Construction Plant Mechanic

The Job and What's Involved

Construction plant mechanics work on light, medium and heavy machinery and equipment (known as plant) used on construction sites. Plant can include:

- Excavators
- Dozers
- Cranes and other heavy specialist lifting equipment
- Loading shovels
- Dump trucks
- Generators, compressors and concrete mixers
- Compacting machines, such as road rollers
- Lifting equipment, such as mobile elevated work platforms
- Piling rigs
- Road planers and tarmac layers
- Powered hand tools, such as disc cutters
- Demolition and road/rail equipment.

Construction plant mechanics are responsible for servicing, maintaining and repairing plant. They work on engines, transmission systems, hydraulics, electrics and electronics, pneumatics, and parts of plant chassis/frames, such as tracks, wheels and booms. On cranes and lifting machines, they may replace lifting hooks and ropes. They also change and repair the digging arms of excavators and the outriggers (or stabilisers) that keep cranes level on soft ground.

Mechanics carry out servicing and routine inspections on site or in a workshop, and also check new plant before it is used on site. They may also carry out safety inspections on plant, particularly cranes and access lifting equipment, and keep comprehensive records (log sheets) of the work they carry out.

When a machine breaks down, they have to examine it, identify the fault, remove the relevant section and repair or replace the faulty part or parts. They then reassemble and test the machine to make sure it is working safely and correctly.

Plant mechanics use a wide range of hand and power tools, including sockets, spanners, screwdrivers, drills, welding and cutting equipment and lifting gear. Plant mechanics are also trained to use laptop computers and other electronic equipment to check, repair and test modern machinery.

Construction plant mechanics usually work 38 to 40 hours a week, between 8am and 5pm. Overtime is common in this work as machinery may be needed at all times of the day and night, and at weekends.

Mechanics work both outdoors on site and in workshops. They may sometimes have to work underground or at great heights, for instance, when repairing cranes. Sometimes mechanics work in cramped conditions, and the work can be dirty, oily, dusty or noisy. Outdoor work can be cold and wet in winter, but also hot in summer. The job involves some bending, lifting and physical work.

Many plant mechanics in the UK are field based, and have their own specially equipped service vehicle. They may travel from job to job, because the machinery is often either too large or heavy to return to workshops. Some specialist plant mechanics may be based on a construction site anywhere in the UK for many months at a time.

A driving licence is usually needed.

Starting salaries for trainee plant mechanics may be around £9,000 a year. In Scotland, Apprentices may start on around £6,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The usual entry route is with an employer as an apprentice. Entrants need some ability in maths, science or technology to cope with the training. Four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), including maths and science or technology, or equivalent qualifications, would be useful.

Other qualifications are also helpful, such as a relevant BTEC first award or SQA national certificate modules. Many plant companies carry out practical assessments of applicants, such as the CITB-ConstructionSkills Learning Exercise.

Education and Training

Major construction companies and plant hire companies offer three or four-year Apprenticeships, leading to NVQ/SVQ Level 2 or 3 in Plant Maintenance (Construction).

The National Construction College, run by CITB-ConstructionSkills, offers a two-year plant mechanics course, which leads to NVQ/SVQ Levels 2 and 3 in Plant Maintenance.

A network of around 20 colleges in the UK offers Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships in Plant Maintenance. Some of the colleges offer specific versions of the Apprenticeship for specialist plant such as access equipment, cranes and tool hire.

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 www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

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

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

Apprenticeship schemes include supervised work experience and block or day-release to college.

Plant companies also recognise and support trainees who complete related courses such as the National Diploma in Land-based Technology, which is available at several colleges throughout the UK.

A Diploma will help you make a more informed choice about the type of learning that best suits you and about what kind of work or further study you may want to do afterwards.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

As machinery is constantly updated, redesigned and improved, mechanics need to continue to train throughout their careers to keep up to date. Even the most experienced plant mechanic can expect to attend specialist training courses, many of which are offered by machinery manufacturers.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Construction plant mechanics need:

  • A high level of mechanical skills.
  • Diagnostic and fault-finding skills.
  • Energy, stamina and reasonable physical fitness.
  • To be prepared to improvise and work long hours to keep valuable plant working.
  • To learn and apply technical knowledge.
  • To keep up with changing technology.
  • A methodical approach to solving problems.
  • To be able to work quickly to minimise delays on site.
  • To be able to work alone without direct supervision, and make decisions.
  • To be prepared to stay away from home for short or long periods.
  • To be aware of risks and to follow safety procedures.
  • To communicate effectively and maintain working.
  • Relationships with colleagues and customers.

Your Long Term Prospects

Possibilities for promotion vary between employers. A construction plant mechanic may progress to a plant technician, a technical or sales service representative, and on to a supervisory or managerial role. Those who work for a small organisation may have to move to another employer to gain promotion.

There are opportunities to work on oil rigs or abroad, particularly with large civil engineering contractors and plant and equipment suppliers.

Get Further Information

CITB-ConstructionSkills, Bircham Newton,
King's Lynn, Norfolk PE31 6RH
Tel: 01485 577577
Websites: www.citb-constructionskills.co.uk and www.bconstructive.co.uk

Scottish Building Apprenticeship and Training Council,
Carron Grange, Carrongrange Avenue, Stenhousemuir FK5 3BQ
Tel: 01324 555550
Website: www.sbatc.co.uk

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