There are over 190,000 heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service workers in the United States. Job growth over the next decade is expected to be between 8 percent and 9 percent, which is about average. Mechanics that have completed a course in heavy equipment repair at a community college or vocational school will be in the best position for job opportunities.
Heavy vehicles are used in the building trade. They include earth moving, cranes, and digging machinery. Technicians and mechanics work with engines as well as electrical, hydraulic, and transmission systems. Service technicians make regular inspections and maintain brake, fuel, and transmission systems to keep vehicles running efficiently. Technicians also diagnose problems using drivers’ commentary about how the vehicle is behaving, diagnostic computer programs, and their own knowledge and experience. If necessary, a part is removed; in some cases, it is less expensive to replace a part than to repair it. A system may require recalibration; this is accomplished by inputting code into the vehicle’s computer. Movable parts on some heavy equipment are operated hydraulically. Technicians must know how to check for leaking fluids, hoses, or gaskets that need replacing. The vehicle frame may require welding. In addition to welding tools, lathes, grinding machines, jacks, hoists, and other hand tools are used to reach repairs in awkward locations. Engine failures are examined using tachometers and dynamometers. Ohmmeters, ammeters, and voltmeters are used with electrical systems. Diagnostic software, computers, hoists, and power tools are generally supplied by the employer. Most technicians have their own hand tools.
Mobile heavy equipment mechanics and service technicians maintain and repair earth-moving machinery. Those who work for the federal government work on tanks as well. Farm equipment mechanics keep farm and gardening machinery in good working order and make repairs when necessary. Many farmers use repairers working for equipment dealers because they are most familiar with the product. Repairers specializing in railcars focus their attention on trains, subways cars, streetcars, and carts used in mining.
Heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service work is most often accomplished in a repair shop. Most are well lit and well ventilated. Because of the extremely loud environment, repairers should wear ear protectors to guard against hearing loss. Employers look for technicians capable of lifting and moving heavy tools and vehicle parts and working for extended periods of time in uncomfortable positions that may involve crouching, reaching, and twisting. Repairers must follow standard safety procedures to avoid being cut by power or hand tools, burned by open flame, or bruised. Minor accidents are not uncommon. Because being able to read manuals and follow detailed instruction is important, employers look for applicants with good English skills.
Mobile heavy equipment mechanics and railcar repairers usually work forty regular hours per week. Heavy machinery that malfunctions on-site requires a field-service technician. Field service technicians travel in well-equipped trucks to construction sites, mining operations, and other locations to repair machinery. Farm equipment mechanics work considerable overtime during planting and harvesting, and must be available every day during those times. This is compensated with slower periods in which they don’t work a full forty hours.
More and more employers prefer to hire applicants who have graduated from a diesel or heavy equipment mechanic-training program at a vocational or community college and received certification or an associate’s degree. Trainees who have completed a formal program are in line to move up to journey level. A certification or a degree are not always a requirement, however; entry-level positions might be filled by mechanics with little training or experience who are paired with experienced mechanics for on-the-job training. High school graduates who studied vehicle repair, math, physics, English, and chemistry are considered better prepared than those who did not. Mechanics with four years of full-time work experience are considered fully qualified. This type of work requires ongoing education because manufacturers continuously improve their designs and builds. Often, trainee technicians will attend sessions led by manufacturers to learn how to maintain and service new equipment.
Heavy machinery manufacturers often offer certification in certain areas of repair or machine type. Unlike other types of vehicle repair, heavy machinery repairers do not have the opportunity to earn certification that is nationally recognized. Those who attend and complete a postsecondary course are considered qualified. With time and experience, technicians might be promoted to field service, which allows greater independence and a better salary. Those with leadership ability can advance to become shop supervisors or managers.
The median hourly pay for mobile heavy equipment mechanics is around $22 per hour. Those at the low end of the pay scale earn less than $15 per hour, while those in the top 10 percent earn more than $30 per hour. Approximately one-quarter of all heavy equipment mechanics are members of the International Association of Machinists and AerospaceWorkers, the International Union of Operating Engineers, or the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.