Crane Operator: Education Requirements and Career Information

Oct 20, 2021

Although crane operators do not have any formal education requirements, they typically complete a training program or apprenticeship in order to develop the necessary skills and knowledge. State certification and/or licensure are often required.

Essential Information

Crane operators lift and transport heavy materials using mobile, tower or overhead cranes. Entering the occupation requires no formal education, and most operators learn their skills through an apprenticeship or on-the-job training. Some states require material movers to earn and maintain a specialized license.

Required Education Completion of an apprenticeship or on-the-job training
Other Requirements State certification required; some states utilize the exam proctored by the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029) 2% for crane and tower operators*
Median Salary (2020) $59,710 for crane and tower operators*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Crane Operator Education Requirements

There are no strict educational guidelines for crane operation. Most crane operators get their experience through on-the-job training or apprenticeships. The International Union of Operating Engineers, for example, offers federal- and state-registered apprenticeship programs through its local sectors. Such programs typically last 3-4 years and combine classroom education with paid training in the field. Apprenticeship candidates generally must be 18 years or older, have a school diploma or equivalent and be in fit physical condition.

Certification and Licensure

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a number of states and cities states require crane operators to be licensed. Procedures for obtaining a license vary according to state, but usually include taking a physical exam, passing a written test and demonstrating safe crane operation. Operators must update licensure every few years. Some states require candidates to complete a training program or earn certification from the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators, which involves passing written and practical exams.

Crane Operator Career Information

As of May 2020, crane and tower operators earned a median annual wage of $59,710, according to the BLS. Employment of crane and tower operators is expected to increase 2% from 2019-2029, which is slower than average. The BLS expected this growth to result from increases in global shipping, which will require more professionals to help with loading and unloading. Job prospects are also good due to the occupation's high turnover rate; opportunities will continue to become available as large numbers of crane operators retire or leave the profession.

Crane operators may work in manufacturing industries, as well as on construction sites or at shipping and receiving ports. The occupation is physically demanding and often involves working outside, lifting heavy objects and being exposed to construction and manufacturing elements such as fumes, chemicals and loud machinery. Crane operators typically work eight hours or longer per day, but their shifts tend to have unusual frequency; some operators may work only in suitable weather conditions or seasons, while others may work overnight to avoid disturbing the public.

Many crane operators learn their skill simply through on-the-job training, while others complete a 3-4 year apprenticeship. Some states require crane operators to be licensed or hold certification through the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators. Employment opportunities for crane and tower operators are expected to increase slower than the national average rate for all occupations from 2019 through 2029.

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