Heavy Equipment Operator

All in the Blue Collar Family: Heavy Equipment Operator

At some point, you have likely seen a child be amazed by a bulldozer knocking over a structure, a crane lifting massive pieces of building materials, or an excavator digging up scoops of dirt. But those vehicles don’t work independently – they need skilled people behind the wheel. Often the first to arrive and the last to leave for the day at a job site, heavy equipment operators are crucial to the construction world, commanding the large machines that shape the landscapes of our cities and towns.


Heavy equipment operators are vital components in just about any major construction project. They are responsible for running large machines that push, pull, pump, or lift material that is too much for human hands. With a rich history dating back to the early days of mechanized construction, these skilled professionals play a pivotal role in shaping the world around us.

History of Heavy Equipment

The roots of heavy equipment operation can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution when new machinery revolutionized agricultural, construction, and even military operations. In the late nineteenth century, Benjamin Holt invented the first combine harvester and steam engine tractor, and John Froelich soon followed with a gas-powered tractor. These machines set the stage for additional variations of ground-breaking heavy equipment innovations in the following decades, such as the excavator and bulldozer.

In the 1950s, a significant increase in demand for new suburban neighborhoods and interstate highways made heavy equipment invaluable in the booming construction industry. As the technology continued to evolve, so did the role of operators, with the introduction of diesel-powered equipment, hydraulic systems, and more compact machines in the early twentieth century, marking significant milestones in the profession’s development. Heavy equipment operators are expected to continue being in high demand in the coming years, as the job outlook is projected to grow by 13.6% in Wisconsin between 2016-2026.

The Role of Heavy Equipment Operators

Heavy equipment operators are responsible for maneuvering and operating a wide range of machinery, such as bulldozers, excavators, cranes, backhoes, and loaders. Their work is indispensable in construction projects that require industrial aerial, earth-moving, paving, power generation, and hauling functions. Construction companies or private contractors may employ them for various projects, from new buildings and infrastructure to roads and landscaping.

What Heavy Equipment Operators Do

The tasks performed by heavy equipment operators are diverse and multifaceted, ranging from excavation and earthmoving to material handling and site preparation. Some typical jobs and responsibilities include:

  1. Excavation: Operators may help clear spaces in the ground by digging trenches, foundations, and drainage ditches using excavators or backhoes.
  1. Grading: Preparing sites for construction projects often involves leveling and smoothing terrain to create even foundational ground using excavators, backhoes, or skid steers.
  1. Material Handling: For large amounts that cannot be lifted by hand, operators may transport and distribute heavy materials such as soil, gravel, and concrete using loaders, dump trucks, or bulldozers.
  1. Lifting and Rigging: Cranes, forklifts, or excavators may be used to hoist and position heavy objects like construction materials, containers, and even other machines.
  1. Demolition: To begin clearing an area of unwanted structures, operators may break down heavy materials using excavators, backhoes, or bulldozers to make them easier to transport.

Becoming a Heavy Equipment Operator

Becoming a heavy equipment operator requires education, training, and practical experience. While specific requirements may vary depending on location and employer, the general steps typically include:

  1. Education: While the job doesn’t require much formal education, most employers look for at least a high school diploma or equivalent. Focusing on math, physics, and auto mechanics classes can help later on.
  1. Training: Depending on the type of equipment, aspiring operators may have a variety of training options, including on-the-job training with an experienced operator, vocational training programs, or apprenticeships. Any of these options will provide an opportunity to learn the fundamentals of heavy equipment operation and get hands-on experience.
  1. Licensing and Certification: While not all types of heavy machinery need licenses, it is essential to check which do and earn the proper certifications as necessary. Requirements may vary by state but typically involve knowledge and skills testing.
  1. On-the-Job Experience: Gaining practical experience by working alongside seasoned operators can help hone skills and increase knowledge while earning valuable experience in an entry-level position.
  1. Continuing Education: Staying updated on industry trends and advancements through ongoing training and professional development can provide opportunities for continued career growth and additional employment options.

As the construction industry continues to change, heavy equipment operators will remain indispensable to projects of all kinds. With a bright outlook for employment opportunities and technological advancements, these dedicated professionals will continue to play a vital role in shaping the landscapes of our communities.

To learn about other jobs in the blue-collar family, check out these articles about plasterers, carpenters, and masons.


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All in the Blue Collar Family: Plumber

The expertise of plumbers extends beyond fixing leaks and unclogging drains. They ensure the seamless flow of water and effectively remove waste from our homes and businesses, bringing comfort and sanitation to our daily lives. From water supply systems to gas lines and sewage disposal, plumbers are valuable guardians of our health and well-being.


The term “plumbing” is derived from the Latin “plumbus,” meaning “lead,” which is what some of the earliest pipes built by ancient Romans were made of. While lead is no longer used, having been replaced by materials such as copper and PVP, the systems of civilizations thousands of years ago remain an excellent representation of the significance the plumbing trade has had on society.

History of Plumbing

Some historians believe that plumbing can be traced back to at least 3000 BC in the Indus Valley and Babylonia, where evidence of wells and drains has been found. However, the most notable evidence of advanced plumbing systems is generally associated with ancient Rome, where intricate aqueducts and sewage systems transported water in and waste out of their cities, emphasizing cleanliness and health consciousness.

Fast forward to the 19th century, urbanization led to the widespread adoption of indoor plumbing in the industrialized world, transforming the plumber’s role into a vital component of modern society and significantly enhancing overall comfort and sanitation. As the industry has developed, new technologies and regulations have continued to improve the operation of fixtures and ensure the safety of the individuals who utilize water and waste systems.

