Operating engineers operate the heavy machinery used in construction, such as bulldozers, backhoes, graders, front-end loaders and tractors. This job usually requires only a high school diploma, with operating engineers trained informally on the job or during a formal apprenticeship. Depending on the state, operating engineers may need to obtain a license. Those who transport machinery between work sites may need to obtain a commercial driver's license, as well.
National Average Pay
As of 2011, operating engineers earned an average wage of $21.98 per hour. During the same year, operating engineers reported an average annual income of $45,720. Half of all operating engineers reported an actual annual income ranging from $32,550 to $56,040, with 25 percent of incomes falling below this range and 25 percent falling above. The highest-paid 10 percent of operating engineers reported earnings of $72,350 or more per year.
Regional Pay Information
The lowest average pay for operating engineers was concentrated in the southeastern states as of 2011, with Arkansas reporting the lowest average salary in the nation, $32,030 per year. Hawaii reported the highest average salary for operating engineers, $69,090 per year. California ranked highest among the continental states, with an average annual pay of $64,660. New York and New Jersey also reported high average salaries of $64,470 and $64,180 per year, respectively.
Pay by Employer
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more operating engineers were employed by specialty trade contractors than in any other sector as of 2011, earning an average of $45,420 per year. Those employed in highway and bridge construction earned even more, with an average income of $51,110 per year. Operating engineers employed by the government tended to earn less than those in the private sector, with local government engineers reporting a salary of $40,620 per year and state workers reporting an even lower average of $35,380.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 349,100 operating engineers were employed in the United States as of 2010. The bureau projects a job growth rate of 23 percent between 2010 and 2020, leading to an increase of about 81,900 jobs by the end of that decade. In addition, many positions are expected to become available as current operating engineers retire. The BLS expects those who are trained to operate several types of machinery to have the best chances of finding jobs.