What to expect on a 360 excavator training course. Find out what qualifications you need to train as a 360 excavator, the various training and qualification routes available, how to achieve CPCS card, the content of 360 excavator training courses and much more.

What is a 360 excavator operator?

A 360 excavator is a heavy construction machine that consists of a boom, dipper, bucket and cab on a rotating platform - hence the 360 in ‘360 excavator’ - placed on a wheeled or tracked undercarriage. These machines have a vast number of applications in construction, from shifting materials to digging trenches and foundations, and are found on most medium to large-scale construction sites.

The 360 excavator operator is in charge of controlling these machines, using them to clear ground for new developments such as housing or roads, digging foundations and much more. It is a skilled profession which forms a vital part of the construction workforce.

What qualifications do you need?

There are many different routes to becoming a 360 excavator operator – you could complete an apprenticeship, study specialist courses at college or build on work experience you have already gained in a similar role.

Here we will explore the various routes, with a focus on the specialist training courses available to become a 360 excavator operator.


GCSEs are not required to become a 360 excavator operator, but having GCSEs in maths and English is useful, especially for gaining access to specialist training courses which will stand you in good stead.

Work experience

Having work experience in similar occupations, particularly in operating other construction plant and machinery, will be very beneficial. Alternatively, having some experience in the wider construction or manufacturing industries could go in your favour too. There is currently a shortage of 360 excavator operators, so having some experience may make an employer more likely to fund specialist training for you.

Find out more about work experience here.


Apprenticeships are a great way to enter the construction industry. There isn’t a specific apprenticeship for a 360 excavator operator, but you could complete an apprenticeship in plant operations and choose to specialise in 360 excavator operations later on.

The Level 2 construction plant operative apprenticeship involves checking, preparing and operating a number of construction machines, including 360 excavators. You will gain onsite experience across the construction sector, including railways, demolition, utility works and more.

  • Equivalent to GCSE level
  • Typically lasts around 15 months
  • No formal entry requirements
  • Gives you a wide skillset

Find out more about apprenticeships here.

College / training provider - specialist courses

The most common way to become a qualified 360 excavator operator is through a specialist training course. To be eligible you usually require some experience of plant operations and a full driving license.

To gain experience, you could study for a Level 2 Certificate in Construction Plant Operations or a Level 3 Diploma in Construction and the Built Environment before undertaking further training in 360 excavation.

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). 

Click here to find a course near you.

The specialist 360 excavator training course is called CPCS excavator 360 degrees – lets explore what it involves, what you’ll get out of it and if it’s suitable for you.

What's a CPCS card?

On the specialist course, you will be working towards a valid Construction Plant Competence Scheme (CPCS) card. Achieving this card shows you can safely and competently operate a 360 excavator.

Initially, you will work towards a CPCS Trained Operator card, otherwise known as the CPCS red card, and is the first step to accreditation. This is a non-renewable card which expires after two years, so you will want to work towards achieving full accreditation after gaining this. The next step is the CPCS Competent Operator card, or CPCS blue card, which can be achieved by gaining 300 hours of experience at work with a 360 excavator and completing the NVQ Level 2 assessment within 2 years of the red card issue date. The blue card is renewable and valid for 5 years.

Find out more about CPCS cards here.

To work on site you will also need a valid CSCS card, as does every other construction professional. Find out what they involve here.

What to expect on a 360 excavator training course

The 360 Excavator training courses typically take between 1 to 5 days to complete, depending on your and the level of required certification. Those with less experience may need the full 5 days, and blue cards tend to take longer to achieve than red cards.

The course may also depend on whether you’re operating excavators above or below 10 tonnes, although this isn’t always the case – check with your employer and training provider beforehand. If you complete training in the above 10 tonne category you will automatically qualify for under 10 tonne operations, but not vice versa.

What will you need to complete the training?

You will likely need to have passed the CITB Operatives Health, Safety and Environment Test within the last 2 years, prior to the course start date. You will also need a good understanding of written and spoken English.

Some relevant experience of plant operations will go in your favour, although this isn’t essential.  

What does the course cover?

The course content and delivery will differ slightly between training providers, but generally they cover:

  • The excavator’s capabilities, limitations and overall purpose
  • Its construction, components and controls
  • Safety and siting of the equipment and checking it before and after use
  • Carrying out routine inspections and maintenance and making minor adjustments to the excavator
  • Configuring it for different tasks and attaching and removing buckets
  • Transporting materials over different terrains, in various settings
  • Preparing the excavator for transportation on public highways
  • Operation on rough or otherwise difficult (e.g. steep) terrain and in confined spaces.
  • Various types of excavation in different kinds of ground
  • Grading, spreading and levelling.

Courses also cover essential health and safety regulations and legislation for safe working practices, highlighting the plant operator’s individual responsibilities.

How long does it take to learn to operate an excavator?

Courses usually last between 1-5 days, but can take as long as 10.

The course is split into two elements: training and testing. The training will involve a combination of classroom-based teaching and practical exercises, giving you hands-on experience of operating the 360 excavator, as well as theoretical aspects such as health and safety. This knowledge will then be applied in the test.

Usually, one day is devoted to testing, with the rest spent training. Experienced operators often just complete the test, whereas those with limited experience require more training.

How much does it cost for the course?

If you’re taking the course via your employer, you shouldn’t be liable for any of the costs. Many employers are also eligible for part or full funding of training via CITB grants.

If you are taking the course through your own volition, the costs range from £300 - £2,000, depending on the number of days spent training.

Find out more about becoming a 360 excavator operator

For more information, check out our dedicated 360 excavator operator job role.

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