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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 can earn

$25-$40 per hour

Source: Defence Careers; Seek, Trade Me, and Indeed, 2023.

Job opportunities

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


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

  • New earthmoving machine operators usually earn between $25 and $35 an hour.
  • Experienced earthmoving machine operators, or those with specialist skills, can earn between $35 and $40 an hour.

Defence force

  • Heavy machinery operators working for the defence force start on earn $31 an hour
  • They may progress to earn up to $63 an hour

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.

Sources: research, 2023; Defence Careers, 2023; Seek, 2023; Trade Me, 2023; and Indeed, 2023.

(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.

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

0800 486 626 - -
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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
  • 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.

Earthmoving plant operator, bulldozer operator, backhoe operator, excavator operator, grader operator and loader operator appear on Immigration New Zealand's Green List, and earthmoving labourer will appear on the list from March 2024.

This means the Government is actively encouraging all these types of earthmoving operators from overseas to work in New Zealand. 

According to the Census, 4,002 earthmoving machine operators worked in New Zealand in 2018.

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.


  • Immigration New Zealand, 'Changes to Immigration Settings Announced, '23 September 2023 (
  • Immigration New Zealand, Transport Sector Agreement Finalised and Green List Changes Confirmed, 26 April 2023, (
  • 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, (
  • Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.

(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 woman wearing jeans, a high viz jacket and a hard hat operates a digger

Earthmoving machine operators use large machines to move dirt and rocks

Last updated 27 November 2023