WEST FARGO-Matt Johnson can lift a ton without breaking a sweat. The 40-year-old crane operator spends his days on various construction jobs controlling a machine that holds thousand-pound loads. He says his job requires a lot of skill and patience, along with a touch of raw talent.

Johnson says he "fell" into construction after graduating from high school, working odd jobs in the Twin Valley, Minn., area until 1998, when he came to West Fargo to work for Industrial Builders Inc.

Back then, certification wasn't required, Johnson said, so when he decided to try out crane operating, "they told me to pull the levers (and) find out what it does."

In 1999, Johnson started working for the company as a crane operator. Today, he oversees the company's crane rental division, which completed hundreds of jobs last year.

What are your daily tasks?

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I'm actually in charge of the crane rental division, so I handle all the scheduling ... and I'm also a crane operator. Everything that we do depends on the customer, whoever calls and whatever task they're asking us to do. We can go anywhere from lifting 90,000 to 100,000 pounds one day ... or we can take 2,000 pounds.

If (a contractor doesn't) own a crane, we go in and make the lift for them. They pay us by the hour so they don't have to buy a crane. ... A lot of people want us on the job site by the time they're starting, so if it's two hours away we may leave at 5 o'clock in the morning and work until 7 or 8. We work until the job's done ... and then go to the next job. We stay pretty busy between 50 hours, sometimes 60. A 40-hour week is not typical for us.

What draws you to your job?

It's never boring. We're dealing with different people every day ... we actually deal with a lot of people that don't have any idea what encompasses a crane. It's always something new for me and that's what I like about it.

What safety hazards come with your job?

Anything from watching out for people getting underneath the loads, paying attention to make sure you're not by power lines ... anything can come into play with a crane. Mainly looking out for the people who don't know to look out.

What's the market like for crane operators?

There is a high demand for crane operators as far as I know. We have a tough time finding competent crane operators; it takes a certain knack to do that job. You need patience (for) working with people who don't know what they're doing. A lot of it is you're holding onto a load for sometimes two, three hours while they're attaching things or welding things together ... it takes a lot of patience to sit and watch people work.

How do you become a crane operator?

For our company, if a person actually shows the initiative and wants to learn how to run a crane, we will teach them and then we will put them through the training. Otherwise, a smaller company might be able to put the person in the seat right away and just let them go. But with us, we've gotten to the point (where everyone needs to be) certified.

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