what is an operator?

As a machine operator, you work with machines and equipment. Your work is often in a manufacturing or production plant that produces consumer goods or electronic parts. Some machines you are likely to operate include lathes, boring machines, drill presses and precision grinders. You can specialise in running one or multiple types of equipment.

Your job as a machine operator often involves repetitive motions like frequent use of foot pedals, levers and switches. Sometimes, you also feed raw materials into the equipment. These roles require physical strength and manual dexterity to lift heavy goods and ensure the proper operation of the machines. Machine operators also fine-tune and adjust machine calibrations to improve efficiency and accuracy.

As a machine operator, you work in diverse industries. For instance, you operate machines used for drilling and mixing construction materials. In mining, a machine operator works with various machinery and equipment to extract raw materials from a mine site. Operators also work in the manufacturing industry operating computer-controlled machines and other equipment used in production.

operator jobs

average salary of an operator

An operator in Australia earns an average salary of $60,000 per year. The remuneration package usually fluctuates based on the experience and responsibilities of the operator. An entry-level machine operator takes home a median salary of $55,000 annually. Experienced workers take home over $65,000 annually based on their work experience.

how to increase the salary of an operator

The salary of an operator depends on the complexity of the role and the industry. For instance, when you operate machines in mining, manufacturing or construction, the jobs you undertake are usually complex and require expertise in using specialised equipment. Hence, employers will likely pay more for your expertise in operating specialised machines.

Your work experience and qualifications also influence your earnings. You can negotiate a higher remuneration based on your knowledge and expertise when you have academic qualifications. Having prior experience in the role also improves your earnings since you have hands-on experience operating various equipment. Your location also influences your salary prospects. For instance, working in metro areas increases your remuneration due to the high demand for operators.

Want to know what you will earn as an operator? Check out what you are worth with our salary checker.

operator salary

types of operators

Some areas of specialisation in machine operations include:

  • mobile plant operator: you operate or drive cranes and forklift trucks as a mobile plant operator. 
  • plant operator: as a plant operator, you operate heavy equipment and machinery on industrial sites. You assist in manufacturing by feeding raw materials into equipment and performing maintenance duties.
  • warehouse operator: as a warehouse operator, you move supplies and raw materials. You operate warehouse equipment like forklifts and cranes to lift the materials.
  • drilling and boring equipment operator: your job is to set up and operate drilling and milling machines. You use the machines to drill holes in various materials like metal and plastic.
  • rolling machine operator: your role is to run rolling mills that shape metals and other materials into rods and plates. You also carry out the necessary maintenance on the machines.
  • construction machine operator: as a machine operator in the construction industry, you run excavation machines and cement mixers. Your job is to ensure the machines perform as expected
working as an operator
working as an operator

working as an operator

Working as an operator introduces you to various machinery and equipment. Let's explore the role’s specific duties, work environments and expectations.


education and skills

Machine operators don't require formal qualifications. However, completing a college course or VET qualifications improves your career prospects. You can complete a Certificate III in civil construction plant operations and equip yourself with the necessary expertise to be an operator. In some industries, you need a licence to operate machines at a work site; for instance, you require a White Card to work in construction. You also need a forklift licence to become a forklift operator and a high-risk work licence from Safe Work Australia to operate heavy equipment.

skills and competencies

Some qualities that will help you do well as an operator include:

  • attention to detail: the work of a machine operator is very delicate, so it is essential to pay attention to every process. You often handle precision equipment; being off by even a millimetre can cause critical errors. A single mistake results in wasted production time and can be very expensive to correct.
  • excellent problem-solving skills: as a machine operator, your daily tasks involve assessing why machines aren't performing at peak efficiency and fixing errors to increase output. Such tasks require a person who thinks creatively to develop solutions for very complex issues.
  • analytical skills: a machine operator can read and understand blueprints, complex instructions and other specifications. Knowing the capabilities of various machines and how to use the equipment for specific projects is crucial.
  • ability to multitask: being able to handle multiple tasks simultaneously without causing errors is essential. While working, you control operations and assess performance. Multitasking skills will help you complete various tasks effectively and correctly.
  • physical strength: as a machine operator, you should be physically fit enough to lift moderately heavy weights and handle machines over a long working day or shift.

FAQs about working as an operator

Here are the most asked questions about working as an operator:

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