Crane operators use cranes to move objects such as materials on construction sites, containers on wharves and heavy parts in factories.
Crane operators usually earn
$18-$35 per hour
Very experienced crane operators working on some large cranes can earn
$60-$70 per hour
Source: Crane Association of New Zealand, 2016
Pay for crane operators varies depending on experience, qualifications, location and type of crane operated.
- Trainee crane operators, who work as dogmen, usually earn $18 to $20 an hour.
- Experienced crane operators usually earn $26 to $35 an hour.
- Very experienced crane operators operating some large cranes in dangerous conditions can earn $60 to $70 per hour.
Source: Crane Association of New Zealand, 2016.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Crane operators may do some or all of the following:
- check their crane's air, water, oil, fuel and lifting equipment
- drive mobile cranes to work sites
- set up cranes and make sure they are secure
- organise the lift plan and allocate work to the team
- make sure loads are not too heavy for the crane, and identify and control any hazards
- follow directions from a team member on the ground
- lift and move loads and place them in the required position.
Crane operators usually start by working as dogmen, who rig (attach) loads to cranes and direct crane operators from the ground.
Skills and knowledge
Crane operators need to have knowledge of:
- safety rules that govern cranes, such as regulations for road operations
- safe working load limits for various cranes
- how to prepare and rig (attach) loads for lifting
- how to maintain and operate cranes, including operating computerised controls
- ground-to-crane hand signals.
- often work irregular hours, including nights and weekends
- work in various locations outdoors or inside, including construction sites, warehouses and wharves
- work in most weather conditions, except high winds and heavy rain
- travel locally to work sites.
What's the job really like?
Take some time to know your crane
Allan Charteris started out as a crane rigger then moved on to operate track cranes, before finally making the move up to tower cranes.
"Operating a tower crane and operating a track crane are totally different experiences, but the principles are the same. You have to know your angles; you have to know your weights. You have to know capabilities – of the crane, of the chains, of what you're lifting, of strops [straps for securing loads], the whole shebang.
"Take the time to get to know your crane and know it well – all its little facets, all its little foibles. Every crane has its own foibles."
Crane operators must be comfortable working at heights
Allan adds that not everyone is cut out to be a crane operator. "There are two kinds of people in the world – those who can handle heights, and those who can't. Those who can't shouldn't even try."
- Great views.
- Working a large machine.
- Constantly looking down, which can give you a sore neck.
- Long ladder climbs up to the cab of the crane.
Ferdinand talks about life as a crane operator - 1.05 mins. (Video courtesy of Got a Trade? Got it Made!)
Working on Waterview at the moment. I’m really happy to work on it because it’s the biggest job to work on. Learning a lot. There’s a lot of challenges doing the pilling, it’s not easy, there’s a lot of learning.
Having a qualification in trade is good because I got a qualification behind me, I always get the job and always get paid. Once I’m qualified I can travel all around the world and do my job.
I love this job because I’m not stuck on the computer or in the office. It’s really interesting, and making some good friends and it’s really fun.
I’m Ferdinand, I’m 21 and I got a trade.
To become a crane operator you need to train on the job and be assessed to gain the New Zealand Certificate in Cranes – Dogman Operations (Level 3) and then the New Zealand Certificate in Crane Operation (Level 3 and 4). You can do this by:
- working for a crane company to build up skills and knowledge of cranes in their yard, including how to assemble and load cranes, and communicate with crane operators
- showing an assessor sufficient skills and knowledge to gain the New Zealand Certificate in Cranes – Dogman Operations (Level 3)
- working with a qualified crane operator to learn how to erect and operate specific cranes
- showing an assessor sufficient skills and knowledge to gain a New Zealand Certificate in Crane Operation (Level 3 and 4) for the type of crane you are working on.
The Skills Organisation is the industry training organisation that oversees the relevant New Zealand Certificates.
- Crane Association of New Zealand website - information about training
- The Skills Organisation website - information on a career in cranes and New Zealand certificates in crane operation
A minimum of three years secondary education is recommended. Useful subjects include English and maths.
Year 11 and 12 students can learn more about the construction industry, and gain relevant skills, by doing a National Certificate in Building, Construction and Allied Trades (Level 1 and 2) through the BConstructive programme.
For Year 11 to 13 students, the Gateway programme is a good way to gain construction industry experience.
These programmes may help you get work with crane companies, but do not reduce the amount of time it takes to complete the crane operator qualifications.
- BConstructive website - information on the BConstructive programme
- Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation website - information on the Gateway programme
Additional requirements for specialist roles:
To become a mobile crane operator you must also:
- hold the appropriate heavy vehicle licence (varies depending on the size of the crane)
- be at least 18 years old to drive a mobile crane on the road.
Crane operators need to be:
- responsible and careful
- able to work well independently and in teams
- patient and observant
- good communicators
- good at decision-making.
To be a good crane operator you need to be responsible, patient and have good hand-eye co-ordination A strong focus towards safety is critical.
President, Crane Association of New Zealand
Useful experience for crane operators includes:
- working as a dogman on the ground below a crane, attaching loads and communicating with the crane operator
- building or engineering work
- truck driving
- operating earthmoving or other heavy machinery.
Crane operators need to be reasonably fit, have good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses), and good hearing. Crane operators must also be comfortable working at heights.
Crane operators can attend courses and seminars to keep up to date with changes in the building construction industry, and changes to health and safety regulations and crane technology.
Find out more about training
- Crane Association of New Zealand
- (04) 473 3558 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.cranes.org.nz
- The Skills Organisation
- 0508 754 557 - email@example.com - www.skills.org.nz
Check out related courses
What are the chances of getting a job?
Construction boom drives demand for experienced crane operators
Experienced crane operators are in high demand due to:
- a construction boom that is predicted to last until 2021, meaning more building work
- the extra 22,000 houses that are needed over the next 10 years in Auckland
- building work needed to upgrade leaky homes and earthquake-prone buildings
- the Christchurch rebuild, which is predicted to extend until at least the end of 2017
- the aging crane operator workforce – as crane operators reach retirement age there are openings for new staff.
However, like many building jobs, this role can be affected by economic conditions. A downturn in the economy can lower demand for crane operators.
Direct approach to employers best if you have no experience
Crane operators tend to stay in the role for a long time, so turnover is low.
If you have little or no experience, your best chance of entering the crane industry is to approach crane companies directly with your CV and see if they are willing to take you on and train you.
Most crane operators work in construction
Most crane operators work for employers in the building and construction industry. They are also employed in:
- engineering and civil construction
- machinery equipment hire and leasing
- water transport (operating dockyard cranes).
- Auton, R, chief executive, Crane Association of New Zealand, Careers New Zealand interview, August 2016.
- BRANZ and Pacifecon, 'National Construction Pipeline Report 4', July 2016, (www.branz.co.nz).
- McClintock, J, operations manager, Certified Builders Association, Careers New Zealand interview, June 2016.
- McLeod, S, president, Crane Association of New Zealand, Careers New Zealand interview, August 2016.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, ‘2006-2014 Occupation Data’ (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
Progression and specialisations
Crane operators may progress to become training assessors, supervisors or managers.
Crane operators usually specialise in operating particular types of cranes, such as:
- truck loader, tower and mini crawler cranes that move objects on construction sites
- container and ships' cranes, and straddle cranes that move containers on wharves
- mobile, non-slewing articulated and gantry cranes that shift heavy parts in factories
- crawler, mobile and tower cranes that place concrete and build bridges
- gantry cranes involved in steel fabrication.
Last updated 1 March 2018