There Is One Upside to the Skilled Operator Shortage

A quick look at innovations equipment makers have introduced to make machines easier to operate safely and productively

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By Scott Hagemann, Construction & Digital Technology, Caterpillar Inc.

The tight market for skilled equipment operators has been a big problem for contractors everywhere. But one upside has emerged. Manufacturers like Caterpillar are stepping up the pace of innovation, adding technologies that make machines easier to operate safely and productively. Here’s a quick look at what’s happening across the product line.


Machine control and guidance technologies are moving into the mainstream. Some machines feature simple bucket guidance systems that display 2D images in the cab, helping operators work faster and more accurately. Others use automation to control boom, stick and bucket movements. 3D control systems are becoming more popular too, as are onboard tools that manage payload, set electronic boundaries to stop excavator motion, improve visibility and streamline maintenance management.   

Wheel Loaders

Wheel loader owners are benefiting from new payload management technologies and system advancements. These onboard systems display load weight to the operator in real time, so it’s much easier to know when the bucket is full. The result? Quick, confident loading at optimized cycle times and truck over- or under-loading prevention. Production managers can also use payload data to track material flow, flag inefficiencies and identify training opportunities. With this technology—and others like rearview cameras and remote monitoring systems—wheel loader owners are better equipped to safely meet productivity targets, even when skilled labor is hard to find.


Today’s dozer owners demand speed and agility; manufacturers have responded. Simple sensors have been added to monitor and display the blade’s slope and fore/aft orientation, making it easier for operators to work safely and efficiently on slopes. Other integrated technologies are being used to stabilize the blade as it moves over uneven ground, helping operators produce smooth surfaces faster. 2D and 3D grading systems are also available, each delivering another level of time- and cost-savings. Some new dozers feature auto-carry and auto-rip capabilities, and many incorporate the advanced camera and asset management systems found on new excavators and wheel loaders.

A new normal

The skilled labor shortage isn’t going away soon, but as business owners adjust to the new normal, some who were reluctant to try technology in the past are beginning to appreciate its value. And that’s driving even more innovation in the manufacturing world. Learn about productivity technologies on Cat® Next Generation Excavators here.