Everything You Need to Know About Becoming a Mobile Plant Operator

A mobile plant operator has a critical role in the success of a construction or mining project. If you want to become one, you will take on several important tasks. But first, you need to know how to start your career, including what the job entails, your duties, and requirements. If these details are what you need, this blog post is for you.


Job Description: What is a Mobile Plant Operator?

Mobile plant operators have a few jobs to fulfil on the worksite that involves machinery or equipment. They drive, operate, tend, and monitor machines used for multiple purposes, including cleaning and preparing the site and digging, moving, or distributing materials, such as rocks and earth. They are also tasked to lift heavy objects out of the way to ensure the worksite is ready for construction, demolition, or any other reason.

If you wish to become a mobile plant operator, you should understand your responsibilities, which include:

  • Ensuring machines are fully capable of operating
  • Driving equipment to worksites and back to the storage yard when work is done
  • Checking that the machine is lubricated and ready for use
  • Loading and unloading necessary objects and equipment from trailers or other low loaders
  • Once the equipment is loaded, operators will move it around for easy access around the site
  • Choosing the right attachments for machinery, including branch cutters, buckets, lifters, and trenches
  • Changing attachments when needed
  • Learning how to use special attachments for the equipment used in the worksite
  • Working under the instructions of engineers and supervisors
  • Understanding drawings and plans
  • Excavating earth or rubble
  • Reaching the correct level when scraping earth
  • Back-filling trenches
  • Disintegrating paving or rocks using the right equipment, such as pneumatic breakers

Mobile plant operators should check the machines regularly. Although they may not necessarily be the persons to carry out the cleaning process, they typically are responsible for refuelling and lubricating the machine. If adjustments and repairs are required, they may perform the fixes; otherwise, they should inform the management about the needed repair.

The operator is also expected to care for the equipment, as well as the people in the workspace. Running a heavy machine is not easy and can be dangerous to the other workers. The operator, therefore, is tasked to take all the necessary precautions to make sure the equipment will not harm anyone.


Statistics: All About the Numbers

Mobile plant operators have a stable career path even in the coming years. Many construction projects require the use of plant equipment. Therefore, there are plenty of opportunities for those looking for a long-time career in this sector. It always had a low unemployment rate. Currently, the estimated number of mobile plant operators is 46,400. Western Australia has about a little over 13% of this number.

In Australia, the average age of mobile plant operators is 45 to 54 years old (27.1%). Since the job does not have complex skill requirements, many people can learn to operate plant equipment. Some workers are around 19 years old and below. Almost five per cent of the entire workforce is from 20 to 24 years, while people aged 35-44 make up 22.5% of the worker population in the country.

About 98% of the workers are men, and a full-time job consists of about 49 hours. They have a weekly pay of approximately $1,491. In WA, the average annual salary for plant operators ranges from $80,000 to $90,000. More than 40% of mobile plant operators accomplished Year 10.

What are the Requirements?

What does it take to become a mobile plant operator? Just like other jobs, there are requirements you must fulfil to start.

Let us begin with your traits, which include:

  • Finding personal enjoyment with practical activities
  • Being able to follow instructions, especially strict ones regarding levels and conditions when operating machinery
  • The ability to work effectively on your own and with a team
  • Can work with minimal to no supervision
  • With good hand and eye coordination
  • Can keep up with how demanding operating machinery is, particularly on a physical level
  • Values safety of the workers and the whole workplace
  • Eager to learn and be updated with new techniques and skills in machinery operations


You are also required to have good eyesight. If not, you should be willing to wear corrective or prescription eyeglasses or lenses. They should not interfere with the job, however. For instance, you may have to wear a hard hat. Your glasses should not get in the way when wearing the protective equipment on your head.

You should also be comfortable working in a worksite, which is busy, noisy, and dusty. The surroundings, primarily if you work in Western Australia, will be quite hot and uncomfortable.

Many beginner operators think that it is not a difficult job. After all, many types of equipment today are more comfortable than in the past. For instance, many excavators are now air-conditioned and have soundproofing attributes. However, it does not mean that the equipment you will operate will provide these conveniences for you. Once again, you should know that the workplace and its working conditions can be different.

Now, let us move on to education and training. A big question of those who would like to take this career path is if formal training or a special course is required. The short answer is that becoming a mobile plant operator does not involve specific qualifications.

Some companies need the operator to have at least a year of training. Many employers often require the employee to have achieved at least Year 10. Others are fine with informal training, which can be acquired right on the job. The employer will typically train you, and you do not have to pay for the class. But be sure to discuss it with the company, so you know if there are fees that you may be concerned with.

Training is available for those who would like to learn how to operate excavators and other heavy equipment. Getting formal qualifications is not required. However, it can help expand and enhance the opportunities you can have when it comes to your employment choices.

It is true that many companies do not mind operators with little to no qualifications. However, they will naturally gravitate towards those with more experience. If there is only one spot for a mobile plant operator and the other candidate has formal training, you already know the person they will choose.

You can improve your chances by obtaining certificates. Each state has its own range of qualifications that you can get through tertiary institutions that the government owns and operates. Usually, the skills for excavator and machinery operations will be rolled into other certifications for mobile plant operators. It’s not essential to earn a qualification, but you can get it if you wish. You can receive a qualification that the entire nation recognises, such as Certificate III in Plant Operations.

It is rare to find a training program exclusively designed for running a particular piece of equipment.

You need to look harder if you want to go for specialist qualifications, such as:

  • Earthmoving or Construction Plant Operators
  • Backhoe Operators
  • Loader Operators
  • Bulldozer Operators
  • Grader Operators
  • Excavator Operators

The type of plant operators mentioned above can benefit from Vocational Education and Training (VET). VET qualifications allow you to move into the workforce straightaway. You also have the option to use it as your first step towards tertiary education. VET qualifications are sponsored by government institutions known as Technical and Further Education (TAFE), along with private institutions.

