Mobile Crane Operator Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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An average salary for mobile crane operators is about $51,620. Is it worth the training and physical risks to work as one? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a mobile crane operator is right for you.
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Pros and Cons to Being a Mobile Crane Operator

Despite an increase in the automation of materials moving equipment, employment opportunities are expected to be favorable. Take a look at some of the pros and cons to being a mobile crane operator to decide if this career is right for you.

PROS to Being a Mobile Crane Operator
Employment is expected to rise (projected growth of 17% between 2012 and 2022)*
Mobile crane operators have contract, part-time and full-time job options*
Favorable job prospects due to the need to replace workers*
Most mobile crane operators have union options*

CONS to Being a Mobile Crane Operator
Injuries due to misuse of the machinery or the height at which mobile crane operators work*
Overtime is common due to sensitive deadlines*
Overnight shifts can be required*
Dangerous weather risks from working outside*

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

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

A mobile crane operator moves heavy objects from one place to another using specialized machinery, such as fixed or swing telescope booms, lattice booms or large or small hydraulic cranes. Typical employers are construction and shipping companies, companies that handle cargo, railway companies, metal wholesalers, electric power companies and steel producers. The crane operator is also responsible for the maintenance and safety of the machinery, including checking the condition of the ground before setting up the crane, being aware of how much material can safely be hoisted in each load and maintaining cranes by inspecting them for defects or wear, lubricating ropes and winches and replacing worn cables.

Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that crane and tower operators made around $53,550 on average annually in May 2014 (www.bls.gov). The average hourly wage for crane and tower operators was about $25.75. The BLS also found that crane and tower operators in the top ten percent earned around $81,450 and higher, yearly. Hawaii, California, Washington, Montana, and New York were the states that paid crane and tower operators the most at the time the above statistics were taken.

What Are the Requirements?

Training and Education

A high school degree is preferred, but not necessary, to become a mobile crane operator. You'll normally receive job training after being hired, which can take less than a month in most cases. However, an apprenticeship is generally the preferred method of training by most employers. If you're looking for a training program, the International Union of Operating Engineers has options all across the U.S. and Canada (www.iuoe.org). You can check with the organization to find out if there is a heavy equipment operator training program offered near you. This is an apprenticeship opportunity that takes place in the classroom and on real job sites.

State Licensing

The six cities that require crane operators to possess a license are Chicago, New York City, Omaha, Washington D.C., Philadelphia and New Orleans. There are also 18 states that require licensure for crane operators. The requirements for these licensures vary in each area, so you'll need to check the proper administrations to see how to qualify. Normally, a skills and a written examination have to be completed. The majority of the places that require licensure recognize certifications from the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (www.nccco.org).

Skills

Mobile crane operation requires coordination since arms and legs are sometimes needed to operate the machine's controls. It also means you must have good depth perception and reaction time. Since many crane operators are responsible for keeping their equipment functioning in order to meet scheduled deadlines, you must also be able to troubleshoot mechanical problems and make exercise good judgment while working onsite.

What Are Employers Looking for?

Many employers want mobile crane operators who have a few years of experience in similar occupations. If you've worked as a construction equipment operator or as a construction laborer, then you'll be better prepared to be a mobile crane operator. Employers want mobile crane operators who can remain alert to their surroundings due to safety concerns. Take a look at some job posting from April 2012 to learn what employers were looking for in applicants for mobile crane operator positions.

  • An Arizona operation is requesting a crane operator willing to work first shifts. Most work will be done from a barge. Candidates must pass drug screening.
  • A business in Illinois requires a crane operator with professional certification for short-term employment (3-4 months).
  • In Tennessee, a construction company needs a crane operator who can travel to worksites. Professional certification and at least three years of experience are required. Overtime pay is available.
  • A Nevada staffing company is looking for a crane operator with experience in operating a telescopic crane. Professional certifications are required, and candidates must pass a background check and drug screening.

How Do You Stand Out?

Taking the time to earn professional certification is one of the best things you can do to stand out as a mobile crane operator. By having that additional credential, you're demonstrating a commitment to your profession and proof of your skills. These certificates are typically offered by the same organizations that assist with state licensing, like the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators.

If you've worked on your communication and business skills, you can provide additional skills to your employers. By possessing leadership capabilities, you might be able to be a manager or supervisor. Prior to working with mobile cranes, it is beneficial for you to work in other areas of construction and materials moving to build up your familiarity with the field.

Other Career Choices

If you're uncomfortable working with large machinery, but you're still interested in moving large materials, you can become a hand laborer. In this role, you would move objects from and to storage areas like containers, trucks, docks and ships. Some hand laborers help unpack the materials after the items have been moved. Hand laborers earned an average income of about $26,000 annually, according to the BLS in May 2011, and job opportunities are expected to increase at an average rate from 2010-2020.

If you like moving materials long distances in large transport vehicles rather than cranes that only work onsite, you might be interested in becoming a heavy truck driver. After picking up a shipment, you'll deliver it to a specific designated location. Some truck drivers deliver across the country while others work only in a certain area. In May 2011, the BLS found that heavy truck drivers made about $40,000 on average yearly, and job opportunities should rise 21% over the next decade.

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