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A Career as an Excavator Operator

Excavator operators control heavy equipment that moves dirt, sand and other materials on construction sites. In Northern Michigan, excavator operators can work for a landscaping company to move and place boulders and trees, or on a residential construction site digging foundations or putting in retaining walls. Job duties can include performing routine maintenance on an excavator and helping to arrange major repairs. Since heavy machinery will move earth, rubble and debris around a construction site, communication between site supervisors and other construction workers help ensure everyone’s safety.


What does an excavator operator do?

Excavator operators control heavy equipment which moves dirt, sand and other materials on construction sites. There are many different jobs available in the excavating field from entry-level laborers to heavy equipment operators and CDL-licensed drivers for dump trucks.


On a residential construction site in Northern Michigan excavator operations are found digging foundations, installing septic and water lines, building (or rebuilding existing) driveways, or putting in retaining walls. On larger commercial or public jobs, they also perform site balancing, underground utility installation and create engineered fills or cuts for building projects. Job duties can include performing routine maintenance on equipment and coordinating major repairs. 

How to Become an Excavator Operator or Driver

To pursue a career as a heavy equipment operator or driver the candidate needs a high school diploma, a willingness to learn and a good attitude. Qualifications can be learned on the job. A commercial driver’s license (CDL) is needed for anyone who wants to drive a heavy equipment vehicle. 

SAMPLE:  Excavator Operator Job Description  

The job description below is typical of one used by a company in Northern Michigan. Remember, every employer is different and each will have unique qualifications when they hire an Excavator Operator.

Typical Job Description -- Excavator Operator

A construction company is looking for Heavy Equipment Operators to move dirt and other materials on a job site. The ideal candidate will have past experience or completed a relevant apprenticeship, but most companies will consider all individuals who possess the appropriate skill set. Applicants must be able to coordinate and collaborate with other workers and supervisors at the job site, so clear communication skills are crucial. Candidates will develop skills such as how to operate most pieces of heavy equipment including loaders, bulldozers or backhoes. Trucking experience including driving, loading and unloading is a plus.

Most companies will offer on-the-job training for those coming in as inexperienced laborers. Getting your CDL license (Commercial Driver's License) is helpful before applying for a job with an excavation company. 

Duties and Responsibilities
  • Moving earth on the site to parameters laid out in the site plans

  • Reading blueprints

  • Coordinating with your supervisor and other workers to determine the best dig site practices for the work site (communication and planning skills)

  • Conducting routine daily maintenance on your equipment

  • Following tight safety procedures to keep everyone on the worksite safe

Requirements and Qualifications

  • High school diploma or GED certificate

  • Vehicle and heavy equipment maintenance experience is helpful

  • Communication skills

  • Physical stamina

On-the-job experience is critical to becoming an excavator operator. For an entry-level worker, it can take a year or more before the employee is permitted to run the equipment.

Most companies offer a benefits package to employees that may include health insurance, retirement plans, paid holidays, vacation, uniform services, and other benefits.

There are excavating companies in Northern Michigan who are willing to talk to you about what they do. Please email us for information. 

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