Plant operators drive, operate and maintain large construction machines and equipment on construction sites, in quarries, at roadworks and more. This Go Construct article will explore how to train to become a plant operator, what their key responsibilities are and some of the machines they work on.

Types of plant operators

There are many types of plant machinery, and plant operators tend to specialise in just one of them – let’s take a look at some of the machines you could be operating.

Excavators

Excavators are versatile heavy-duty machines that dig and move materials such as earth, rock and stone. Featuring a 360 degree rotating cab and digging arms, excavators can also be equipped with buckets, shears and breakers to perform a variety of tasks, including:

  • Creating trenches
  • Moving material around a site
  • Demolition
  • Landscaping
  • Mining
  • Driving piles and shafts into ground
  • Snow removal.
exc

Dumpers

Dumpers are used solely for transportation, carrying large loads of materials across construction sites. Featuring a large skip sitting in front of the cabin, material can be loaded and dumped in full or partial loads to the designated area. The dumper most commonly used in construction include:

  • High-tip skip dumpers
  • Swivel skip dumpers
  • Heavy-duty front tip dumpers
  • Tracked dumpers and carriers.
dumper

Telehandlers

Telehandlers feature a large extendable arm – or boom – to lift, move and place materials at height. Telehandlers can be multi-functional, with attachments such as forks, winches and buckets allowing them to complete a wide range of jobs on site. They are commonly used to:

  • Stage initial materials
  • Lift and move pallets
  • Transport suspended loads
  • Clean up a site at the end of a job.
tele

Backhoes

Backhoes are capable of both digging and loading materials. A general-purpose machine, they are found on most construction sites, often taking the place of excavators and wheeled loaders. They feature a front-end loader lifts materials, as well as a back end loader which digs and moves materials from the same cab. They are typically used for:

  • Small-scale demolitions
  • Transportation of lightweight building materials
  • Excavation and digging
  • Landscaping
  • Breaking up materials.
backhoe

Plant operator skills

Plant operators are in charge of massive machinery, so it is a highly skilled and well-paid job – to find out all of the skills required, check out the complete job role here.

Operating machinery

Plant operators usually specialise in one kind of machinery, such as excavators or bulldozers, so good driving skills and spatial awareness are necessary.

Construction machines have multiple gears, pedals and knobs – while operating all these parts simultaneously, you also need to keep your eyes on the worksite and your fellow workers. Knowing your machine like the back of your hand will help you work effectively and safely, and this will improve as you gain experience.

To operate plant machinery, you will need a CPCS card. Don’t know what one is? Check out our complete guide to CPCS cards here.

Working well as part of a team

Plant operators often work closely with others on site, from communicating with slinger signallers via radio whilst operating cranes to using hand signals to alert other workers of your movements, so excellent teamwork is key.

Plant operators work in all kinds of construction environment – they must be able to communicate clearly in order to work safely, accurately using and interpreting hand and visual signals.

Key responsibilities

Repair and maintenance of machinery

As well as operating machinery, plant operators are responsible for repair and maintenance. This starts with basic safety checks, changing buckets and any other attachments you’re using when necessary. This is usually carried out on a daily basis, before you start operations, so a basic knowledge of vehicle mechanics is required.

Preventative maintenance is also required, from cleaning and greasing machinery to verifying the condition of air brakes and carrying out emergency adjustments. Logs are usually kept to keep track of the equipment’s condition, so plant operators must be well versed in operational and safety procedures.

Use of computers and software

There’s a lot of computing power behind the cranes and excavators which construct impressive structures. Plant operators can use handheld devices or an onboard computer, which are used to locate underground pipes and wires, follow plans, control mechanisms and attachments and more.

Plant operators can also be required to use specialised software in their role – training is always provided for this, but a basic knowledge of how to work your way around a computer is essential.

Loading and moving materials

Key to a plant operator’s role is using heavy machinery and equipment to load, move or spread different materials or to help erect or demolish structures.

This ranges from helping with the excavation or demolition on building sites to assembling equipment and lifting building materials. This is often done in conjunction with other machinery, with the operators of cranes, compactors, excavators and diggers working closely with each other.

Plant operator training courses

Now we know some of the key skills required, daily responsibilities and a small selection of the machinery you could be working on – how do you train to become a plant operator?

National Construction College Courses

The National Construction College (NCC), run by CITB, has three sites across the UK which offer a wide variety of plant operator training courses.

The training centres deliver first-class training in real-life construction environments administered by professionals. They offer courses which specialise in plant maintenance as well as plant operations and plant management. The training is renowned and very highly regarded within the industry, and is an excellent option to become an expert plant operator.

Some of the courses available include:

Find out more here.

Total Construction Training Courses

Total Construction Training offer plant training courses across the whole of the UK, covering a massive range of disciplines.

Offering courses accredited by the National Plant Operators Registration Scheme (NPORS) and the Construction Plant Competence Scheme (CPCS), you will be able to find the training you need here.

Find out more here.

Construction and Plant Training Services

Construction and Plant Training Services offer over 100 courses at all levels, from beginner to expert – so they’re suitable for those just starting out as a plant operator or those looking to hone their skills further.

View the full list of courses they have to offer here.

Become a plant operator today

Curious about what a day in the life of a plant operator looks like? Check out Jaeger’s story here.

Now you know all about what’s involved in becoming a plant operator, check out the full job role for more information here.

Want to see what life after a plant operator looks like? Check out the plant manager job here.