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Plant operator

Plant operators use heavy machinery to dig, lift and move materials on building sites. They can dramatically change landscapes or install impressive structures in a short time. Plant operators usually specialise in one type of equipment, such as an excavator or giant crane, and need good spatial awareness to move large scale machinery.

Average salary*




Typical hours per week


Number employed in the UK


How to become a plant operator

There are several routes to becoming a plant operator. You could do a college course, an apprenticeship or on the job training.

You should explore these routes to find out which is the right one for you. Although some of these routes have certain qualification requirements, many employers are more interested in people who are enthusiastic, willing to learn and able to follow instructions.

You may need Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) or Construction Plant Competence Scheme (CPCS) cards to work on a construction site.

College/training provider

You may need to attend a specialist college or training provider to gain the right qualifications.

Find out what the entry requirements are where you live.


An apprenticeship with a construction firm or plant hire company is a good way into the industry.

Apprenticeships are open to anyone over the age of 16. As an apprentice, you will be fully employed by your company and expected to work a minimum of 30 hours a week. Your time will be split between on-the-job experience and a college or training provider.

You could complete a Plant Operator or Lifting Technician intermediate apprenticeship or an NVQ/SVQ Level 2 in Plant Operations. An intermediate apprenticeship takes around two years to complete.

You might need GCSEs (including English and maths) or equivalent, to do an apprenticeship, but not all employers ask for formal qualifications.

Find out what the entry requirements are where you live.


If you have experience in operating heavy machinery, you might be able to apply for a job directly.

If not, you could look for work as a general construction labourer or operative to gain on-site experience. Your employer may then offer on-the-job training.

Work experience

Work experience is essential to gaining employment within the construction industry. Employers will always be pleased to see it listed on your CV.


Additional skills which may benefit anyone considering a job as a plant operator include:

  • Able to use, repair and maintain machines and tools
  • Knowledge of engineering science, maths, and technology
  • Design skills and knowledge
  • Able to work well with your hands
  • Be thorough and pay attention to detail
  • Able to accept criticism and work well under pressure
  • Able to work well with others
  • Able to use a computer and the main software packages confidently


To become a plant operator, you could complete a:

  • Level 2 NVQ in Construction Plant Operations
  • Level 2 Construction Plant Operative Apprenticeship

To become a plant operator, you could complete a:

  • SVQ at SCQF Level 5 & Level 6 in Plant Operations - where you would normally learn one piece of plant equipment such as an excavator
  • Modern Apprenticeship in Civil Engineering at SCQF Level 5 & Level 6 (Plant Operations) where you would normally train on one piece of equipment such as an excavator

To become a plant operator, you could complete a:

  • Level 2 NVQ in Plant Operations
  • Level 3 Apprenticeship in Plant Operations

What does a plant operator do?

As a plant operator you will be responsible for using a variety of machinery to do tasks such as removing soil or dirt, moving equipment around a site, or creating new structures.

The job role of a plant operator involves the following duties:

  • Using 180 and 360-degree excavators
  • Moving earth with excavators, bulldozers and dumper trucks
  • Loading shovels
  • Operating giant cranes and working with slinger signallers via radio
  • Levelling out areas with compactors
  • Using piling rigs and concrete pumps
  • Using forklifts to unload and move materials around the site
  • Carrying out safety checks and keeping machines running properly
  • Changing buckets and other machine attachments
  • Working on building sites doing noisy, physically demanding and messy work.

How much could you earn as a plant operator?

The expected salary for a plant operator varies as you become more experienced. 

  • Newly trained plant operators can earn in the region of £19,000 - £25,000
  • Trained with experience plant operators can earn in the region of £25,000 - £30,000
  • Senior plant operators can earn in the region of £30,000 - £40,000

Salaries depend on location, employer and level of responsibility. Self-employed plant operators set their own pay rates.

* Salaries have been collected from multiple industry sources


Check out the latest Plant Operator vacancies: 

As these are external websites, the number of vacancies related to your preferred role may vary. New opportunities will be posted as they come up.

Career path and progression

You could progress into construction or plant management and earn a higher salary.

Some operators specialise in training, estimating or lift planning. You could also move into hiring or selling plant machinery.

Progression Opportunities

Explore the progression opportunities below

  • Current role Plant operator Considering a career as a plant operator? Find out more about qualifications, tr...
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  • Current role Plant manager A construction plant manager takes charge of heavy machinery used in constructio...
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  • Current role Plant mechanic Construction plant mechanics maintain, repair and inspect construction equipment...
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  • Current role Contracts manager During a construction project, the contracts manager overseas the contracts proc...
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  • Current role Setting out engineer Be the main technical advisor on site, overseeing quality control & offering gui...
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  • Current role Further Education (FE) tutor Work with pupils over 16 to help them acquire the skills that shape them for a c...
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