what is an excavator operator?

An excavator operator is a person who is skilled in operating excavators. Excavators are large, heavy machines designed to move dirt, rocks, debris and other material around a job site. Your job is to operate the heavy equipment and use them to move earth and other materials. The excavators are often used to dig trenches, pour concrete and clear sites for construction. You also perform routine maintenance on heavy machinery. Due to the risks involved in the role, you are expected to adhere to strict safety protocols.

what industries need excavator operators?

As an excavator operator, you mainly work in the construction and manufacturing industries. Excavator operators move heavy materials around job sites to help make roads, bridges, buildings and other structures. Manufacturing companies sometimes require excavators to move large amounts of material that cannot be moved by human power alone.

Would working as an excavator operator suit your interest in driving heavy equipment? Then read on to find out what competencies and qualifications you need to thrive in an excavator operator role.

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average excavator operator salary

According to ONS, the median salary of an excavator operator is £35,100 yearly, or £18 per hour. Entry-level positions attract a lower compensation package of £32,127 annually. When you improve your skills and experience, you can earn as much as £40,950 per year.

how to increase your salary as an excavator operator

The compensation package of an excavator operator is determined by various factors, including experience, education and job complexity. The more you work as an excavator operator, the higher you are likely to earn. Experience determines your skills, and employers are willing to pay more for candidates with transferrable skills.

The scope of your role and company size also influence your earnings. When you work for a small construction company, you may earn less due to limited resources. Large companies can afford to pay excavator operators more. In addition, complex projects attract higher salaries compared to low-budget projects. Having extra credentials improves your salary prospects.

excavator operator
excavator operator

types of excavator operators

The types of excavator operators depend on the machinery they use for digging trenches or moving materials. Some types of excavator operators include:

  • wheeled excavator operator: as a wheeled excavator operator, you operate an excavator with wheels instead of tracks. Your job is to move materials or dig trenches on construction sites. Due to the minimal traction, you cannot work in wet areas with soft soils.
  • long-reach excavator operator: as a long-reach excavator operator, you dig trenches or move soil in hard-to-reach places. You also help to demolish buildings and structures. The excavator has an extendable arm for excavating from a safe distance.
  • suction excavator operator: as a suction excavator operator, you operate excavators with suction pipes. You use the suction for fragile digging jobs that require precision excavation. Since the suction pipe uses a high-pressure vacuum to suck up soil and debris, you use it to clean up underground projects.
  • 360 excavator operator: as a 360 excavator operator, you operate an excavator with a rotating base. That means you pick up large objects or materials and move them within the vehicle's radius. Your job is to clear the ground for new developments.

working as an excavator operator

Working as an excavator operator is more than just driving an excavator around the job site. You are expected to manage other tasks as well. Read on for more information about what is expected of you and your work environment.


education and skills

Some of the routes to becoming an excavator operator include:

  • college: to become an excavator operator, complete a specialist college course to learn the basics of plant operations. You could pursue a Level 2 Certificate in construction plant operations or a Level 3 diploma in construction and the built environment. If you don't have any experience in plant operations, consider taking further training in excavation.
  • apprenticeship: you won't find a specific apprenticeship for excavator operators, but you can start as an apprentice plant operator and specialise in excavator operations. Intermediate apprenticeships in plant operations take two years and give you a Level 2 NVQ certification in plant operations.

excavator operator skills and competencies

Apart from technical knowledge, you require soft skills like:

  • mechanical skills: as an excavator operator, you perform minor maintenance on your excavator, including cleaning the excavator to keep all mechanical parts free of dust and debris that can clog the engine. Cleaning or replacing all air and oil filters, changing the oil at regular intervals and replacing basic parts of the excavator as necessary are also part of your job. Mechanical skills help you perform your duties effectively.
  • physical skills: as an excavator operator, you constantly work in hot or wet weather or even dangerous environmental conditions. Good physical strength and stamina will allow you to withstand these conditions for longer and help to prevent your fellow employees from getting hurt on the job.
  • problem-solving skills: as an excavator operator, you require problem-solving skills to identify and resolve issues at work. Sometimes, you need to devise creative ways to complete complex or problematic tasks.
male excavator operator
male excavator operator


FAQs about working as an excavator operator

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