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How to become a… Process Plant Operator

  • Publish Date: Posted about 4 years ago
  • Author: Jessica Tabinor

​Process plant machinery is widely used throughout the UK construction industry, creating many elementary process plant operator jobs opportunities for operators at all levels.

Read on to find out more about the skills you’ll need and discover whether process plant operating is the right fit for you.

£17-40k dependent on experience 

Hinkey Point C/HS2

Driving Licence, NVQ, CPCS

What do elementary process plant operator jobs involve?

Process plant operators control, monitor and maintain the machines and equipment used to move and process materials or chemicals. This can include excavators, cranes and carriers. The work can include roles in materials and waste management and roles in the oil, gas and petroleum industries. In some cases, the machinery and equipment used are driver-controlled. In others instances, the processes are computer controlled.

Process plant operators have to set the controls and observe gauges and other instrumentation to monitor progress and check for malfunctions and faults. Many process plant operators are responsible for preparing and measuring the raw materials that are used in manufacturing and refining processes.

What is an elementary process plant operative’s salary?

Average salaries vary according to location, and from employer to employer. Rates of pay also vary depending on the type and size of machinery being used. Starting pay is usually in the region of £17,000 per year, rising to £30,000 with training and experience. Those with a particular specialism in operating very large or complex plant and machinery can command higher rates of pay, around £40,000.

These figures are intended as a guideline only. 

What skills do I need?

You need to be capable of following detailed written instructions and to enjoy practical and manual activities. Process plant operators need analytical skills and need to be good problem solvers who work well in a team. You’ll need good spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination to operate heavy machines with safety and accuracy. The work can be physically demanding so as with all site-work, a degree of fitness is advantageous.

What qualifications do I need?

You’ll almost always need a driving licence to start work. After which a Level 2 NVQ Certificate and Diploma in Plant Operations provides official recognition of the knowledge and skills needed to work in this field.

In addition, the Construction Plant Competence Scheme (CPCS) provides an industry registration card scheme for those involved in plant operations. Operator cards document recognized skills, competence and qualifications, with different codes covering different classes of machinery. Some of the most common classifications are listed below:

  • Crawler crane CPCS Code A02

  • Tower crane CPCS Code A04

  • Ride on Road Roller CPCS Code A36

  • Excavator 360 degree tracked CPCS Code A59

  • Crane supervisor CPCS Code A62

  • Ride on Road Roller CPCS Code A31

  • Plant and Vehicle Marshaller CPCS Code A73

All process plant operators will need a Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card to work on building sites.

What are the hours and conditions?

Process plant operators often work in hot, dusty and noisy conditions, with some exposure to hazardous fumes. Many work shifts, including nights and weekends, with associated opportunities for overtime pay. The work is potentially hazardous so strict adherence to safety procedures and regulations is essential.

Process plant operators need to understand the full range of equipment and machinery employed for their particular operation. Many processes are controlled by automated computer systems, so you need to be comfortable using computers and electronic interfaces and instruments. Safety equipment such as overalls, hardhats, safety glasses, ear protection and safety boots is frequently essential.

Career progression

Elementary process plant operators can graduate on to larger and more sophisticated pieces of machinery with the right training, skills and experience. The NVQ Assessment and Verification Service is designed for plant operators who wish to move beyond a Level 2. Accreditation goes up to level 6 NVQ/SVQ in Specialised Plant and Machinery Operations.

Those with a background in operating process plant can move into technical careers in maintenance and mechanics.

Areas of specialism 

Process plant operators can achieve a high degree of specialism in operating a particular type of machinery, for instance, tower cranes or very heavy mechanical shovels, including dragline excavators for quarrying and open cast mining.