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Tunnelling operative

Tunnelling operatives build the underground tunnels needed for services such as rail lines and water works. They assist with the excavation, support and forming of tunnels and shafts in the ground associated with the construction process to provide an underground space, tunnel or shaft.

Average salary*




How to become a tunneling operative

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

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

You may need a Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card to work on a construction site.

College/training provider

You could complete a specialist Level 2 Diploma in Tunnelling Operations to become a tunnelling operative.

Find out what the entry requirements are where you live.


You could complete an intermediate tunnelling operative apprenticeship with a construction company to become a tunnelling operative.

You’ll need 2-3 GCSEs at grades 9 to 3 (A* to D), or equivalent.

Apprenticeships are open to anyone over the age of 16. As an apprentice, you’ll 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.

Find out what the entry requirements are where you live.


If you have some basic experience as a labourer, you could apply directly to a construction company to gain onsite experience as a tunnelling operative. You might start out as an assistant to a more experienced tunnelling operative and progress as your abilities improve.

Work experience

Work experience is essential to gaining employment within the construction industry. You could gain this at school, or by working weekends and holidays with a company or relative who works as in construction. Potential employers will always be pleased to see work experience listed on your CV.


Additional skills which may benefit anyone considering a job as a tunnelling operative include:

  • Comfortable working in enclosed spaces
  • Great team working skills
  • Good communication skills
  • Awareness of health and safety measures.



To become a Tunnelling Operative, you could complete a:

  • NVQ Level 2 Tunnelling Operations
  • Level 2 Tunnelling Operations apprenticeship

What does a tunneling operative do?

Most tunnelling operatives start out working in the pit, removing earth, rock and other waste materials, before becoming qualified. As a tunnelling operative, you could be required to work in a confined environment for long periods of time, as some tunnels are several kilometres long.

As a tunnelling operative you could be:

  • Using computers with construction management software to help keep the work running smoothly
  • Preparing the site for tunnelling work
  • Organising the delivery and storage of all the equipment
  • Ensuring the correct materials are available to start work
  • Moving and handling materials, resources and components by mechanically assisted or manual means
  • Loading and unloading, handling and conveying goods and materials.

How much could you earn as a tunnelling operative?

The expected salary for a tunnelling operative varies as you become more experienced.

  • Newly trained tunnelling operatives can earn £17,000 - £20,000
  • Trained tunnelling operatives with some experience can earn £20,000 - £25,000
  • Senior tunnelling operatives can earn in excess of £25,000.*

Hours and salary depend on location, employer and any overtime you may do.

* Salaries have been collected from multiple industry sources


Check out the latest tunnelling operative 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

As a tunnelling operative, you could move into similar roles, and become a diamond drilling operative, land drilling operative or plant operator.

With additional qualifications and training, you could become a tunnelling engineer or project consultant.

Progression Opportunities

Explore the progression opportunities below

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