By Grainger Editorial Staff 4/28/23
Seventh of a skilled trades exploration series: heavy equipment technician
America’s “Great Resignation,” in which millions of American workers have left their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic in hopes of finding something better, continued to accelerate almost 18 months after the pandemic began. More people quit their jobs in November 2021 than in any month in the last 20 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
This shift created worker shortages across many industries, perhaps none more notable than in skilled trades. An analysis of job postings by the staffing firm PeopleReady found that openings in skilled trades increased 50% from before the pandemic to spring 2021.
What does it take to qualify for these plentiful careers in skilled trades, what is the work like and how much can you get paid? Our series, The Job You Want, helps answer these questions.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects solid job growth in this field. From 2021-31, the agency sees an increase of 8%, outpacing the overall projected growth of 5.3%. This includes technicians for mobile equipment, farm equipment and rail cars. Most of the roles are for mobile equipment technicians, which includes jobs working on municipal fleets. As with many skilled trades, an aging workforce moving into retirement is part of the reason for the demand.
The BLS also notes that agricultural equipment is increasingly complex and driven by software, so skilled workers are needed to maintain that equipment.
Sometimes, on-the-job training and an aptitude for the work are enough. Tom Seefeldt is a fleet mechanic with the Village of Buffalo Grove in Illinois, where he helps maintain and repair any piece of equipment that runs on fuel ranging from chain saws to police interceptors to full-size snowplows. He has been a tinkerer going all the way back to when he took apart a VCR at age 8.
“From when you are young, you should know if you're a mechanic or not,” Tom said. “If you know that you've always liked doing this, then it's a career that you should pursue.”
Tom followed his passion for tinkering when he began his career path. His high school didn’t offer trade classes, and what he found at a community college felt very remedial thanks to his self-taught, trial-and-error methods and a job at a lawnmower shop starting at age 14. So, he got started at an independent mechanic shop and worked his way up.
Licenses are not needed, and certification is not always required to become a heavy equipment technician, though there are many certifications that can help expand a technician’s knowledge and employability.
For those looking for a formal educational path, the BLS notes that vocational or postsecondary training in diesel technology or heavy equipment mechanics may be considered the best preparation for a job, especially considering the increasing sophistication of the equipment.
The ASE Education Foundation also offers accreditation for automotive programs in many high schools. ASE, which is the common acronym for the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, offers mechanics 58 certification tests in areas including automobile and light truck service, medium-heavy truck service, school bus service and electronic diesel engine diagnosis.
Tom said that it's also likely heavy equipment technicians will need to get a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to be able to drive the types of vehicles they service.
Post-secondary education will be about $10,000 for an associate degree, depending on where you live and the program. Technical diplomas are a little less. Financial aid could be available.
Often, employers will pay for additional certification exams and classes, as well as the CDL if it’s required.
Tom said his typical day starts at 7 a.m., and he arrives to a range of requests for servicing a variety of equipment. He needs to prioritize the list based on the equipment’s use and other factors. He typically works eight-hour days, though during winter he might be on call for a snowstorm.
“Every day is a mystery,” he said. “It's an adventure, for sure.”
A hands-on role servicing diesel trucks and mowers can certainly be dirty and greasy. You may have to travel to jobsites if the equipment is too cumbersome to transport to a shop.
The BLS notes that farm equipment mechanics have one of the highest injury rates across occupations. Their work also can be seasonal, with exceptionally long work weeks during planting and harvesting seasons.
A heavy equipment technician can advance into related work that includes owning their own private shop, going into sales or becoming an educator, though some of those roles could require additional education. Tom said that in the public sector, a person might advance into administration, as a director of public works.
“There's never a stopping point where you're not going to make any more money, you're not going to progress any farther,” he said. “There's always something you can do to continue evolving your role and skillset.”
The median wage for heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians and mechanics is $53,770, according to the BLS, about 18% higher than the median across all occupations. Government work is the most lucrative.
Though Tom said he typically works eight-hour days as an employee of Buffalo Grove, the BLS notes that overtime in this field is common.
The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.