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Mark Turner
By Mark Turner on April 25, 2022

How to become a crane operator: The complete guide!

With the advancements in construction and tertiary sectors, use of heavy construction equipment has quadrupled. The ever increasing usage of heavy equipment including cranes, raises a question, How do I become a crane operator? Career prospects are booming with the passage of time, it should not come as a surprise to many that nowadays crane operators are one of the most sought after, skilled men, in the development and construction sector. Let’s discuss in detail the primary roles and job prospects of a crane operator.

What Does a Crane Operator Do?

Operating a full-fledged heavy duty crane requires hands on training, but also involves pronounced levels of precision and handling capabilities. All in all, crane operators are entirely responsible for operating any type of crane, be it mobile crane, crawler cranes, tower cranes etc. They are responsible for lifting, moving, positioning construction materials like loads and slabs from one point to the other. They are required to load and unload parts and accessories from ships, ports (in case of marine cranes) and trailers. On a basic level they perform these tasks by maneuvering the crane with precise control options built-in to the crane including foot pedals, buttons and levers.

Besides the mechanical and technical skills, crane operators must also be good at overall organizational and team work, another core component but maybe less obvious part of the job. Just like an airplane is being signaled by a controller at a runway, similarly in most of the cases a crane operator is usually signaled from a rigger/signal/banksman who uses hand gestures and/or verbal queues. Besides these tasks, another important aspect of this job requires them to inspect the crane fully both before and after operation (keeping in view all safety protocols including the flow functioning of the cranes). Though, there may be a specialist professional team additionally inspecting on-site that may supervise and/or assist the crane operator in doing so.

Ok but what are some of the challenges that come with this job? Firstly, crane operators are required to sit for a fixed slot for hours at stretch, when the work is of intensive nature. Because of this, they have to be frequently sitting in a rather cramped space, restricting their movements. As a matter of fact, trade unions in many states are now requiring employers for frequent breaks while at the job. Secondly, crane operators have to work for extended periods in outdoor environments, that may not always be not too pleasant (the sun isn’t always shining). Continuous exposure to year round all types of outdoor conditions may also be stressful for the operator.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Crane Operator?

Contrary to popular opinion or to what many believe, becoming a crane operator is not very time intensive. It depends on what type of training you take and how much of expertise you have prior to receiving that training, but as a general guide a training and apprenticeship program may last anywhere between 4 – 8 weeks. After that the potential crane operators also need to pass a final exam before they are fully qualified. However, it should also be noted that in order to operate large and heavy duty cranes at busy construction sites, only experienced crane operators are sought after and that may take somewhere about 3 – 5 years.

How Much Does a Crane Operator Make per Hour?

Though this can be a relatively tricky topic to address, there are several job boards and application forums that can be used as an estimate as to how much do crane operators make per working an hour. This will depends upon experience in handling of big cranes, previous roles and and other factors. However, the average per annum salary of a new crane operator is about 17,000 GBP and it ranges to about 45,000 GBP for experienced operators. This equate to approx 15-30 GBP per hour.

What is the common career path for a Crane Operator?

Since the job is in high demand at present, the career options and prospective paths are also quite broad. To become a crane operator, no formal education is needed, but formal training is involved. A number of firms offer apprenticeships, which can last for anywhere between 1 to 3 years.

What are the Physical Requirements for Earning Crane Operator Certification?

Because of the industrious and laborious aspect involving this job, the basic physical requirements include:

  • Be at least of 18 years of age
  • Willingness to follow and abide by the pre-designed rules and frameworks
  • At least 20/30 eyesight in one eye and 20/50 in the other
  • Being able to correctively perceive landscape and field of vision
  • Ability to distinguish color
  • Sound hearing ability
  • Adequate motor and co-ordination capabilities
  • Surety of no seizures and/or loss of control at any given point

How to become a crane operator?

The path to becoming a crane operator involves rigorous training and on-job experience, but also certifications and accreditations. Following is a list of steps that are involved in the process of becoming a crane operator;

Step 1 – Enroll in a Trade School Course

Taking a trade school course is an efficient way of learning and information gathering, but it also gives hands-on knowledge that is needed towards becoming a crane operator. Trade schools are great at providing specialized skills and knowledge base that is needed for the tasks ahead. Many trade schools have local construction industry linkages that come in handy when looking for an early apprenticeship.

Step 2 - General Operator Training

Building up on the learning from the trade schools, enrolling and getting hands on training in general crane operations is necessary. Here operators get firsthand tuition on how to maneuver and operate sophisticated heavy equipment. Various safety and security protocols are also taught at these general training sessions. These courses and/or programs need to be accredited with NCCCO, because many facilities do offer non-accredited training programs that may not be of any value in future for job applications.

Step 3 - Sitting written and practical exams

Last step towards the theoretical learning curve is to pass both the written and practical exams that are designed to test one’s knowledge that has been gained from trade course and general crane training sessions.

Step 4 – Join an apprenticeship

Enrolling in an apprenticeship program provides the ideal launch pad to prospective crane operators who are new to the field. Apprenticeships let you gain hands on working experience and eventually a chance to build credits on your resume.


Do You Need a CDL to Operate a Crane?

If you intend to have a career as a crane operator that is the most rewarding, then it is highly beneficent and highly advised to get a CDL. Having a CDL allows crane operators to drive the crane on the road towards the construction site.

How much money does crane operators make?

This will depends upon experience in handling of big cranes, previous roles and and other factors. However, the average per annum salary of a new crane operator is about 17,000 GBP and it ranges to about 45,000 GBP for experienced operators. This equate to approx 15-30 GBP per hour but really depend on location and experience.

Is there a demand for crane operators?

The simple answer is yes there is.  The world is witnessing a surge in development and huge expansion of construction projects, meaning a huge demand of experienced crane operators who are efficient, good time managers and are able to work effectively in a team.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics believes crane operator jobs are expected to grow by 8% overall from 2014-2024.

What license do I need to drive a crane?

Most countries require you to have a license before operating a crane. For instance, in the United States 18 out 50 states require you to have a license. For better and detailed understanding on the requirements and laws, visit  National Commission For The Certification of Crane Operators for a detailed outlook.

Published by Mark Turner April 25, 2022
Mark Turner