Some VET courses, including those for mobile plant operators, incorporate onsite and classroom learning. Therefore, the students get the experience right then and there, which is priceless for people wanting to gain an edge over other operators.

VET certificates range in four levels:

  • Certificate I: The course can range anywhere from four to six months. After finishing, the student is guaranteed to become more competent on the chosen equipment to operate.
  • Certificate II: Gaining Certificate II requires about a year of study in operating machinery. Those with this certificate are considered more advanced than their counterparts.
  • Certificate III: Another year after taking up Certificate II (or you can go straight to Certificate III depending on your skills) will gain you Certificate III. Many businesses look for this qualification because it assures them that the operator is qualified.
  • Certificate IV: The course can run for 12 to 18 months and qualifies the person to become a supervisor. Suppose it is a civil construction operations course. In that case, this qualification allows you to apply for different jobs, including as an earthworks operations technician, tunnel operations technician, and road and pavement operations technician.

A course in civil construction plant operations may be useful, especially if getting hired becomes specifically tricky for you. This course is actually the Certificate III in Civil Construction Plant Operations, which will help develop your understanding and skills in using tools and equipment in construction. The classes also provide beneficial knowledge that will allow you to progress in your career.

Certificate III covers a wide range of skills, including plant operations and equipment. It is why this course is an excellent choice for those wanting to become a plant operator. It also teaches students regarding the basics of levelling, as well as the excavation process. The course tackles working safely in a construction site, which is useful, too. After all, you will typically be working in a construction site. Therefore, you need the necessary information on how to stay safe in such an environment.


The Licences You Need

It looks easy to become a mobile plant operator, mainly because you do not need to have specific skills or qualifications. Anyone can become a plant operator as long as some qualities are there, such as having good eye-hand coordination and enjoying working in a construction site with a group of people.

Although there is no training requirement, you may need to present certain licences to get accepted as an equipment operator of a specific company. For instance, you wish to work as an excavator operator. WorkSafe Australia and other regulators may need you to have a Perform High-Risk Work licence first.

While you can start operating a piece of heavy machinery even with minimum training, you will find that many employers may not accept your job application unless you carry the licence mentioned. It will be risky for them and their business if the operator does not meet the specifications of the regulators. Therefore, it is always best to acquire the necessary licences before you jump in an excavator or any equipment.

How can you get this licence? It’s not much of a challenge, and the process is usually quicker than it may seem.

Here are some tips so you can obtain a Perform High-Risk Work licence easily:

  • Register with the Registered Training Organisation (or an educator or institution that the Australian government deems legitimate).
  • You need to complete a certain number of hours working as an operator. The job will be under the supervision of a qualified and licenced operator.
  • Remember when you were trying to get your driver’s licence for your car? You will do the same with this licence where you keep an approved logbook. You will use it to record your achievements and milestones throughout the entire training period.
  • And once again, just like with your driver’s licence exam, you will be under the scrutiny of an independent assessor. After you have learned the essentials, the assessor will determine whether or not you should be given the Perform High-Risk Work Licence.

Apart from the training, you should also be at least 18 years old before you can apply for the licence. In some cases, however, employers may be willing to hire you if you are 16 years old. You will be taken as a trainee or apprentice as long as you have left school in Year 10. These employers choose this option so that applicants can begin their practice earlier. It is possible to register with the training even if you are younger than 18.

The licence is not the only thing you should get. Operators of plant equipment, especially those who will work in the construction industry, should finish a safety induction training course. Once you complete the course, you will be presented with a Construction Induction Card (CIC), which may be a requirement of the company where you would like to work.

Other licences that you may need are:

  • Forklift licence (if you will operate the equipment)
  • Manual Drivers Licence
  • Medium Rigid Licence (MR)
  • Heavy Rigid Licence (HR)

Your prospective employer may need you to obtain a White Card. The certification requires you to work in construction; otherwise, it will become invalid if you stop working in the industry for about two years.

Operators may also be required to complete certain checks, including drug and alcohol tests, national police checks, and psychometric (aptitude) tests.


Other Facts You Should Know

Your career as a mobile plant operator can be quite colourful. You have the chance to work anywhere from roads to bridges to dams. You may even have projects involving golf courses, wind and solar farmers, tunnels, and railway lines. The most common worksites, however, are houses mine sites & commercial buildings. Your options go on and on!

When it comes to employers, you also have a variety of choices, from small to medium to large businesses. It is also possible that you will get hired by local councils and even government agencies.

Since you will work with a heavy plant machine, you may be worried about your safety. The good news is that modern equipment is now extremely safe. The construction and mining industries are primarily government-supported. All machines used are inspected before anyone operates them. Also, safety has become the biggest concern and focus of businesses. You can rest assured knowing that you are safe while you handle the excavator or any other machinery.

What you need to worry about more is the safety of those around you. A big problem with some pieces of equipment is the lack of visibility with the operator’s surroundings. Worksites are often busy with everyone on their feet. It is usually difficult to manoeuvre a huge piece of equipment, especially with people around you that you cannot see.

For this reason, some operators are partnered with another person who will give them hand signals that tell when to turn, move, or stop, among others. Operators are required to learn all these hand signals to prevent any accident in the worksite.

These days, many plant machines, however, provide maximum visibility for the operator. It is usually not a big concern as it used to in the past. Still, it does not hurt to take the safety of other people around seriously.

If you wish, you could progress your career into construction management or another area of mining and civil construction. Taking up a site supervision role is also possible if you have obtained a Certificate IV in most cases.