Crane Operator

The Job and What's Involved

Crane operators mainly work in construction and engineering. Their job is to lift and move heavy loads, such as building materials, tools and equipment.

Based inside the crane cab, they operate leavers and controls, so the hook, grab arm or hoist is positioned accurately to load or unload items. The crane operator takes instructions from an assistant on the ground, called a slinger or signaller, who directs them by signals or radio.

Precision is very important. Crane operators have to work very safely to protect the people working around them. They must be aware of the stability limits and Safe Working Load (SWL) of the crane, and make sure it is never exceeded. They must also consider weather conditions and the cranes wind resistance, as well as surrounding obstacles such as power lines, trees and buildings.

Operators may work different types of cranes, including movable cranes and cranes fixed to rail tracks or a concrete base. For example:

Mobile cranes are transported to sites, often along public roads. Crawler cranes can move around construction sites, sometimes over rough terrain.

Overhead cranes on rails can be found in factories, metal foundries and works, power stations, ship building yards, docks and workshops.

Tower cranes (up to heights of 750 metres or more) and small fixed cranes for special projects can be found on large construction developments.

Lorry loaders, to load and unload lorries.

Crane operators can also work in the media and music industries, controlling cranes carrying heavy camera equipment and camera operators around film and stage sets. This can include steering remote heads above locations on a high-tech Strada crane, capturing a bird's-eye view of the action.

All crane operators are responsible for:

  • Transporting cranes to the site and assembling them.
  • Checking all the equipment is working effectively before each use.
  • Conducting routine maintenance and mechanical inspections.
  • Making the crane safe at the end of each day.
  • De-rigging or removing the crane if no longer required.

Crane operators work an average of 37 hours a week, usually Monday to Friday. The work can be changeable, with more jobs, overtime and weekend opportunities available during the peak spring and summer building season. Their working day depends on daylight hours, so can involve early mornings and late finishes.

Mobile crane operators often have to travel to different sites, sometimes locally, but potentially throughout the UK. A lodging allowance may be provided for operators spending long durations away from home. Some crane operators are self-employed. Short-term contract and part-time opportunities are available.

Although operators work inside the crane cab, they are exposed to varied weather conditions and temperatures. They generally work alone, but are in contact with other building workers and supervisors on the ground.

The work can be strenuous and involves working at heights. Operators must be fit enough to climb up and down from the crane. It can be noisy, dusty, dirty and muddy. Employers usually provide protective equipment, including safety headgear, footwear and ear protectors.

Crane operators in the media sector are usually freelance. They usually work with camera equipment facility houses. Work on commercials, feature films and television programmes, may involve travel abroad.

Starting salaries for crane operators may be around £15,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Employers of crane operators include building firms, civil engineers, manufacturing plants, port authorities, local authorities and energy utility companies.

Over 6,000 crane operators are employed in the construction industry alone. There are jobs throughout the UK in most urban development areas. Employment opportunities fluctuate with the economy, but the current investment in property development means greater job security.

Engineering crane operators tend to be based in industrial areas, particularly around docks and ports. Key employment areas include the Midlands, the North East, the North West, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Job vacancies are advertised in local Jobcentre Plus offices and in the local press.

Education and Training

No specific academic qualifications are required, although knowledge of vehicle engineering and GCSE's/S grades in English, maths and technology may be an advantage. Vocational qualifications, such as the Edexcel Introductory Certificate/Diploma in Construction, may also be useful.

Entrants must be at least 18 years old to operate a crane, but training can start at 16. People need a driving licence to operate mobile cranes.

Apprenticeships are a common route in for young people. CITB-ConstructionSkills offers plant operative training specifically for young people and gives guidance on finding and applying for an apprenticeship.

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

All construction crane operators must register for a Construction Plant Competence Scheme (CPCS) card, which proves they are fully competent. There are two levels:

The red card is for trainee operators. It enables them to get onto a site to gain vocational experience and operate plant equipment. Before red cards are issued, applicants have to pass the CPCS operator test, which requires some basic training with an accredited provider and a pass in the CITB-ConstructionSkills health and safety test.

Red cards are only valid for three years and cannot be renewed. In these three years, operators must log 300 hours and complete NVQ's/SVQ's to attain the blue/green competent plant operator card. Every five years crane operators must renew their blue/green card.

Full details are available on the Construction Skills Certification Scheme website.

In addition to NVQ's/SVQ's in Plant Operations, it is possible to take an NVQ/SVQ Level 3 in Construction Plant and Equipment Supervision.

Legally, employers in every industry sector need to ensure their crane operators have the job-specific health and safety training. Those who transport cranes between sites need a large goods vehicle category C licence.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Crane operators need:

  • Good driving skills.
  • High levels of alertness and concentration.
  • A good head for heights.
  • Excellent co-ordination and spatial awareness.
  • To be safety conscious.
  • A good understanding of health and safety procedures.
  • Excellent communication skills.
  • To be strong and fit for climbing up and down from crane cabs.
  • To be able to work independently and in a team.
  • A practical aptitude for machinery.
  • Steady hands.
  • Good eyesight and hearing.

Your Long Term Prospects

There are many different types of cranes used for a multitude of different tasks.

Learning the techniques to operate one particular type of crane may eventually lead to specialist roles in such sectors as the oil industry or marine engineering.

Get Further Information

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

Construction Industry Council, 26 Store Street, London WC1E 7BT
Tel: 020 7399 7400

Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS)
PO Box 114, Bircham Newton, King's Lynn PE31 6XD
Tel: 0844 576 8777

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