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  • There are many different types of excavator

  • An excavator being used to clear large amounts of soil

  • Excavator Operator

Excavator Operator


As an Excavator Operator you will be responsible for the safe and effective operation of an excavator. You will sit inside the excavator and operate the controls in order to use various tools and pieces of equipment - like a large drill for instance.

Also known as

  • Heavy Plant Operator
  • Excavating Equipment Operator Foreman/Woman

Work Activities

As an Excavator Operator, you will be responsible for the safe and effective operation of an excavator. You will sit inside the excavator and operate the controls in order to use various tools and pieces of equipment - like a large drill for instance.

There are many different types of excavator, including:

  • compact, or mini excavator - these are small excavators, becoming increasingly popular
  • amphibious excavator - this is an excavator which can float in shallow water and work on river dredging
  • bulldozer - this is an excavator capable of pushing large amounts of soil or rubble
  • 360 degree excavator - this excavator is capable of turning or pivotting right around on the spot, in a full circle
  • long reach excavator - this is an excavator with a very long arm, capable of reaching up to tall buildings

Excavators are used for many different situations and perform many different types of task, including:

  • digging trenches
  • material handling
  • forestry work
  • demolition
  • landscaping
  • mining
  • river dedging
  • drilling

These taks might be performed as part of a larger project, such as the construction of

  • roads
  • railways
  • wind farms
  • undergroup pipe systems
  • houses

Health and safety matters are of huge importance in this career. It will be up to you to make sure you operate the excavator safely and in line with health and safety regulations, and that you wear the correct protective clothing.

You may also need to carry out routine maintenance of the excavator.

Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.

Personal Qualities and Skills

To become an Excavator Operator, you will need to:

  • be aware of safety issues
  • have good practical skills
  • have mechanical skills for the basic servicing of equipment
  • have good communication skills
  • have good teamwork skills

You also need good eyesight and you will need a full driving licence.

This job might not be suitable for people who have skin conditions, such as eczema, or breathing complaints, such as asthma.

Pay and Opportunities


The pay rates given below are approximate.

  • Starting: £20,000 - £23,000
  • With experience: £26,000 - £30,000
  • Senior Excavator Operators earn £33,500 -£37,000

Hours of work

Excavator Operators work 39 hours a week. Overtime, including Saturday working may be available.

Where could I work?

Employers are construction, building, and civil engineering companies.

Opportunities for Excavator Operators occur with employers in towns and cities throughout the UK.

This career could involve working for an agency.

Where are vacancies advertised?

Vacancies are advertised on all the major job boards, on Find a Job, and at Jobcentre Plus.

Entry Routes and Training

Entry routes

There is not a set route into this career. GCSEs are not needed to become an Excavator Operator but having GCSEs in maths and English is useful.

An Intermediate or Advanced Level Apprenticeship is a great first step into this career. Take a look at our information article 'Apprenticeships – How do I apply', for more details about applying for apprenticeship positions.

Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS)

You need a CSCS (Construction Skills Certification Scheme) card to work on site. These cards show that you are qualified to do the work you've been employed for.

CSCS cards will cost £36 and you will have to pass the appropriate Construction Industry Training Board health, safety and environmental test. This costs £21. You will then complete an application form and pay the total price of £57.

The CSCS application form has four sections that you will have to complete:

  • section A: This section is where you complete your personal details and attach a passport photo or your Health, Safety & Environment Test photo
  • section B: This is where you fill in your occupation details and state which card you need. The different cards are skilled, craft and operative cards.
  • section C: This a declaration section where your current employer, previous employer or a CSCS card holder will declare that you meet the requirements of the card
  • section D: This is the details of your card requirements and what evidence you need to get a CSCS card


If you would like some more training, CITB offer a course. The course is 'CPCS excavator 360 degrees'. This course has been specifically designed for people who have little to no experience in operating an excavator.

By the end of the course, you will have learnt:

  • how to operate the excavator safely and productively
  • how to fit and operate ancillary equipment
  • how to site the machine safely and efficiently
  • how to carry out minor adjustments and routine servicing procedures
  • the capabilities, purposes and limitations of each machine
  • how to follow all necessary safety precautions
  • how to interpret the information provided by level pegs and profiles
  • the necessary routine adjustments and service procedures, and carry them out
  • how to work to levels with the aid of laser equipment

Once you have learnt all these units, you will then have an assessment. If you pass this assessment, you will earn:

  • a CPCS trained operator card (red card)
  • a CITB national construction college certificate

CPCS Trained Operator Card

When you receive your Red Operator Card, this will show your employer that you have a large level of core skills, knowledge and understanding of the industry.

Once you have gained enough experience, you might work your way to earning a Blue Operator Card.

Work Experience

Previous experience working as a Building, Mechanical or Plant operative would be really useful for this career.


Entry requirements vary. You do not always need educational qualifications to enter this type of work.

For Intermediate Level Apprenticeships, you may have to sit an aptitude test involving maths, and problem solving. You might also have to sit a literacy test.

Having GCSEs in maths and English graded 9 - 4 (A*- C) would be useful for this career.

Adult Opportunities

Age limits

It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.


Late entry is common, especially for those with related skills, for example, as a building, mechanical or plant operative.


Many people go into this career via an Intermediate Level Apprenticeship. Various Construction, Planning and the Built Environment, and Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies Apprenticeship titles would be relevant for people wanting to get into this career.

Further Information

Apprenticeships: Get In. Go Far

National Apprenticeship Service (NAS)

Tel: 0800 015 0400




Skills for the construction industry

Address: Bircham Newton, Kings Lynn, Norfolk PE31 6RH



Northern Ireland Enquiries

Address: Nutts Corner Training Centre, 17 Dundrod Road, Crumlin, County Antrim BT29 4SR

Tel: 028 9082 5466



Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS)

Address: Bircham Newton, Kings Lynn, Norfolk PE31 6RH

Tel: 0844 5768777


Scottish Building Apprenticeship and Training Council (SBATC)

Scottish enquiries

Address: Crichton House, 4 Crichtons Close, Holyrood, Edinburgh EH8 8DT

Tel: 0131 5568866



Construction Industry Training Board (CITB)

Address: Blue Court, Church Lane, Kings Langley, Hertfordshire WD4 8JP

Tel: 01923 260000



Careers Wales - Welsh Apprenticeships

Tel: 0800 028 4844


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