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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*

£14000

-

£35000

Typical hours per week

48 - 50

Number employed in the UK

41,600

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.

> Find out more

College/training provider

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

You could complete a Level 2 Certificate in Construction Plant Operations or a Level 3 Diploma in Construction and the Built Environment to become a trainee plant operator.

You’ll need:

  • 2 or more GCSEs at grades 9 to 3 (A* to D), or equivalent (level 2 course)
  • 4 - 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent (level 3 course).

> Equivalent entry requirements explained

> Find a course near you

> Funding advice

Apprenticeship

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 an apprenticeship near you

> Guide to apprenticeships

Work

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.

> Find out more about work experience


What does a plant mechanic do?

As a plant operator you could be:

  • 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?

  • 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 and have been updated as of 2019


Jobs

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 Shape landscapes & install structures on different projects using a variety of m...
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  • Current role Plant manager Take charge of all the heavy machinery used on construction sites & ensure it's ...
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  • Current role Instructor / assessor / tutor Further Education (FE) instructors, assessors and tutors teach construction skil...
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  • Current role Site Engineer/Technician Acting as the main technical advisor on projects ranging from new houses to rail...
    Read more
  • Current role Contracts manager During a construction project, the contracts manager overseas the contracts proc...
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  • Current role Senior manager Working on different construction projects, you'll be responsible for managing y...
    Read more
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