What Does a Plant Mechanic Do? (Typical Skills and Path)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 27 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A plant mechanic is a qualified tradesperson who maintains, installs and repairs mechanical equipment and machinery. They may gain employment in several industries, such as mining, agriculture and industrial processing. Understanding what a plant mechanic does can help you determine if this trade is right for you. In this article, we discuss the answer to the question 'What does a plant mechanic do?', explore how to become one, review their average salary and answer some frequently asked questions.

What does a plant mechanic do?

The answer to the question 'What does a plant mechanic do?' is that they repair, install and maintain plant equipment. The equipment that a plant mechanic focuses on is usually mechanical machines that assist in the refinement and processing of raw materials. A plant commonly refers to a processing or refinery facility, such as an oil refinery, chemical plant, metal manufacturing plant, electrical plant and nuclear power plant. A plant mechanic's specific responsibilities may vary across employment, but their job scope remains focused on maintaining mechanical machines.

Related: How to Become a Mechanic (Plus Specialisations to Pick From)

A plant mechanic's typical duties include:

Installing plant equipment

During the plant construction phase, a plant mechanic may work alongside engineers and builders to install plant machinery. A plant mechanic typically installs fixed machines that are extremely heavy and often require mechanical aid to move into place. A crane operator may assist the mechanic by moving the machines to their designated areas. Once the machines are in place, the mechanic may fix them to the ground and begin analysing the components to ensure there is no damage. It can be important to understand that most plants use pre-fabricated equipment, which means equipment doesn't require assembly on site.

Related: What Does a Mechanical Fitter Do and How to Become One

Identifying and repairing damages

During the construction phase or a routine maintenance check, a plant mechanic may review the machines to identify potential damage. Once they identify damage, they may determine an effective solution for repairing the machine. In some situations, to fix the machine, a plant mechanic requires new material and parts. If the machine requires non-mechanical repairs, such as damaged electrical wiring, they may organise a specialist to repair the machine. Plant mechanics who work on power plant machines may have additional certifications, allowing them to repair high voltage mechanical equipment.

Maintaining equipment

Most plants utilise or create an extensive amount of power that might become a hazard without regular maintenance. Mechanical machines might utilise several mechanical processes that require lubricants, oils and hydraulic fluids. These substances drain over time and may require replacing at regular intervals. This is often one of the primary duties of a plant mechanic when conducting routine maintenance. They may also replace belts, springs, gears and bolts during their maintenance check.

Testing equipment

After installing or repairing a machine, a plant mechanic conducts tests to ensure it operates correctly. They are likely to test equipment during their maintenance routine to identify potential damage or flawed components. Testing plant equipment is one of the most important responsibilities of a plant mechanic because faulty machinery can cause extensive hazards that may affect surrounding communities.

Liaising with clients

A plant mechanic may gain employment with an individual plant or contract their services to varying clients. If a plant mechanic is a contractor, they tend to regularly communicate with clients to identify the machinery that requires attention. They may also provide their clients with reports that outline repaired components, materials required for repairs and machines that may require ongoing maintenance.

Interpreting engineering plans

A plant mechanic often has a copy of blueprints for the machine they're working on. They may refer to the blueprints to identify the components utilised in the machine. This can help them plan repairs, order parts and install plant equipment. Blueprints can also be very helpful for plant mechanics when they're working on unfamiliar plant equipment because they can identify the mechanical processes and components. Plant mechanics usually learn to interpret mechanical blueprints during their training and apprenticeship.

Related: What Is a Mechanical Engineer? (And How to Become One)

How to become a plant mechanic

Here is a list of typical steps involved in becoming a plant mechanic:

1. Consider a pre-apprenticeship

A pre-apprenticeship can be an excellent method of experiencing the responsibilities of a plant mechanic before you commit to an apprenticeship. It can also improve your job application by showing your potential employers your dedication to the trade. A pre-apprenticeship usually takes six months to complete and mainly involves practical work with a few units of theoretical study. It's important to understand that a pre-apprenticeship doesn't provide you with a qualification as a plant mechanic.

2. Apply to an apprenticeship network

You typically require a completed apprenticeship to become a plant mechanic. An effective way of gaining an apprenticeship can be through an apprenticeship network. When you apply to an apprenticeship network, you provide them with details about your current skills, experience and qualifications, along with any employment preferences you may have. The network may then find an appropriate apprenticeship provider that suits your preferences and skill levels. They can also create a training contract that adheres to standards and regulations set by the local state.

Related: How to Get Into an Apprenticeship (With Steps and Benefits)

3. Complete an apprenticeship

An apprenticeship is usually a three-year training course that includes employment with a company that provides trade services relevant to the apprenticeship. The role of a plant mechanic is a relatively specific job in the engineering industry, so some training providers might not offer apprenticeships specific to plant machinery. There are many other apprenticeships you can consider that provide broad knowledge and skills in mechanical principles. Apprenticeships you might consider can include an Apprenticeship in Engineering Mechanical Tradesperson (Plant Mechanic) or an Apprenticeship in Engineering – Mechanical Trade.

4. Apply for a plant mechanic job

After completing your apprenticeship, you may become qualified to offer plant mechanic services. You may gain employment in several plant operations and industries. Many plant mechanics specialise in a specific type of plant, such as nuclear power, electricity or mineral refining. Depending on the type of plants you work at, you may require additional safety certifications or training courses. Your potential employer may fund and provide this additional training. You can apply for a job as a plant mechanic using online job boards.

Plant mechanic's average salary

The national average salary of a plant mechanic is $71,200 per year. Your salary may vary depending on several factors, such as your experience, skills and additional qualifications. The location of your employment may also influence your salary. For example, the national average salary of a plant mechanic in Western Australia is $85,519 per year. If you gain employment in a regional plant, accommodation may be included as you may remain on-site for several weeks. Regional jobs typically attract a higher salary than jobs in suburban and metropolitan areas.

After several years of experience as a qualified plant mechanic, you may gain opportunities to advance your career to a managerial role. Management jobs typically provide a higher salary than non-management positions. For example, the national average salary of a mechanical supervisor is $110,055 per year. Management positions in the mechanical industry often require extensive work experience or advanced qualifications in workplace safety and industrial management.

Frequently asked questions about plant mechanics

Below, you can find some frequently asked questions about a career in plant mechanics:

Can a plant mechanic work in other mechanical fields?

As a plant mechanic, you might complete an apprenticeship specific to plant machinery or you may complete an apprenticeship in heavy diesel machinery. Your job responsibilities can depend on the apprenticeship you complete. For example, if you complete an apprenticeship in heavy diesel machinery, you may be eligible for the role of a plant mechanic or a heavy diesel fitter.

Most mechanical apprenticeships incorporate similar units of study that focus on core mechanical principles. This means by completing a mechanical apprenticeship, you may gain extensive recognition of prior learning (RPL). Your RPL allows you to gain credits for units of study in the course for knowledge that you've already learnt. This can drastically reduce the time to qualify for another type of mechanical trade.

Do I get paid as a plant mechanic apprentice?

As of September 2021, the Vehicle Repair, Services and Retail Award 2020 details a minimum pay requirement for apprentices in the mechanical industry. How much you earn as an apprentice can vary depending on the stage of your training and the employment contract. Your apprenticeship provider typically details your pay rate, which, by law, is above or equal to the minimum pay rate. The national average salary of an apprentice mechanic is $49,421 per year.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location. Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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