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Crane Operator

Kaiwhakamahi Wakaranga

Alternative titles for this job

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

$23-$35 per hour

Experienced large crane operators usually earn

$60-$70 per hour

Source: Crane Association of NZ, 2018.

Job opportunities

Chances of getting a job as a crane operator are average for inexperienced crane operators, but good for those with experience.


Pay for crane operators varies depending on experience, qualifications, location and the type of crane.

  • Trainee crane operators, who work as dogmen, usually start on the minimum wage.
  • Experienced crane operators usually earn $26 to $35 an hour.
  • Experienced crane operators operating large cranes in dangerous conditions can earn $60 to $70 an hour.

Source: Crane Association of New Zealand, 2018.

(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.

Working conditions

Crane operators:

  • 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.

Entry requirements

To become a crane operator you need to complete on-the-job training and gain a New Zealand Certificate in Cranes(Level 3). You can then gain a New Zealand Certificate in Crane Operation (Advanced Crane Operation) (Level 4).

Te Pūkenga oversees crane operator training.

Secondary education

There are no specific secondary education requirements to become a crane operator. However, construction and mechanical technologies, English, and maths are useful.

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 BCITO Gateway programme is a good way to gain construction industry experience.

These programmes may help you gain an apprenticeship, but do not reduce the amount of time it takes to complete it. 

Additional requirements for specialist roles:

To become a mobile crane operator you also need to:

  • hold the appropriate heavy vehicle licence (depending on crane size)
  • be at least 18 years old to drive a mobile crane on the road.

Personal requirements

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.

Photo: Scott McLeod

Scott McLeod

Managing Director, McLeod Cranes

Useful experience

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.

Physical requirements

Crane operators need to be reasonably fit, have good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses), and good hearing. They must also be comfortable working at heights.

Find out more about training

Crane Association of New Zealand
(04) 473 3558 - -
Te Pūkenga
0800 327 648 (0800 EARN IT) -
Check out related courses

What are the chances of getting a job?

Strong demand for experienced crane operators

Experienced crane operators are in high demand due to:

  • a construction boom that is predicted to peak in 2020, meaning more building work
  • the aging crane operator workforce – as crane operators reach retirement age there are openings for new staff.

Chances of getting work as a dogman are also good. Crane operators usually start as dogmen before becoming crane operators so that they understand the process of lifting and moving objects with a crane before operating one.

Crane operator appears on Immigration New Zealand's Green List. This means the Government is actively encouraging skilled crane operators from overseas to work in New Zealand. 

However, like many building jobs, this role can be affected by economic conditions. A downturn in the economy can lower demand for crane operators.

According to the Census, 1,542 crane operators worked in New Zealand in 2018.

Approach employers directly 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:

  • manufacturing
  • engineering and civil construction
  • machinery equipment hire and leasing
  • forestry
  • water transport (operating dockyard cranes).


  • Auton, R, chief executive, Crane Association of New Zealand, interview, July 2018.
  • Immigration New Zealand, Transport Sector Agreement Finalised and Green List Changes Confirmed, 26 April 2023, (
  • Ministry for Business, Innovation, and Employment, 'National Construction Pipeline Report 2017', July 2017, (
  • Ranchhod, S, 'Construction Bulletin - July 2018', July 2018, (
  • Skills, 'A Career in Cranes', accessed August 2018, (
  • Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

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.
A man operating a crane

Crane operators lift and move loads and place them in the required position

Last updated 3 October 2023