Overview of the role

Building the underground tunnels needed for services such as rail lines and water works.

Details of standard


Tunnelling Operative (Construction)


Typically 12 – 18 months



Occupational profile

The primary role of a tunnelling operative is to assist with the excavation, support and forming of tunnels and shafts in the ground associated with the construction process to provide an underground space, tunnel or shaft; typical tunnelling methods will include hand tunnelling, machine tunnelling, pipejacking, sprayed concrete lining, shaft sinking and drill and blast.  The tunnelling operative will be working as part of a larger team on a tunnelling project in which they will have responsibility for performing tasks which will include moving and handling materials, resources and components by mechanically assisted or manual means; loading and unloading, handling and conveying goods and materials to and from the workface. Other duties will include guiding and controlling the movement and operation of plant, machinery and vehicles; preparing, checking and maintaining machinery and equipment in use.

Core Skills

On completion of this apprenticeship, Tunnel Operatives will be able to demonstrate competence in the following:

  • apply general workplace health, safety and welfare requirements when undertaking tunnelling activities
  • work safely underground, follow safe tunnel entry systems and react appropriately in an emergency following the correct emergency escape procedures
  • interpret and work to specifications including Control of Substances Hazardous to Health [COSHH]assessments, construction information and briefings
  • plan and undertake work productively
  • communicate with others and follow organisational procedures to conform to productive work practices
  • supply information on the activities and progress of the work they are undertaking independently and as part of a team
  • comply with environmentally responsible work practices and contribute to sustainable practices in tunnelling operations
  • follow the technical requirements, at an operative level, associated with the different tunnelling processes and/or methods for one of the following; hand tunnelling, machine tunnelling (loco operator), pipejacking, sprayed concrete lining, shaft sinking and drill and blast, plan and use appropriate technologies associated with the different processes and/or methods
  • apply safe working techniques for moving and handling materials, resources and components by mechanically assisted or manual means
  • direct, guide and control the movement and operation of tunnelling plant, machinery and vehicles
  • off load and load vehicles used in the tunnelling environment
  • operate powered units, tools and pedestrian plant, machinery and equipment specific to tunnelling operations (e.g. pumps, generators, compressors, agitators, grouting equipment, segment-handling equipment)
  • work individually and as part of a team, to install and remove tunnelling plant, components, machinery and equipment
  • install and support the installation of back-up service systems for ventilation, pressurisation, communication, water supply, walkways and materials handling (rail, conveyor and piped)


Candidates will be required to achieve the Level 2 NVQ Diploma in Tunnelling Operations prior to taking the end-point assessment.

Apprentices without Level 1 in English and Mathematics will need to achieve this level and take the test for Level 2 English and Mathematics prior to taking the end-point assessment.