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Crane Operator Training and Certification

Qualification vs Certification: Understand the Difference.

Before certification the crane world worked kind of like capitalism. Your reputation followed you, the best crane operators received the best paychecks and you got into the seat of a crane when the employer or journeyman thought you were qualified. Surely, crane operator certification must have started off with the good intent of accurately weighing and measuring a crane operator’s abilities to operate a crane and understand the fundamentals that go with the job. In a perfect world this would have been the case. But to many, certification has evolved to become just a plastic card issued by a private company that indicates you have memorized the knowledge they felt was necessary for you to operate a crane and that you maneuvered through a test course well enough to pass their test. It has put the veteran crane operator that has operated many different types of cranes in the same league as the person who has to operate a crane once in a blue moon as a secondary job. The kid right out of high school who has studied some books and regulations for a couple of days then paid for a couple of hours of practice on a crane now falls into the same category. The process of becoming a "certified crane operator” has been frequently defended as the minimum standard a crane operator should know. It has also been called a license to learn. Sometimes people use a cop out like the employer is responsible for the training of the operator. We all know the employer is responsible but this is probably why the employer wanted to get a 3rd party certification in the first place, to accurately weigh and measure a crane operator’s abilities to operate a crane. If the accountability were thrown back on the employer why even have a certification process in the first place? The downfall of certification is clearly the false sense of qualification that it gives to someone looking to hire a crane operator. An inadequate qualification portrayed by a certification can make the industry much more unsafe than no certification at all. On a positive note, certification has at least brought all personnel that operate a crane to a certain level where they have some understanding of crane load charts, technical knowledge, terms and some control of a crane when they operate it. This knowledge is far better than nothing at all, so there is a bright side.

Crane operator certification really started to take off around 2004 when Cal OSHA in California announced that under section 5006.1 all crane operators (with some exceptions) would need to be certified by an NCCA accredited entity by June 1st 2005. Many states followed after that and started adopting similar laws. Then the certification process really started to catch on. As of 2014, OSHA will requires all crane operators (with exceptions) for cranes having a capacity of 2000 lbs and over in the construction industry to become certified as well. A similar law was also passed by OSHA in the OSHA subpart cc for signal persons and riggers in the construction industry effective in 2010. However, “certification” is not a requirement, just an option. The other option is qualification, which can be far less expensive. Sometimes this fact can be distorted by parties that have a vested interest in the sale of a certification card or training for you, to receive one, but read the OSHA fact sheets or law for yourself. This will ensure you are getting it straight from the horse’s mouth. No standardized test will ever replace adequate crane operator qualification, so know what to look for in a crane operator to make sure the equipment is operating safely.

As much as crane operator certification is taking over the country in the crane field, training companies are also popping up. Like capitalism, there is no real way to weed out the good ones from the bad ones except research and reviews. There are two major types of training systems out there: “crane operator training schools” and “crane operator test preparation schools.” They both get you the same certification card. However, they couldn’t be more different from each other. There are two major kinds of crane operator training schools. The first school trains a crane operator hands on with a crane that incorporates classroom training and real on the job experience into the program like an apprenticeship program, which is provided by many unions such as Operating Engineers around the country. These apprenticeship programs could last around 6400 hours before an apprentice becomes a journeyman. This program is virtually the best type of training to get to be a Proficient Crane Operator. Another type of crane school is one that trains someone in the field and classroom about the fundamentals and principals of cranes but does not include real job-site experience. This is a great form of training if someone doesn’t have the time for a 6400 hour apprenticeship program. There is training provided by the military that is not available to the general public. Finally, there are test preparation programs, which generally last a few days teach you about some of the fundamentals of cranes but mainly prepare you for the certification tests. These training programs are the least time-consuming, cheapest and most effective way of passing the certification tests. They do not necessarily make the most qualified operators out of people, but they get that certification card in your pocket most efficiently.

How to select a crane operator certification test preparation program?
This can be a very difficult process. The first way people shop is by price. This is not necessarily an indicator of quality. Some crane schools can be cheap but yield good results (everyone passes the tests) while some schools are expensive with bad results (no one passes the tests). So even though the price might have been one thing the cost can be a completely different thing. The cost for a candidate to get certified would be the testing fees (around $250), the practical testing process ($200-$600 per crane type), the written test preparation, practice time on the cranes to get familiarized with the cranes, the test course, wages, travel expenses, hotel expenses and a loss of production. If the candidate would need to come back again testing could get very expensive. So make sure the school has some kind of guarantee in place or otherwise you could just be wasting money on a school that cannot back up their service. The companies that put on the most classes are probably the most familiar with the material that a candidate should be familiar with to pass the tests and succeed with their certification the first time. These crane operator certification training schools that specialize in test preparation are the most efficient way to get certified, not qualified. Also keep in mind the certification companies or testing companies that issue the card will not tell you this stuff since everyone likes repeat customers. The way the certification companies get their repeat customers is by having them take the tests again and paying the testing fees again. The more tests you take, the more money they make. Sad but true.

So in a nutshell, qualification is not certification. If you want to be qualified go through a 6400 hour apprenticeship or spend some years in the field. If you want to sharpen your skills, go to a school. If you want to operate a crane, get certified. If you want to get certified pass the tests.

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Barry Knapp

AAA Services

Barry Knapp

"Pretty intense but very informative. I felt very anxious before the class, but after the first day, I felt very confident the actual test was easy after taking the classes."

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