Tower crane operators use mechanical boom or tower and cable equipment to lift and move materials such as heavy machinery. Most learn their skills on the job. However, many employers prefer applicants to have a high school diploma and be 18 or older. Formal training and apprenticeships are available such as those offered by the International Union of Operating Engineers. Some states and cities also require crane operators to be licensed.
Tower crane operators usually work eight-hour days. However, longer hours are available and so are overnight shifts in operations that work around the clock. Their median salary is $44,140 yearly, with a range of $27,690 to $73,140. This breaks down to $21.22 hourly, with a range of $13.31 to $35.16. This information is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2009.
The biggest employers of tower crane operators are specialty trade contractors, such as those that hire out operators to businesses that do not have any in-house. They comprise 16 percent of the available 40,770 jobs and pay better than the median at $26.72 per hour or $55,580 per year. The highest-paying employers are manufacturers of aerospace products and parts, where compensation is at $32 per hour or $66,560 per year. With only 320 jobs, however, positions in this sector are difficult to land.
The city with the highest concentration of tower crane operators is Houma, Louisiana, with 4.27 operators per 1,000 workers. Pay here is higher than the mean at $26.14 per hour or $54,360 per year. The city with the best pay for operators is New York City, where the high cost of living boosts salaries to $44.53 per hour or $92,610 per year. However, the concentration of 0.06 operators per 1,000 workers makes jobs here more scarce than in Houma.
The BLS predicts that jobs for tower crane operators will decline by 7 percent from 2008 to 2018. This is due to improvements in automation, manufacturing productivity and storage. However, because this occupation requires little formal training, the turnover rate is high, offering opportunities for those who want to work. The job is sensitive to the economy. When times are good, jobs are plentiful and salaries are high. When times are bad, operators may be laid off and have difficulty securing work.