programs is to prepare students for careers diagnosing, repairing and maintaining heavy equipment and to prepare them to take and pass certification exams. With the use of Web-based service software, you'll learn to create service reports, order parts and create estimates. In addition to coursework, you'll receive a lot of practical experience working on heavy equipment and learning about hydraulic system testing, transmission and diesel engine rebuilding, electronic engine operation and fleet maintenance performance.

Course topics might include diesel heating and air conditioning, preventative maintenance, diesel power and drive trains, vocational science, diesel brakes and engines, CDL license training, vocational math and diagnostic strategies. Equipment dealers often sponsor paid internships so students can obtain experience in their area of interest. Upon completion of training programs, students typically have a Class 'A' commercial driver's license. Some programs also include Department of Transportation certifications such as 396.19 Vehicle Inspector, 396.25 Brake Inspector and State AG 136 Mobile Air Conditioning certification.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers often look for heavy equipment mechanics with experience with specific job duties and types of equipment. Here are some examples of job postings open in March 2012.

  • A railroad contractor in Texas advertised for a heavy equipment mechanic with at least five years experience working on forklifts, cranes or heavy construction equipment. Candidate must have experience troubleshooting and repairing electrical and hydraulic systems. In addition to having a valid driver's license, the applicant must pass a criminal background check and have a good work history. This full-time position offers excellent benefits and a competitive wage.
  • A rental company in California advertised for a heavy equipment mechanic to perform preventative maintenance and make repairs on all equipment offered by the company (hydraulic equipment, small tools, mechanical and electrical). The candidate will also diagnose complex equipment issues, keeping all safety rules in mind. Requirements include high school diploma or equivalent, formal training, at least three years experience working on heavy equipment and a valid driver's license with clean driving record.
  • A Texas construction company is seeking an experienced heavy equipment or construction mechanic willing to travel. Candidate must have the ability to diagnose and repair mechanical problems, read and understand service manuals, operate maintenance trucks and weld when necessary. A valid CDL license is also required.

How Can I Stand Out?

Formal Training

If you're interested in a career as a heavy equipment mechanic, completing a formal training program is the first step towards reaching that goal. Since it's often difficult for employers to find candidates who have completed postsecondary training, the best opportunities should come to those who have completed formal training programs. However, there are other things you can do to make your resume stand out and improve your employment opportunities.

Obtain Certification

Although having training can help your career options, obtaining certification can help make you more competitive in the job market. The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) offers several certifications. Training programs often prepare students to take the certification exams. ASE offers individual certification exams in categories such as diesel engines, drive train, suspension and steering, preventative maintenance, brakes, CDL license training, electronic/electrical systems and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Passing all these exams earns candidates the ASE-Certified Master Medium-Heavy Truck Technician credential. Recertification exams must be taken every five years to maintain certification.

Get Specialized

In additional to completing a formal training program and obtaining certifications, you might want to choose specialized areas of study. Specialized training can be offered in topics such as engine rebuilding, electronics, hydraulic system operation, mobile air conditioning, welding/cutting, transmissions and brake systems.

Alternative Career Paths

If you enjoy a career where you can be around motorized equipment but aren't sure if servicing heavy equipment is right for you, there are other career options to consider.

Auto Service Technician and Mechanic

Auto service technicians and mechanics must typically complete vocational or technical training. Being an auto service technician can offer you the opportunity to work on a variety of different models of cars and small trucks. This career also gives you the choice of specializing in certain types of repairs or on certain models. Although they are predicted to see only average employment growth, the BLS also stated that, with formal training, this profession should see excellent job opportunities. As of May 2011, auto service technicians earned a mean annual wage of over $38,000.

Heating, Air-conditioning and Refrigeration Mechanics

If you enjoy fixing things but aren't sure if working on large equipment is right for you, a career as a heating, air-conditioning and refrigeration technician or installer might be a better fit. Also known as HVAC technicians, these professionals install, maintain and repair HVAC systems in residential, commercial and industrial buildings. Although you might be required to take exams to obtain licensure and certifications, this career offers good job options. According to the BLS, HVAC technicians were projected to see a growth in employment opportunities of 34% between 2010 and 2020, a much faster-than-average growth. Workers in this profession earned a mean annual wage of over $45,000.

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