Heavy equipment operators

Heavy equipment operatorsOver the past several years, heavy equipment operators have been in high demand in the Fort McMurray region. In today's economy, work has slowed but companies are predicting the current slump won't last for long.

Many construction and infrastructure projects are in the works. This includes the twinning of Highway 63, the municipal airport expansion and new subdivision development.

While some oil sands projects have been delayed, construction activity continues at several mine sites. The Oil Sands Developers Group estimates $25 billion will be invested in 2009 on new construction projects and existing operations, with another $30 billion to be spent in 2010.

Besides construction there are plenty of other jobs in the region where heavy equipment operators can put their skills to use. Other options include working in landscaping and snow removal, or operating equipment at the mine sites.

Heavy equipment operators can find work in a variety of industries in the Fort McMurray region. Construction and mining are the two largest employers of heavy equipment operators, but they're not the only option.


Heavy equipment operators help build roads and bridges. They dig trenches for oil and gas, sewer and water pipelines. They work on industrial, institutional, commercial and residential construction sites across the region.

There are many construction projects underway or about to begin in the Fort McMurray area. Government funding has been approved for new infrastructure projects to help stimulate the economy. The Parsons Creek housing project, which will see the development of 7,000 housing units. Twinning of Highway 63 and two new interchanges have also been approved. These and other construction projects will provide employment opportunities for heavy equipment operators.


Major oil sands mining companies in the Fort McMurray region are recruiting for various positions. Summer and fall are the busy seasons for landscaping companies in the region. Heavy equipment operators are needed to run a variety of machines, from skid steers (also called Bobcats) to loaders and excavators.

From there, they move on to larger machinery. Landscaping companies may also keep their operators busy in the winter doing snow removal.

Road maintenance

Year-round, heavy equipment operators are needed to maintain highways and streets. In spring and summer, this includes using graders to plow gravel roads, or pavers and compactors to repair asphalt. Grader operators are also employed in the region to plow snow in the winter.


Before the oil sands boom, forestry was a large employer in the region. There is still logging taking place, requiring workers who operate machinery such as feller-bunchers, delimbers and skidders. Most work is done in the winter when the muskeg is frozen and heavy equipment can go into the bush.

Skills are learned over many years

Each piece of heavy machinery requires different skills. The best operators have developed their skills after many years of work experience. Some people go to school to learn the basics. Some of it is on-the-job training and a natural aptitude for the trade.

Work conditions

Work is often seasonal for most heavy equipment operators in the region. They are the busiest from spring to fall, when most construction projects are in full swing. Layoffs are normal in the winter, although there are opportunities to do snow removal. Some work, such as jobs at the oil sands mines, is year-round.

Ups or downs in the economy can also affect how much work is available for many heavy equipment operators, especially in construction.

For seasonal workers, the hours can be long and overtime may be required. Some operators work in shifts, especially at the mines. Some construction projects are remote, so operators may live in camp housing.

Heavy equipment work is done outdoors in all kinds of weather. Not all equipment has cabs, so operators may be exposed to dust, noise and insects. Operating machinery can also be physically demanding.

What do employers want?

Employers look for heavy equipment operators with these characteristics:

 Good vision and depth awareness

 Good hand/eye/foot coordination

 Fast reflexes

 Mechanical ability

 Ability to work in a team

 Positive attitude

Employers also look for people who put safety first. You need a good sense of safety and a realization of just how much damage you could do if you're not paying attention. Some employers require a Class 5 driver's licence, a clean driver's abstract and drug or alcohol testing.

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