what is a plant operator?

A plant operator is a professional who operates, monitors and maintains machinery in an industrial plant. Your job involves using machines like cranes, backhoes, excavators, bulldozers and trenchers. You perform jobs like excavation, lifting, crushing rocks and transporting materials from one place to another. Many modern industrial plants have highly automated machines and equipment that use computer controls to handle different processes. In such cases, you monitor progress, observe the gauges, check the valves and operate alarms and switches from a centralised control room.

plant operators work in many industries

As a plant operator, you work in a broad range of industries. You could land a job in power, utilities, water treatment or chemical plants. The manufacturing, gas and oil industries also hire plant operators. Some plant operators specialise in a particular type of machinery, so they work on a single part of the industrial process. If you want higher-paying job offers, it's advisable to develop skills in a range of machines and equipment so you can work in all parts of the process.

Would working as a plant operator suit your ability to focus and patience? Then read on to find out what competencies and qualifications you need to thrive in a plant operator role.

plant operator jobs

average plant operator salary

A plant operator's compensation package varies based on their experience, the company size and the industry. 

According to National Careers, the median annual salary in an entry-level position is £19,000 while experienced workers take home over £36,000 per year.

When you are newly trained, you have minimal skills, and your earnings range from £19,000 to £25,000 per year, depending on your skills and educational qualifications. When you are a trained plant operator with a couple of years of experience, your compensation package rises to between £25,000 to £30,000 per year. Experienced plant operators with complex responsibilities earn more than £30,000 yearly, with senior positions attracting salaries of £40,000 annually.

how to increase your salary as a plant operator

Salary increments usually depend on experience levels and credentials. When you have more experience, your expertise improves your salary prospects. Completing additional training courses also boosts your compensation package. You can increase your salary prospects by specialising in specific plant operations. For instance, power plant operators earn higher salaries than construction plant operators.

woman plant operator
woman plant operator

types of plant operators

The types of plant operators depend on the industry of specialisation. Some include:

  • construction plant operators: as a construction plant operator, you operate construction machinery and equipment. For instance, you use dumper trucks and bulldozers or operate 360 excavators to dig foundations. You also use cranes to move construction materials.
  • power plant operators: your job is to manage the operations of a power plant facility. You control and monitor the performance of power-generating equipment. You also clean and maintain the power plant to improve safety.
  • chemical plant operators: as a chemical plant operator, you control and operate the machinery that makes chemical products like cosmetics and paints.

working as a plant operator

If you're looking forward to being a plant operator, take the time to familiarise yourself with the responsibilities, working conditions, work schedules and job outlook.


education and skills

Some of the routes for becoming a plant operator include:

  • college course: pursue a Level 2 Certificate in construction plant operations or a Level 3 Diploma in construction and the built environment. These courses equip you with knowledge of operating various heavy-duty equipment and performing maintenance.
  • apprenticeship: you can join the profession through an apprenticeship programme with a plant hire company or construction firm. The plant operator or lifting technician intermediate apprenticeships take two years each and give you an NVQ Level 2 qualification in plant operations. You also require a construction plant competence scheme (CPCS) card to work on construction sites.

plant operator skills and competencies

To succeed as a plant operator, you require the following qualities:

  • attention to detail: as a plant operator, you should pay close attention to minor details. Remember that your job involves monitoring complex controls to ensure everything works properly.
  • critical-thinking skills: this occupation suits people who quickly interpret information and make logical decisions. Your job is to identify the strength and weaknesses of various equipment and machines and develop the best solutions for any problem.
  • active listening and communication skills: you work with other team members and communicate vital information, so you should also pay attention to what others say, understand all the instructions, and ask relevant questions. Note that simple miscommunication mistakes result in expensive losses and time wastage in industrial plants.
  • concentration: plant operators should be very careful to read and understand written instructions related to their job. Conducting tests and product evaluations requires a high level of concentration. While operating the machines, you should pay attention to temperature reactors and other operational parameters.
plant operator checking
plant operator checking


Here are the most asked questions about working as a plant operator.

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