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Earthmoving Machine Operator

Kaiwhakamahi Wakapana Oneone

Alternative titles for this job

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


Earthmoving machine operators usually earn

$20-$35 per hour

Source: Trade Me, 2018.

Job opportunities

Chances of getting a job as an earthmoving machine operator are good because many large roading and construction projects are underway.


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

  • New earthmoving machine operators usually earn between $20 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.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)

What you will do

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.

Skills and knowledge

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.

Working conditions

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.

What's the job really like?

Earthmoving machine operator video

School student Gloria drives a digger and finds out what's it like to work in the civil infrastructure industry – 3.44 mins. (Video courtesy of Just the Job)

Gloria: I’m Gloria Blake, I’m 16, I go to Penrose High School in Auckland. I want to look into a job that’s heavily male-orientated for that bit of…kapow!

Clinton: You might think we’re taking Gloria on a surfing holiday, but this will be no holiday. For we’ve come to Raglan to mend roads. New Zealand has a very extensive network of rural roads and keeping them in good order is no small job.

Gloria’s mentor is Don Stevens.

Don: There’ll be no time for surfing this morning. Because we’ve got plenty of work to do.

Clinton: Don is road maintenance supervisor for Tanlaw, the Waikato’s road maintenance company. Tanlaw have to systematically inspect every road, sealed and unsealed, in their area.

First job – marking up a high shoulder – a section where grass is preventing good drainage.

Gloria: Trust me with it? [A roadmarking implement]

Don: You’ll be fine – girl power!

The type of people that you need in the construction industry – maintenance and construction – are people that are reliable for a start, have good work ethics, people that are self-driven. Looking for people that enjoy the outdoors, the physical side of things, have certain skills. Licences are a big plus within our industry.

[Gloria marks the road with the implement]

Very good! That’s our high shoulder marked up. Now all we have to do is load it in the PDA.

Clinton: GPS tells them where they are and the PDA is used to record all faults.

Fixing faults in public carparks are part of the job too.

Don: As you can see down here, Gloria, the carpark area here’s started to break up. The metal’s unravelling and it needs to be strengthened. So we’ll bring in a hoe, and a stabilisation gang, and they’ll fix this.

Clinton: First water, and then cement is laid on the surface. The hoe then churns up the existing road materials and blends them with the cement. It’s like mixing one giant rock cake.

There’s no shortage of toys on this job. Each machine is designed for a specific task, which means each driver requires specialised training.

Don: So what they’ve done, they’ve sprayed on an emulsion, a 180-200 emulsion mixed with kerosene, and then they’ve come in with the trucks and spread a layer of grade three chip, and they’ll go and spray again, and apply a grade five chip, which is a smaller chip.

Then you’ll be able to jump on the roller, and give it a good pounding!

Clinton: There’s a thorough driving lesson, and Gloria’s given it a go.

At this site, there’s been a very big slip. Thousands of tonnes of fill are being tipped to provide a wider and safer roadway.

Rock Orbell, currently in his third year of apprenticeship, is one of the team here. Rock intends to train for another five years, in order to advance his qualifications.

Rock: I know it’s a hell of a long time to do an apprenticeship for, but, you know, at the end of the day, sitting in an office and earning a lot of money – pretty choice!

Gloria: Yeah, no complaint!

Clinton: Well another load of fill’s arrived, and someone’s got to shift it.

[Gloria is in the cab of a digger with Rock outside.]

Rock: Right hand forward.

Gloira: Right hand forward?

Rock: Right hand forward and down.

Don: We have a lot of staff training. Tanlaw puts a lot of money into getting people up to speed, getting their licences, ranging from your graders, your back hoes, your diggers…

Rock: And swing around quietly.

Gloira: Yep.

Rock: And place that metal out.

Gloria: OK.

Rock: I think for the amount of time she had to practise, she was amazing. She’s got plenty of potential there, she picked up what I told her very quick. She’d be a great digger operator.

Entry requirements

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.

Secondary education

 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.

Personal requirements

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.

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.

Physical requirements

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

Find out more about training

Civil Contractors New Zealand
0800 692 376 -
0800 486 626 - -
Check out related courses

What are the chances of getting a job?

Strong demand for earthmoving machine operators

Chances of getting a job as an earthmoving machine operator are good due to:

  • national and local government plans to spend over $5 billion on transport each year until 2028, with a focus on building and maintaining safer roads, walkways and cycleways
  • the $850 million Transmission Gully project north of Wellington, which is expected to be under construction until 2020
  • a number of earthmoving machine operators approaching retirement age – for example, 45% of bulldozer drivers and 33% of grader drivers are over 55
  • high staff turnover – as earthmoving machine operators are in demand, they can easily change employer for better conditions.

Spring the best time to look for earthmoving machine operator work

Job opportunities for earthmoving machine operators are best in spring and early summer, when most roading work is done.

Most earthmoving machine operators work for construction or roading companies

Most earthmoving machine operators are employed by construction or roading companies. About 30 large companies do 90% of the roading work in New Zealand. 

Earthmoving machine operators may also be self-employed and contract out their services.


  • Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupational Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
  • Ministry of Transport, 'Government Policy Statement on Land Transport 2018/19-2027/28', June 2018, (
  • New Zealand Transport Agency, 'Transmission Gully', accessed July 2018, (

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

Progression and specialisations

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.
A man wearing a helmet looks backward out the window of a digger

Earthmoving machine operators use digging machines to remove, shape or level earth, rock and rubble

Last updated 4 October 2018