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


Number employed in the UK


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

College/training provider

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

Find out what the entry requirements are where you live.


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.


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.


Additional skills which may benefit anyone considering a job as a plant operator include:

  • Able to use, repair and maintain machines and tools
  • Knowledge of engineering science, maths, and technology
  • Design skills and knowledge
  • Able to work well with your hands
  • Be thorough and pay attention to detail
  • Able to accept criticism and work well under pressure
  • Able to work well with others
  • Able to use a computer and the main software packages confidently

What does a plant operator do?

As a plant operator you will be responsible for using a variety of machinery to do tasks such as removing soil or dirt, moving equipment around a site, or creating new structures.

The job role of a plant operator involves the following duties:

  • 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?

The expected salary for a plant operator varies as you become more experienced. 

  • 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

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.