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Plant operators use heavy machinery (known as "plant") to dig, lift and move materials on a building site.

Average salaries are in the region of £10,000.00 to £26,000.00. Salaries will vary depending on location / employer

Career Profile

Plant operators use heavy machinery (known as "plant") to dig, lift and move materials on a building site.

What they do

Plant Operators are in charge of machines such as bulldozers and dumper trucks, mobile elevated work platforms, giant cranes, compactors and excavators (JCBs). Working in construction in this role also involves unloading and moving building materials with rough-terrain forklifts and telescopic handlers.

Tunnels, bridges and new motorways require bigger types of plant machinery, meaning that this is one of the most exciting and dramatic construction jobs around.

For this role, you’ll normally work outdoors and sometimes at height if using a tower crane or one of the larger excavators. But construction companies also need plant machinery underground for important projects like Crossrail, which includes a giant tunnel being dug under central London.

With this type of role, you normally become an expert in one type of large machinery, and do everything from driving and operating the machinery to keeping it running properly. This could changing attachments (buckets and shovels), doing safety checks and maintenance, and then reporting any major faults to the specialist maintenance staff. 

Hours & Salary:

  • Newly trained plant operators can earn in the region of £10,000 - £20,000
  • Trained with experience plant operators can earn in the region of £20,000 - £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.


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Case Study

Craig - Plant Operator|1:39

Craig Munro is a plant operator apprentice. 

How did you get started?

I am studying for a construction apprenticeship in plant operations at the National Construction College East in Bircham Newton. I was originally a labourer and my employer came to see me on the site I was working at and basically said he had to give me a week’s notice, but offered me this apprenticeship instead. I didn’t even hesitate in accepting. I just thought it was a brilliant opportunity and it will set me up for life. I’m really enjoying it and I’m looking forward to a future of doing this.

What do you do day-to-day?

Mostly I help out the digger drivers by setting levels, digging trenches and just help out with whatever I can throughout the day.

What do you like best about your job?

What I love most about my trainee construction job is that it’s something different and there’s good money too at the end once you’re fully qualified. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve done so far?

The coolest thing, and what I’m most proud of, is digging level trenches. It was quite difficult to begin with and I thought I could never do it. I got quite frustrated but I stuck in there and it’s started to come now. I feel real satisfaction when I get it done.

Big plans for the future?

This course has really helped me to plan my future. In ten years' time I see myself as being a supervisor for the company I work for, achieving more of my goals and feeling a lot better about myself basically.

Any advice on how to get into construction?

If someone wanted to go for this I would say ‘go for it’. It’s definitely a great opportunity and not to be passed up. Also it doesn’t cost you a thing!

Take our Personality Quiz to find out which of the many careers in construction is right for you

Qualifications & Training

There are no formal entry requirements to train as a construction plant operator but some employers ask for GCSEs or Standard Grades/National 4/5s in maths, English and design and technology, or equivalent vocational qualifications.

Construction companies and construction agencies often want people with some on-site experience. If you have not worked in construction before, think about working as a general construction operative to start with. Your boss may then train you as a plant operator.

An apprenticeship is a good way into this construction career. As an apprentice, you study towards SVQ/NVQ Level 2 in Plant Operations, which covers how to operate the machine along with training in safety legislation, regulations and codes of practice, your roles and responsibilities, maintenance and inspection and protective equipment.

Want to find out more?

Try our Matching Service for work experience opportunities in your local area, with new opportunities being added on a regular basis.  

Looking for a vacancy?

Here are some construction vacancy websites you may find useful: 


Total Jobs


The number of job vacancies related to your preferred job role may vary daily, as these are external websites. Check regularly to see new opportunities as they are posted.



Career trends and forecasts

590 additional staff needed

According to the latest Construction Skills Network research, there will be an additional 590 construction vacancies for plant operatives every year for the period 2016 - 2020. The highest demand for these construction jobs will be in Yorkshire & Humber and Northern Ireland, followed by Greater London, Wales and Scotland.

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