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What Do Excavating Contractors Do?

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An excavating contractor digs for a living. Before any construction project begins, the excavation contractor clears the lot and digs the foundation trenches. The excavation services contractors provide aren't glamorous, but they're essential. If they didn't dig up the ground, it would be impossible to pour proper foundations and buildings would collapse constantly.

Excavating Contractor Job Description

The heart of the excavating contractor's job is the digging work, using powerful machine such as backhoes and bulldozers to tear into the earth. This is nowhere near as simple as it looks. Digging trenches for foundations, for instance, has to be done to precise measurements to guarantee the building's integrity.

Contractors also dig out earth for swimming pools, and for underground utility lines. They also perform exploratory work. If it's possible a building site sits over historically important artifacts, they have to be found and possibly excavated before construction starts. Excavation services also search for underground water, gas and electrical lines and figure out how to dig around them.

A successful excavating contractor may supervise while their employees do the actual digging. At bigger firms, the contractor may hire a supervisor, leaving the boss to focus on general business matters such as marketing and management.

Excavation Education

Excavation work doesn't require a college degree. If you're over 18, have a high school diploma or GED and a driver's license, you can apply to excavation companies for a job. If you get the green light, you begin working under an experienced contractor. As you gain experience you can graduate to running the bulldozer or backhoe yourself. If the excavation jobs are unionized, you'll need to join the union. That requires paying dues, but it also gives you the opportunity to join an apprentice program and receive apprentice training. Apprenticeships for equipment operators typically run three or four years. After that the apprentice gets a journeyman certificate, then eventually graduates to full professional.

You can advance your career in excavation services by taking certification courses. Several online companies will certify you for mastering the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's trenching-safety rules. This teaches you to recognize and avoid the risk of a trench collapse and other hazards such as unstable walls, toxic gas or explosions.

If you want to run your own excavating contractor business, you may need a state license. Each state sets its own licensing rules. In North Carolina, for instance, you have to take an open-book test to qualify for your license. You have to apply to the state to take the test, presenting audited financial statements to show your net worth. You need a minimum $17,000 working capital to bid on jobs of $500,000 or less. To bid on bigger jobs, the state requires more money. That gives the state confidence you won't run out of funds mid-project.

Types of Excavation Work

An excavating contractor can work on a variety of jobs: home building, commercial projects, swimming pools or roads.

What Excavators Earn

At time of writing, average salaries for excavation work range from $53,863 for the workers who run the big machines to $92,312 for superintendents and supervisors. Unions play a big role in setting wages for their members and guaranteeing a minimum wage. Apprentice pay varies, but is approximately 45 to 60 percent of a trained operator's pay.

Job Growth Ahead

The demand for construction equipment operators, including excavators, is projected to grow 12 percent through 2026, faster than the average. Spending on infrastructure is expected to increase, which will increase the need for excavators and other equipment operators. Some of the increase in spending will come from the need to replace aging infrastructure. The rest comes from the need for new infrastructure, as the population grows.


Over the course of his career, Fraser Sherman has reported on local governments, written about how to start a business and profiled professionals in a variety of career fields.. He lives in Durham NC with his awesome wife and two wonderful dogs. His website is

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