Industrial operations and processes don’t run themselves. Even automated systems need workers to monitor for problems and system hiccups. That’s where plant operators come in. Plant operators, or process operators, keep an eye on operations and make adjustments to keep systems up and running, according to the America’s Job Exchange website. The term “plant operator” covers work in a variety of industries, including manufacturing, petroleum processing, waste water treatment and utility or power plants. While basic job duties are similar, specific duties vary depending on the industry.
General Job Duties
Plant operators start up and shut down process equipment such as pumps, boilers, reactors and turbines. They keep operating logs, monitor process parameters like temperature and pressure and make adjustments to keep processes within specified limits. Operators read screens, charts, meters and gauges to keep an eye on operations. They may flip a switch, push a button and open or close a valve to make process adjustments. They might also draw product samples for quality control tests. Other responsibilities include abiding by safety rules and safe work practices. An operator’s supervisor may assign other duties as necessary.
Education and Training
A high school diploma or equivalent is the minimum requirement for a plant operator job. Completing math and science classes during high school, plus enrolling in operator training programs afterwards, helps with job readiness. For example, the Critical Information Network outlines a chemical plant operator training plan that covers topics from basic math to plant operations and process control. Employers sometimes offer new plant operators on-the-job training as an operator assistant or intern. Certain operator jobs, such as waste water treatment plant operators, require state training and certifications.
Necessary skills for plant operators include production and processing knowledge and the ability to read and comprehend operating instructions. Familiarity with mechanical and industrial equipment such as valves, pumps, flow meters and machine tools is also a plus. Some processes, or parts of processes, are automated, so computer knowledge is necessary. Plant operators may have to act quickly to keep a process from going down. Therefore, critical thinking and problem-solving skills will contribute to success.
Many production facilities and power plants operate around the clock, so plant operators should expect to be on shift work. Over the course of the shift, some operators will spend much of their time in control rooms monitoring plant operations. Others may spend time making rounds to check on equipment or troubleshoot problems. In some workplaces, operators must be able to climb, lift, bend, stoop and reach while performing their duties. Operators may be exposed to noise, hazardous chemicals and hot or cold work environments.
The average salary for plant operators is about $35,000 a year as of May 2014, according to the Indeed.com employment website. This number is based on nationwide job postings. Wages may be higher or lower, depending on the industry and operator's particular skill level or experience.
- America's Job Exchange: Plant Operator Job Description
- O*Net Online: Quick Search Results - Occupations Matching Plant Operators
- Alaska Jobs: Process Operators
- Critical Information Network: Chemical Plant Operator Training
- Tennessee Valley Authority: Student Generating Plant Operator Training (SGPO)
- BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook: Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operators
- O*Net Online: Summary Report for Chemical Plant and System Operators
- BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook: Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers
- Indeed.com: Plant Operator Salary
- Photo Credit ilze79/iStock/Getty Images
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