Earthmoving Machine Operator Kaiwhakamahi Wakapana Oneone

Earthmoving machine operators use digging machines, such as bulldozers or graders, to move, shape or level earth, rock and rubble.

Earthmoving machine operators may do some or all of the following:

  • use Global Positioning Systems (GPS), plans and diagrams to organise their work 
  • operate large earthmoving vehicles such as bulldozers, graders or excavators
  • excavate earth and other materials and load it onto trucks, using attachments if necessary
  • check and maintain their machines
  • talk to site managers or clients
  • meet health and safety regulations, including writing accident and near-miss reports.

Physical Requirements

Earthmoving machine operators need to be reasonably fit and healthy as they have to work in all types of weather.

Useful Experience

Useful experience for earthmoving machine operators includes:

  • driving heavy vehicles, particularly off-road
  • any work in building construction, roading, forestry, or mining
  • engineering or mechanical work
  • operating heavy machinery.

Personal Qualities

Earthmoving machine operators need to be:

  • able to follow instructions
  • responsible
  • alert and safety-conscious
  • able to work well in a team
  • good at communicating.


Earthmoving machine operators need to have:

  • skill in operating and maintaining heavy machinery
  • knowledge of different types of digging attachments
  • knowledge of safe work practices, and health and safety regulations
  • the ability to read GPS, plans, diagrams and drawings.

Self-employed earthmoving machine operators also need business skills.


Earthmoving machine operators:

  • usually work up to 55 hours a week in summer and dry periods, and shorter hours during winter and wet periods. They may do shift work, be on call, and work weekends
  • work outdoors at building sites, roads, quarries and other places where earth is being moved
  • work in most weather conditions
  • may travel locally or nationally to work sites.

Subject Recommendations

There are no specific secondary education requirements to become an earthmoving machine operator. However, construction and mechanical technologies, English and maths to at least NCEA Level 2 are useful.

Earthmoving Machine Operators can earn around $23-$35 per hour.

Pay for earthmoving machine operators depends on their location and experience.

  • New earthmoving machine operators usually earn between $23 and $35 an hour.
  • Experienced earthmoving machine operators, or those with specialist skills, may earn more.
  • Leading hands and forepeople may earn $40,000 to $80,000 a year.

Earthmoving machine operators' income may vary during the year, as they often work longer hours in summer, and shorter hours in winter, or when it is wet.

Pay for earthmoving machine operators who run their own businesses varies depending on the size and success of their business.

Source: Hays, 'The FY18/19 Hays Salary Guide', 2018; and Trade Me, 'Salary Guide', 2018.

Earthmoving machine operators may progress into team leader or management roles, or may start up their own businesses.

They may specialise in operating specific types of earthmoving machines such as:

  • bulldozers
  • graders
  • loaders.

Years Of Training

<1 year of training usually required.

To become an earthmoving machine operator you need:

  • a minimum of a full car driver's licence. Employers usually prefer a Class 2 licence and rollers, tracks and wheels (R, T and W) endorsement
  • to pass pre-employment medical and drug tests, and a police check.

Employers may support you to get the licences and endorsements you need to drive specific large earthmoving vehicles. These are:

  • heavy vehicle licences (Classes 2 to 5), depending on the vehicle
  • R, T and W endorsements.

If you are working as an earthmoving machine operator, you can gain the following qualifications through a training programme and/or by having your existing experience assessed: 

  • New Zealand Certificate in Infrastructure Works (Levels 2 and 3).
  • New Zealand Certificate in Civil or Infrastructure Works (Level 4 or 5) – if you have a leadership or supervising role. 

Tai Poutini Polytechnic offers a 26-week, full-time New Zealand Certificate in Civil Plant Operation (Level 3), which includes training in operating heavy machinery. 

Get experience recognised with Civil Trade Certification

If you've got extensive experience in the construction or roading industry, you can apply for Civil Trade Certification, which recognises your expertise in the field. You need either:

  • an approved Level 4 qualification and 8,000 hours (around four years) of practical experience
  • five years' or more experience in the industry and documentation, such as a logbook, to prove you have a high skill level.
Earthmoving Machine Operator