The Role of Plumbers

Plumbers today are responsible for designing, building, and maintaining pipe fixtures, typically in residential and commercial buildings. Their work involves directing water, and sometimes gas, to and from facilities through complex systems, ensuring the proper function of appliances like showers, sinks, and toilets. They are called to install new piping and perform repairs as needed.

What Plumbers Do

Plumbers are crucial in safeguarding public health by ensuring access to clean water and proper waste disposal. Some of their typical responsibilities include:

  1. Installation of Plumbing Systems: Plumbers are responsible for accurately installing and connecting piping systems for water supply, heating, and sewage disposal in residential, commercial, and industrial settings.
  1. Following Blueprints and Specifications: Plumbers must interpret architectural plans and specifications while working closely with architects, contractors, and other construction professionals to ensure that plumbing systems are designed and installed according to the project’s requirements.
  1. Diagnosing and Repairing Plumbing Issues: Plumbers identify and troubleshoot problems such as leaks, clogs, or malfunctions in plumbing systems, employing their expertise to provide effective and lasting solutions.
  1. Ensuring Compliance with Codes and Regulations: Plumbers adhere to local and national plumbing codes and regulations, ensuring that their work meets safety and quality standards set by governing authorities.
  1. Maintenance of Plumbing Systems: Plumbers are responsible for the inspection and maintenance of plumbing systems, including cleaning and adjusting, as well as communicating with clients to offer guidance on proper usage, thus preventing potential issues and extending the lifespan of installations.

Becoming a Plumber

Becoming a plumber is a journey that combines practical skills, technical knowledge, and a commitment to providing excellent service. The process of becoming a plumber generally involves:

  1. Education: Before becoming an apprentice, an aspiring plumber must be 18 and have a high school diploma or equivalent. They must then apply for a plumbing apprentice license, which they typically become eligible for by being accepted into an apprenticeship position.
  1. Apprenticeship: The next step involves learning the ropes under the guidance of experienced mentors, often by watching a journeyman or master plumber. At the same time, they work and perform simple tasks such as cleaning and organizing tools.
  1. Licensing: To practice independently and perform more complicated tasks, plumbers must receive a “journeyman” plumbing license. This commonly requires at least four years of experience in an apprenticeship role and passing a state board exam.
  1. Continuous Learning: Becoming a “master plumber” similarly requires at least two years of experience as a journeyman plumber and passing an exam. Some states may also require proof of knowledge in specific areas of plumbing, such as irrigation or high-rise residential systems. Once a master plumber earns their license, they can open their own plumbing business and hire junior staff.
  1. Specialization: Advanced plumbers may choose to focus on residential, commercial, or industrial projects or specialize in areas such as pipefitting, steamfitting, or even green plumbing, which emphasizes sustainable and eco-friendly practices.

Plumbing is a dynamic and essential profession that has evolved over centuries to meet the ever-changing needs of society and remains integral to our health, safety, and the sustainability of our communities. And, as long as humans continue to use water and produce waste, it will continue to be a valuable trade for the inevitable future.

For more about blue-collar jobs, check out The Beauty Behind Blue Collar Work, All in the Blue Collar Family: Welder, and All in the Blue Collar Family: Electrician.


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Light the River: API Sponsors a Night for the Bolton Refuge House

On April 12 and 25, 2023, API will sponsor a day of Bolton Refuge House’s annual Light the River event. To honor Sexual Assault Awareness Month, BRH will be coloring the Phoenix Park Bridge teal throughout April to raise awareness and support survivors of sexual violence within the community.


If you’re an Eau Claire local, you’ve probably caught a glimpse of the Phoenix Park Bridge lit up in just about any color at one point or another, sponsored by organizations and individuals for their events and celebrations.

For the past few years, Bolton Refuge House (BRH) has organized a month-long Light the River event in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Throughout April, the bridge lights will remain teal (the designated color for SAAM), supported by generous donors to raise awareness and enact community change.

Bolton Refuge House is a non-profit organization that provides services for individuals affected by domestic violence, intimate partner violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking. They operate the only 24/7 emergency shelter in Eau Claire and aim to support survivors on their journey to physical and emotional safety through services such as counseling, support groups, legal advocacy, and community education.

American Phoenix, Inc. is proud to be one of the sponsors of the Light the River event, showing support for BRH’s mission to provide resources to survivors of sexual violence.

“They’re amazing,” says Rena, API HR. “BRH offers a lot of valuable services that I’m sure a lot of women don’t even know about.”

By coloring the bridge teal for the month, Bolton Refuge House hopes to convey its dedication to fighting to end sexual violence within the community. This will be the organization’s third annual Light the River event since 2021 and API’s second year as a sponsor.

“When I saw this come through last year, I just thought this kind of stuff is important,” says Rena. “It’s important to spread awareness. So, we’re going to do it again this year.”

While an enormous number of well-deserving organizations need contributions, American Phoenix, Inc. is mindful of choosing causes to give to that accurately reflect the company’s values and authentically represent what is meaningful to its employees.

“Part of our goal is to get more involved in the community, and we want to make sure we’re making good choices with things we really do support and that are important to us,” says Rena. “We don’t just want to donate. It needs to be meaningful.”

API will be sponsoring Bolton Refuge House’s Light the River event supporting Sexual Assault Awareness Month on April 12 and 25, 2023.

To learn more about the Bolton Refuge House, please visit: https://www.boltonrefuge.org/

Additional information for survivors of sexual assault can be found on the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website here: https://www.rainn.org/ or by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673.


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