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How Can You Become A Plant Operator? A Complete Guide

Nauman Farooq

Oct 23, 2023

Read time : 10 mins

Table of contents

What Does A Plant Operator Do?
How Much Does A Plant Operator Earn?

A vital part of any construction site is a heavy machinery operator or a plant operator. Plant operators are highly-skilled individuals with expertise in operating heavy machinery to dig, lift, and move materials on building sites.

As easy as it may sound, becoming a professionally qualified plant operator isn’t a smooth ride at all. You need to gain a lot of work experience and also prove yourself competent in health and safety requirements.

Are you interested in becoming a plant operator? Then this blog will chalk out all the education, work experience, and certifications requirements for you. Also, we will discuss how much you can make as a plant operator.

So let’s get started!

What Does A Plant Operator Do?

The job description of a plant operator is simple: they have to be an expert in operating heavy machinery such as forklifts, cranes, bulldozers, excavators etc. Moreover, plant operators need to have decent spatial awareness to effectively operate the machines.

Plant operators are required to operate 180 degrees and 360 degrees excavators. Also, plant operators are required to dig the land with excavators and dumper trucks. Plant operators who are proficient in crane operations need to work with slinger signallers via radio to move heavy materials from one place to another.

Plant operators can be asked to level areas with compactors or use piling rigs and concrete pumps to build infrastructure.

Plant operators are also required by managers to carry out machine safety checks and repair any faults with the machines they operate such as changing buckets on cranes or maintaining the boom on an excavator.

How To Become A Plant Operator?

There are several pathways that you can take to become a plant operator. You can get a college education, an apprenticeship, or on-the-job training to start your career as a plant operator.

  • Education
    Although not all employers or training providers will ask for proof of formal education, some might ask for GSCEs with grades in English and mathematics. Also, if you are choosing to do a college course, then a GSCE will be a mandatory requirement.
  • Apprenticeship
    Doing an apprenticeship with a construction firm or a plant hire company is a good way to get started as a plant operator.

If you are over the age of 16 then you are eligible for an apprenticeship. You will be fully employed by your company and you will be expected to work a minimum of 30 hours a week. You will be trained on the job and will also train at a college or by a training provider.

You can complete an NVQ/SVQ Level 2 in Plant Operations or a Plant Operator or Lifting Technician intermediate apprenticeship. An intermediate apprenticeship takes almost two years to complete before you are able to work full-time.

  • Work Experience
    If you have experience operating heavy machinery then you can directly apply for a plant operator job. If you don’t have any experience, then you can work as a general labourer by obtaining a CSCS Green Labourer Card to gain construction site experience. Afterwards, your employer can offer you an on the job heavy machinery training.

An experienced plant operator is expected to have many skills alongside the knowledge of operating heavy machinery. These skills include:

  • Knowledge of engineering, science, and technology
  • Design skills
  • Able to work under pressure
  • Attention to detail
  • Maintaining and repairing machines and tools

Types of Plant Operator Cards

To become a plant operator, you don’t need a CSCS card. CSCS doesn’t issue cards to individuals in the plant sector. However, CSCS is partnered with other card schemes which provide their skill certification cards. These card schemes include:

  • The Trade Association For The Lorry Loader Industry (ALLMI)
  • Construction Plant Competence Scheme (CPCS)
  • International Powered Access Federation (IPAF)
  • The Mineral Products Qualifications Council (MPQC)
  • National Plant Operators Registration Scheme (NPORS)


The Trade Association For The Lorry Loader Industry or ALLMI is a plant scheme that is focused on issuing plant operator identity cards in the Lorry Loader industry. ALLMI issues identity cards as well as a certificate of achievement to those who successfully pass their assessment. The plant categories ALLMI is involved in are

  • Lorry Loader Operator
  • Slinger/Signaller
  • Crane Supervision

Requirement: ALLMI issues identity cards to aspiring plant operators after the successful completion of its mandatory theoretical and practical assessment. This process is based on the requirements of BS7121 part 4 and other elements of the 7121 series. This process applies to both novice and experienced plant operators. It is also a mandatory requirement for card renewal.

Card Validity: The cards issued by ALLMI are valid for 5 years.


Construction Plant Competence Scheme or CPCS issues plant operator cards to individuals working in construction and related industries who are responsible for operating heavy machinery. The cards offered by CPCS are

  • Trained Operator Card
  • Competent Operator Card
  • Tester Card

Requirement: CPCS issues cards based on their theory and practical tests. These tests are the CITB Health Test, Safety And Environment Test, and NVQ/SVQ tests.

Card Validity: CPCS cards are valid for 2 to 5 years depending on the type of the card.


International Powered Access Federation or IPAF issues cards to mobile elevator work platform operators who are working on a construction site. The only card issued by the IPAF is the Powered Access License Card.

Requirement: Based on the training provided at IPAF centres, the IPAF issues the PAL cards. Applicants must complete a CITB or any other Health, Safety, and Environment test to be eligible for this card.

Card Validity: PAL cards are valid for 5 years.


The Mineral Products Qualification Council or MPQC issues cards to plant operators working in road building, extraction, and construction. The cards offered by MPQC are:

  • Assessed Operator Card
  • Competent Operator Card
  • Assessor Card

Requirements: You have to pass the MPQC theoretical and practical assessments, CITB Health, Safety and Environment Tests, and SVQ/NVQ Tests to be eligible for receiving these cards.

Card Validity: These cards are valid for 2 to 5 years, depending upon the type of card.


National Plant Operator Registration Scheme or NPORS offers cards to plant operators working in various construction and allied sectors. These cards bear the CSCS logo. The cards offered by NPORS are

  • Trained Operator Card
  • Competent Operator Card
  • Instructor Card

Requirements: NPORS issues cards based on passing their theoretical and practical assessment, NVQ/SVQ tests, and the CITB Health, Safety, and Environment Test.

Card Validity: NPORS cards are valid for 5 years and can be renewed afterwards.

How Much Does A Plant Operator Earn?

The average salary of a plant operator in the UK is £23,122. However, some areas offer better pay and employment benefits. Here’s a list of areas where plant operators earn more than the average base pay.


Salary (Per Year)





St. Austell 














Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How many plant operators are there in the UK?

According to the CPA, training providers, and contractors, there are 289,000 plant operators working in the UK.

What is the role of a plant operator?

Plant operators are responsible for operating heavy machinery at a construction site. Also, they have to maintain and repair their machines and aid other construction teams in completing the project.


Plant operators are highly-skilled people capable of operating heavy machinery and capable of building awe-inspiring structures. However, to become a plant operator, you need to possess advanced qualifications to prove to your employer that you have the required knowledge of becoming a professional plant operator.

Moreover, you have to choose carefully the Plant Operator Card that relates to your expertise, qualifications, and skill. With the appropriate operator card, you can increase your chances of attracting high-paying employers and also improve your career progression options.

Well, I hope this guide helps you get the gist of what it takes to become a plant operator in the UK. Best of luck for your endeavours!

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