Study Heavy Equipment Operation at Missoula College

Earn your heavy equipment operator certification from Missoula College at the University of Montana and prepare for jobs in the construction industry.

Our one-year heavy equipment operator training provides you with a fundamental understanding of basic machine functions and is designed to develop apprentice-level skills in operating heavy equipment. The program also provides an understanding of potential job site challenges, safety issues and the work ethic expected by employers.

Hands-on learning is a major part of the heavy equipment operations certificate program. You’ll learn about equipment maintenance, surveying, equipment operations and how to read basic blueprints. Most of our students find jobs through internships that are part of the training.


average heavy equipment operator salary in Montana.



projected growth through 2028 for heavy equipment operators.


job placement for HEO certificate graduates, and almost all in the Missoula area. 

Other degree options for industrial technology at UM

Commercial Driver’s License Training (CDL)

Diesel Technology

Building Information Modeling and Computer Aided Drafting and Design (BIMM-CAD)

Sustainable Construction Technology

Welding Technology

What can you do with a heavy equipment operator certification?

As a heavy equipment operator, you’ll control many types of construction equipment including crawlers, bulldozers, forklifts, backhoes, cargo trucks and hydraulic truck cranes. You’ll operate any machinery that assists in the construction of structures, bridges, roads and buildings.

Your exact duties depend on the project and the site, but common responsibilities include:

  • Operating heavy equipment in compliance with the company’s safety policies and procedures. 
  • Providing recommendations for maintaining and improving environmental performance. 
  • Loading/unloading equipment from vehicles and trailers. 
  • Ensuring company equipment, materials and the work site are maintained, clean and stored in a safe manner.  
  • Observing results and adjusting machine settings or material flow. 
  • Completing project reports.

What is heavy equipment operation?

Heavy equipment operation involves controlling a variety of technical and complex machinery to perform thousands of tasks — equipment that is employed throughout the entire construction process as well as building maintenance.

Earthmoving equipment such as excavators, wheel loaders and skid steers demolish old buildings and dig foundations. Material handling equipment like forklifts, conveyors and telehandlers move materials around the job site.

Heavy equipment operators are responsible for very expensive equipment and must complete tasks correctly, and to Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) standards.

Jobs in heavy equipment operation

Your certification from Missoula College will help you secure a variety of heavy equipment operation jobs controlling machines such as:

  • Back-hoes
  • Bulldozers
  • Front-end loaders
  • Dump trucks
  • Compactors
  • Asphalt pavers
  • Boom lifts

Heavy equipment operator salary

$61,300 is the average heavy equipment operator salary in Montana.

But salary ranges vary depending on many factors such as your education, certifications and additional skills. Experienced operators can earn $69,500.

Alumni Success Story

One recent graduate of our heavy equipment operator training program is working at an environmental services company in Montana. He says the skills he developed to earn his heavy equipment operator’s certification was instrumental to getting a well-paying job that would support his growing family.

Another of our graduates secured a job with a pump and supply company in Wyoming and received his HEO certification and attended our sustainable construction program. As a veteran who, like so many vets, struggled after his tours of duty, he credits MC’s supportive learning environment for helping him succeed.

Experiential learning for heavy equipment operator training

Your heavy equipment operator training is primarily hands-on. Along with coursework from the instructional book of The National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER), you’ll begin working on simulators in the classroom. 

As you gain operations skills, you will practice them in field exercises, either in the equipment pit at our west campus or in the community. Once you’ve strengthened your skills, you’ll work through an internship with our construction company partners. Most of our students are hired by one of their intern companies after graduation. 

You’ll also learn basic mechanic skills, surveying and how to read blueprints. Plus, you will receive OSHA and Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) certification.

Internships in the heavy equipment operations program lead to jobs

What sets Missoula apart from other heavy equipment operator schools is our training internships that connect you to local employers. 

Companies enthusiastically hire from our program because our curriculum was created based on employers’ recommendations. The program director maintains close communication with local companies and passes on any job opportunities to you. 

In addition, every year the Industrial Technology Department holds a career fair for you to connect directly with construction industry employers.

Career development with your heavy equipment operator certification

Earning your heavy equipment operator certification prepares you to work on any construction project. With the combined hands-on experience from classroom simulators, our campus equipment training area and community internships, your skills will be in demand. 

Your job opportunities are expanded further when you add other certifications to your educational experience. We also offer a wide range of student support services such as career mentoring and job placement assistance.