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How to be a crane operator 

Becoming one of the high-rise, high-paid hotshots who are building up this city.

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  • This could be us.

Look way up. Rising above the Halifax skyline are a flock of cranes assembling new downtown developments. There’s no shortage of construction happening around the HRM, and where there’s construction there’s a need for skilled labour. Right now, the city needs crane operators. With plenty of developments still to be built, Careers Nova Scotia expects employment opportunities for crane operators to grow significantly over the next five years.

So what does it take to be a crane operator?

Evan Chambers has been operating mobile cranes for the last seven years. Before the 26-year-old Haligonian landed his job he was fixed on the idea of going to university, but “everyone was doing that,” he says. So instead of following the crowd, Chambers decided to take a mobile crane course that was two minutes away from home.

“It was an eight-week-long course and then I became an apprentice. I gave it a shot,” says Chambers. The course he enrolled in was facilitated through the union hall of the local 721 of the International Union of Operating Engineers.

Although the cost was $13,000, the payback is well worth it, says Chambers.

A certified crane operator can make anywhere from $80,000 to $100,000 annually, but it depends on how many hours the individual works. The median wage for a crane operator is estimated to be $28 per hour, according to the 2013 Labour Force Survey by Statistics Canada.

Earning that kind of money, you’d expect some intense labour, but for the most part the mobile crane work is “Mostly picking things up and putting them down,” says Chambers.

Simple work, but requiring tremendous training to perfect. Aside from the training course, operators need a license to run a crane. Chambers says at the time that he passed his course he was 18 and only able to get a Class 3 license (the minimum required to operate a crane).

The qualifications for crane operators are regulated by the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education’s Technical Safety Division. It oversees all types of technicians, including hydraulic mobile crane operators (who repair, maintain and move cranes or booms mounted on trucks), as well as tower crane operators (who operate any power-driven drum structure with a vertical tower and lifting boom).

Even after completing school and having the proper licensing, Chambers was put on a waitlist for a year with local 721 before he got placed as an apprentice.

“I did my first internship at Mount Thom on the way to New Glasgow,” he says. From there, work came easy.

“Once you get your first job you’re not out of work very often,” says Chambers, who is currently working for Atlantic Crane. “Usually I start work at 8am and we’re supposed to work until 4pm but rarely does that ever happen. We’re usually there until 6 or 7pm.”

His advice for newbie crane operators? “Get your Class 1 license first, then take the course. My little brother is an apprentice and the biggest thing is getting your Class 1.”

At the end of the day, Chambers says he loves being a part of big construction projects and watching people taking pictures of him from far below.  “It’s the coolest thing ever.”

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