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Career profile Excavator Operator

Also known as Backhoe Operator, Dragline Oiler, Dragline Operator, Equipment Operator, Excavator Operator, Heavy Equipment Operator, Loader Operator, Pit Operator, Track Hoe Operator

Excavator Operator

Also known as Backhoe Operator, Dragline Oiler, Dragline Operator

Interests Profile
  • Realistic
  • Enterprising
  • Investigative
Pay Range
$31,660 - $70,840 (annual)
Required Skills
  • Operation and Control
  • Operations Monitoring
  • Monitoring
Knowledge Areas
  • Mechanical
  • Building and Construction
  • Public Safety and Security
Core tasks
  • Set up or inspect equipment prior to operation.
  • Move levers, depress foot pedals, and turn dials to operate power machinery, such as power shovels, stripping shovels, scraper loaders, or backhoes.
  • Become familiar with digging plans, machine capabilities and limitations, and with efficient and safe digging procedures in a given application.
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What does an Excavator Operator do?

Excavator Operators operate or tend machinery at surface mining site, equipped with scoops, shovels, or buckets to excavate and load loose materials.

What kind of tasks does an Excavator Operator perform regularly?

Excavator Operators are often responsible for overseeing or executing some or all of the following tasks:

  • Set up or inspect equipment prior to operation.
  • Move levers, depress foot pedals, and turn dials to operate power machinery, such as power shovels, stripping shovels, scraper loaders, or backhoes.
  • Become familiar with digging plans, machine capabilities and limitations, and with efficient and safe digging procedures in a given application.
  • Observe hand signals, grade stakes, or other markings when operating machines.
  • Operate machinery to perform activities such as backfilling excavations, vibrating or breaking rock or concrete, or making winter roads.
  • Receive written or oral instructions regarding material movement or excavation.
  • Move materials over short distances, such as around a construction site, factory, or warehouse.
  • Create or maintain inclines or ramps.
  • Lubricate, adjust, or repair machinery and replace parts, such as gears, bearings, or bucket teeth.
  • Handle slides, mud, or pit cleanings or maintenance.

The above responsibilities are specific to Excavator Operators. More generally, Excavator Operators are involved in several broader types of activities:

Operating Vehicles, Mechanized Devices, or Equipment
Running, maneuvering, navigating, or driving vehicles or mechanized equipment, such as forklifts, passenger vehicles, aircraft, or watercraft.
Inspecting Equipment, Structures, or Materials
Inspecting equipment, structures, or materials to identify the cause of errors or other problems or defects.
Controlling Machines and Processes
Using either control mechanisms or direct physical activity to operate machines or processes (not including computers or vehicles).
Handling and Moving Objects
Using hands and arms in handling, installing, positioning, and moving materials, and manipulating things.
Getting Information
Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.

What is an Excavator Operator salary?

The median salary for an Excavator Operator is $45,150, and the average salary is $48,500. Both the median and average roughly describe the middle of the Excavator Operator salary range, but the average is more easily affected by extremely high or low salaries.

Many Excavator Operators earn significantly more or less than the average, due to several factors. About 10% of Excavator Operators earn less than $31,660 per year, 25% earn less than $36,630, 75% earn less than $56,820, and 90% earn less than $70,840.

Between the years of 2020 and 2030, the number of Excavator Operators is expected to change by 4.4%, and there should be roughly 5,100 open positions for Excavator Operators every year.

Median annual salary
Typical salary range
$31,660 - $70,840
Projected growth (2020 - 2030)

What personality traits are common among Excavator Operators?


Career interests describe a person's preferences for different types of working environments and activities. When a person's interest match the demands of an occupation, people are usually more engaged and satisfied in that role.

Compared to most occupations, those who work as an Excavator Operator are usually higher in their Realistic interests.

Excavator Operators typically have very strong Realistic interests. Realistic occupations frequently involve work activities that include practical, hands-on problems and solutions. They often deal with plants, animals, and real-world materials like wood, tools, and machinery. Many of the occupations require working outside, and do not involve a lot of paperwork or working closely with others.


People differ in their values, or what is most important to them for building job satisfaction and fulfillment.

Compared to most people, those working as an Excavator Operator tend to value Support, Independence, and Relationships.

Most importantly, Excavator Operators moderately value Support. Occupations that satisfy this work value offer supportive management that stands behind employees.

Second, Excavator Operators moderately value Independence. Occupations that satisfy this work value allow employees to work on their own and make decisions.

