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Construction Plant Operator

Source of Information: Next Step / DirectGov / Careers Advice Service

Construction Plant Operator

The Work

As a construction plant operator, you would work with the machinery and equipment used on building sites, roadworks, railways and in forestry.

Examples of the machines you might use include:

  • 180- and 360-degree excavators (JCBs)
  • earth moving bulldozers and dumper trucks
  • mobile elevated work platforms (MEWPs or cherry pickers)
  • static tower cranes, and mobile and rough terrain cranes
  • compactors and whacker plates used for flattening out work areas.

You would also use forklifts and telescopic handlers to unload and move building materials around the site.

Apart from driving and operating plant machinery, you would change buckets, shovels and other attachments, maintain equipment and carry out daily safety checks.

Depending on your job, you might work with a banksman/bankswoman, who would check the position and depth of excavations at ground level, or direct you by signals or radio if your visibility was restricted.

Hours and Environment

You would usually work around 40 hours a week, but working hours may vary, depending on deadlines.

Most of your work will take place outdoors in all weather conditions, and it could get noisy and dirty. You may be working at heights, for example when operating a tower crane. You would wear protective clothing for all jobs.

The nature of the work means you would travel between jobs, and some contracts may involve overnight stays away from home.

Skills and Interests

  • a basic knowledge of vehicle mechanics
  • good concentration levels
  • practical skills
  • the ability to follow detailed instructions
  • a high level of fitness for changing heavy attachments and climbing in and out of cabs
  • good communication skills
  • an awareness of safe working practices
  • good teamworking skills and the ability to work alone
  • a head for heights for some jobs.


You do not always need qualifications to work as a plant operator. Some employers may ask for GCSEs in subjects like maths, English and design and technology, or equivalent vocational qualifications, like the BTEC Introductory Certificate or Diploma in Construction or Intermediate Construction Award.

You could find work as a labourer to gain some on-site experience. Once you are working, your employer may offer you training in plant operation.

Alternatively, you could get into this career through a construction Apprenticeship. The range of Apprenticeships available in your area will depend on the local jobs market and the types of skills employers need from their workers. To find out more, visit

Previous driving experience with forklifts or LGVs may give you an advantage when looking for work.

For more information about construction careers, training and qualifications, contact ConstructionSkills. The Know Your Place campaign aims to promote the construction trades as a career choice for women.


You would normally receive training on the job, leading to NVQ qualifications, such as the NVQ in Plant Operations at Level 2.

The NVQ has options in:

  • cranes and lifting equipment
  • earthmoving and extraction equipment
  • powered access (telescopic handlers) equipment
  • transporting loads
  • compaction equipment.

There are also options for slinger/signaller work, dismantling cranes and rigs, and barge and rail work.

With experience, you could move on to the NVQ Construction Plant and Equipment Supervision at Level 3.

Your employer may arrange training for you to gain a Powered Access Licence (PAL). The Licence proves that you can operate mobile elevated work platforms on site. For more information about PALs and details of training providers, see the International Powered Access Federationís (IPAF) website.

For details of construction plant trainers, contact ConstructionSkills and the Construction Plant Hire Association. ConstructionSkills also lists NVQ providers by region on its website.

Construction Plant Competence Scheme (CPCS)
Most contractors insist that you have a CPCS card to work on site. A valid card proves your skills and that you have passed relevant health and safety tests. See the ConstructionSkills website for more details about the scheme.


You can find opportunities with building and civil engineering contractors, local authorities and plant hire companies. It may also be possible to find work abroad.

Despite the economic downturn, ConstructionSkills reports of a number of major projects that may still provide opportunities, such the 2012 Olympics, rail station redevelopments and the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme.

With experience, you could move into construction management, site supervision or estimating. You could become a plant coordinator, selecting the machinery needed for each new job and assessing new equipment. Plant equipment sales is another option.

You could also set up your own business, working as either an owner-operator or on a labour-only basis for contractors.

You may find the following useful for job vacancies and general reading: (links open in new window)

Construction Jobs Network
Directgov (Jobseekers page)

We do not accept responsibility for the content of external sites.

Annual Income

  • Trainees can earn around £13,000 a year.
  • With qualifications, this can rise to between £15,000 and £19,000.
  • Experienced plant operators can earn between £20,000 and £26,000 a year.

Operators can increase their salary with overtime and bonus payments.

Figures are intended as a guideline only.

Further information

If you would like to discuss your career options with a learning advisor at the Careers Advice Service advice line, call 0800 100 900 or use our online enquiry form.


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