Construction Operative

The Job and What's Involved

Construction operatives work as part of a team of tradespeople and labourers who build houses, factories, offices, roads, bridges, airports and other structures.

The precise nature of the work depends on the area of construction in which an operative works.

General building and civil engineering tasks may include:

  • Preparing the ground for construction work.
  • Helping to set out areas to be dug for foundations and drains.
  • Preparing materials such as cement and plaster.
  • Digging shallow trenches manually, and trimming and squaring up trenches dug by machine.
  • Erecting and dismantling timbering used to support trenches.
  • Laying drains and backfill trenches.
  • Erecting and taking down formwork.
  • Fixing steel.
  • Pouring concrete for foundations, walls, beams and floors.

Site work may involve:

  • Putting up hoardings, safety signs, barriers and site huts.
  • Setting up and dismantling access equipment, including ladders and some scaffolding.
  • Transporting, stacking and removing tools, equipment and materials.

Streetworks include:

  • Road and pavement construction.
  • Concreting, kerb-laying and block or flag paving.
  • Blacktop surfacing.

Construction operatives may be required to drive some construction plant, such as dumper trucks. Some operatives specialise in helping with a particular task, such as bricklaying or plastering. Others may specialise in areas such as piling, deep drainage, underpinning, concrete repairs and structural repairs.

Construction operatives follow instructions from a site supervisor or manager. On some occasions they may have to work from drawings, plans or written instructions. They use a wide range of tools and equipment.

Construction operatives usually work 39 hours a week, Monday to Friday. Start and finish times vary in order to make the most of daylight hours, complete jobs to deadlines and avoid disruption to the public. Overtime work at weekends or in the evening is common.

Construction operatives mainly work outside so conditions can be hot, cold, wet, dusty and dirty. The work is very physical and involves loading, unloading and storing materials.

On construction sites, operatives wear protective clothing such as safety helmets, steel toecap boots, ear defenders, goggles and high-visibility jackets.

The work can involve travelling as operatives move from one project to the next. They may need to work away from home. A driving licence may be useful.

Construction operatives may start on around £15,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Construction is the largest industry in the UK, employing about 2.3 million people, including about 233,000 women. Around 80,000 people join the industry each year and about 37 per cent of construction workers are self-employed.

Operatives are in constant demand, both for new construction work and to carry out maintenance and repairs on buildings. They work for building or engineering contractors, local authorities and other public organisations. There are jobs on building sites throughout the UK.

Vacancies for construction operatives are usually advertised in Jobcentre Plus offices, Connexions centres and local newspapers.

Education and Training

Vocational qualifications in construction are available in some schools and colleges, and offer an introduction to the industry and a foundation for further training. They include:

  • GCSE's in Construction and in Construction and the Built Environment.
  • BTEC Introductory Certificate and Diploma in Construction (Level 1).
  • City & Guilds/ConstructionSkills Foundation and Intermediate Construction Awards.
  • Scottish Progression Award/Skills for Work Award in Building Crafts.
  • City & Guilds Certificate and Introductory Certificate in Basic Construction Skills.

Schools may be able to arrange work experience with a construction company so that students can find out what it is really like to work in the industry.

Apprenticeships are a common route into the construction industry.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

A Few More Exams You Might Need

There are no set entry requirements but GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) in English, maths and technology subjects are useful.

Training is usually on the job, working with more experienced operatives, but new entrants also receive more formal training in health and safety.

Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) cards are used in the construction industry to demonstrate that the card holder has been trained in health and safety and is competent in a particular occupation, or is working towards becoming competent.

Construction operatives also need to have a Construction Site Operative (CSO) card.

Construction apprentices gain vocational qualifications and train as they work. They are taught practical skills and spend some time at a college or training centre. Apprenticeships lead to key skills qualifications, technical certificates and NVQ's/SVQ's at Level 2 in Construction Operations and, for more specialised jobs, Construction and Civil Engineering Services, Roadbuilding (Construction) and Constructional Steelwork Site Operations.

Unqualified operatives and those who have re-entered the industry after time away may work towards a qualification through ConstructionSkills' On-Site Assessment and Training (OSAT) programme or Experienced Worker Practical Assessment (EWPA) route. These programmes turn a worker's existing skills and experience into a nationally-recognised qualification such as an NVQ/SVQ.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Construction operatives should:

  • Have practical hand skills and be able to work with a range of tools.
  • Be physically fit.
  • Be comfortable working at heights.
  • Be willing to work outdoors in all weathers.
  • Be able to work from drawings, plans and verbal instructions.
  • Be safety-conscious.
  • Keep up to date with new building techniques and materials.
  • Work well alone and as part of a team.

Your Long Term Prospects

Construction operatives may be able to progress to craft-level roles such as bricklayer or carpenter. With experience and training they may become site supervisors.

Some operatives move into specialist areas of work such as tunnelling or bridge building. Others become self-employed.

There are many opportunities to work overseas in the construction industry.

Get Further Information

ConstructionSkills, Bircham Newton, King's Lynn, Norfolk PE31 6RH
Tel: 01485 577577
Websites: and

Federation of Master Builders (FMB), Gordon Fisher House,
14-15 Great James Street, London WC1N 3DP
Tel: 020 7242 7583

Scottish Building Apprenticeship & Training Council,
Carron Grange, Carrongrange Avenue, Stenhousemuir FK5 3BQ
Tel: 01324 555550

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