Lastly, Excavator Operators moderately value Relationships. Occupations that satisfy this work value allow employees to provide service to others and work with co-workers in a friendly non-competitive environment.

Psychological Demands

Each occupation brings its own set of psychological demands, which describe the characteristics necessary to perform the job well.

In order to perform their job successfully, people who work as Excavator Operators must consistently demonstrate qualities such as dependability, attention to detail, and stress tolerance.

Below, you'll find a list of qualities typically required of Excavator Operators, ranked by importance:

Job requires being reliable, responsible, and dependable, and fulfilling obligations.
Attention to Detail
Job requires being careful about detail and thorough in completing work tasks.
Stress Tolerance
Job requires accepting criticism and dealing calmly and effectively with high-stress situations.
Job requires being pleasant with others on the job and displaying a good-natured, cooperative attitude.
Job requires being open to change (positive or negative) and to considerable variety in the workplace.

What education and training do Excavator Operators need?

Working as an Excavator Operator usually requires a high school diploma.

Excavator Operators need anywhere from a few months to one year of working with experienced employees. A recognized apprenticeship program may be associated with this occupation.

Educational degrees among Excavator Operators

  • 19.8% did not complete high school or secondary school
  • 49.4% completed high school or secondary school
  • 19.0% completed some college coursework
  • 5.9% earned a Associate's degree
  • 5.2% earned a Bachelor's degree
  • 0.6% earned a Master's degree
  • 0.1% earned a doctorate or professional degree

Knowledge and expertise required by Excavator Operators

Excavator Operators may benefit from understanding of specialized subject areas, such as mechanical, building and construction, or public safety and security knowledge.

The list below shows several areas in which most Excavator Operators might want to build proficiency, ranked by importance.

Knowledge of machines and tools, including their designs, uses, repair, and maintenance.
Building and Construction
Knowledge of materials, methods, and the tools involved in the construction or repair of houses, buildings, or other structures such as highways and roads.
Public Safety and Security
Knowledge of relevant equipment, policies, procedures, and strategies to promote effective local, state, or national security operations for the protection of people, data, property, and institutions.
Knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, statistics, and their applications.
Administration and Management
Knowledge of business and management principles involved in strategic planning, resource allocation, human resources modeling, leadership technique, production methods, and coordination of people and resources.

Important Abilities needed by Excavator Operators

Excavator Operators must develop a particular set of abilities to perform their job well. Abilities are individual capacities that influence a person's information processing, sensory perception, motor coordination, and physical strength or endurance. Individuals may naturally have certain abilities without explicit training, but most abilities can be sharpened somewhat through practice.

For example, Excavator Operators need abilities such as control precision, multilimb coordination, and depth perception in order to perform their job at a high level. The list below shows several important abilities for Excavator Operators, ranked by their relative importance.

Control Precision
The ability to quickly and repeatedly adjust the controls of a machine or a vehicle to exact positions.
Multilimb Coordination
The ability to coordinate two or more limbs (for example, two arms, two legs, or one leg and one arm) while sitting, standing, or lying down. It does not involve performing the activities while the whole body is in motion.
Depth Perception
The ability to judge which of several objects is closer or farther away from you, or to judge the distance between you and an object.
Manual Dexterity
The ability to quickly move your hand, your hand together with your arm, or your two hands to grasp, manipulate, or assemble objects.
Reaction Time
The ability to quickly respond (with the hand, finger, or foot) to a signal (sound, light, picture) when it appears.

Critical Skills needed by Excavator Operators

Skills are developed capacities that enable people to function effectively in real-world settings. Unlike abilities, skills are typically easier to build through practice and experience. Skills influence effectiveness in areas such as learning, working with others, design, troubleshooting, and more.

Excavator Operators frequently use skills like operation and control, operations monitoring, and monitoring to perform their job effectively. The list below shows several critical skills for Excavator Operators, ranked by their relative importance.

Operation and Control
Controlling operations of equipment or systems.
Operations Monitoring
Watching gauges, dials, or other indicators to make sure a machine is working properly.
Monitoring/Assessing performance of yourself, other individuals, or organizations to make improvements or take corrective action.
Reading Comprehension
Understanding written sentences and paragraphs in work-related documents.
Active Listening
Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.

What is the source of this information?

The information provided on this page is adapted from data and descriptions published by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration under the CC BY 4.0 license. TraitLab has modified some information for ease of use and reading, and the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment, and Training Administration has not approved, endorsed, or tested these modifications.

If you have any questions or suggestions about this information, please send a message.