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Pile-Driver Operator Job Description, Career as a Pile-Driver Operator, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Apprenticeship or on-the-job training

Salary: Median—$21.29 per hour

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Pile-driver operators control large machines that hammer piles into the ground. Piles are long, heavy pieces of steel or wood that support building foundations, bridges, and piers. The pile drivers can be mounted on skids, cranes, or barges. Some operators work in the oil industry on offshore rigs. Operators are sometimes called operating engineers.

Operators sit in the cabs of the machines. They control the machinery with pedals and levers. They must be able to judge spaces correctly and handle many controls at the same time.

Education and Training Requirements

Operators of some heavy construction equipment are trained on the job. They start work on smaller machines and, after proving their skills, graduate to larger equipment. However, many employers prefer to hire pile-driver operators who have successfully completed an apprenticeship program. The apprenticeship combines at least three years of on-the-job training with at least 144 hours of classroom instruction each year. It usually covers the operation and repair of several kinds of construction equipment. Much of the training emphasizes industry standards for safety.

The apprenticeship programs are administered through a joint effort of the Associated General Contractors of America and the International Union of Operating Engineers. Applicants for apprenticeship programs must have a high school diploma or its equivalent and be at least eighteen years old. They must also be in top physical condition and have good hand-eye coordination. The ability to work as part of a team is very important.

Some vocational, technical, and trade schools offer courses in operating construction equipment. However, the programs do not have uniform standards. Job seekers should consult contractors or trade unions to make sure such a program will provide good credentials for employment.

High school classes in automobile mechanics, electronics, science, and mechanical drawing are good preparation for work with any kind of construction machinery.

Getting the Job

Working as a helper for an equipment repair worker is a good way to move into the trade. Applicants who already know how to use farm equipment might get a job operating simple construction machinery. Again, however, the best way to become a pile-driver operator is through an apprenticeship program. Local contractors and unions have information about such programs and about job openings. State employment offices, newspaper classified ad sections, and job banks on the Internet are other sources of job information.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Pile-driver operators are at the top of their craft. Some may move into supervisory positions. The equipment is expensive, but some operators may buy the machinery and start their own contracting businesses.

Fewer than five thousand pile-driver operators work in the United States. The employment outlook for the trade is good. The number of employees is expected to increase as fast as the average for all jobs through 2014. Increased spending to build and replace highways and bridges, for example, will require the work of pile-driver operators. The work can be seasonal and depends on the health of the economy as a whole.

Working Conditions

Pile-driver operators work in all kinds of weather, although some work time may be lost because of wet or freezing conditions. Physical stamina is an important asset because the jolting and vibrating of the machines can be tiring. The work site is usually noisy, dirty, dusty, and greasy. Pile-driver operators are usually employed at early stages of a construction project. They move frequently from job site to job site, which may disrupt family life. Operators generally work forty hours per week. Hours may be irregular because some construction projects operate around the clock and on weekends. Overtime work usually generates overtime pay. Many equipment operators belong to labor unions.

Earnings and Benefits

The median wage of pile-driver operators in 2004 was $21.29 an hour. The lowest ten percent earned less than $11.78 an hour. The highest ten percent earned more than $34.04 an hour. Earnings varied according to location and the worker's experience.

Apprentices start at fifty to seventy percent of the qualified craft worker's hourly wage. Their pay increases as they progress through training.

Where to Go for More Information

International Union of Operating Engineers
1125 Seventeenth St. NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 429-9100

Associated General Contractors of America
2300 Wilson Blvd., Ste. 400
Arlington, VA 22201
(703) 548-3118

U.S. Department of Labor
Office of Apprenticeship Training, Employer and Labor Services
200 Constitution Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20210
(202) 693-3813

National Association of Women in Construction
327 S. Adams St.
Fort Worth, TX 76104-1002
(800) 552-3506

Union workers generally get paid holidays, life insurance, and hospitalization and pension plans. The number of vacation days they receive depends on the number of days they work each year.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesConstruction & Skilled Trades