Power Plant Operator: Salary, Duties & Responsibilities

Research the career of a power plant operator. Read on to learn more about the salary, job duties, responsibilities, and education required for this role. Schools offering Nuclear Engineering degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Overview of the Career

Being a power plant operator generally requires controlling, monitoring and maintaining systems which produce electricity. They are responsible for operating the machines used to create energy for a range of consumers. Take a look at the chart below for an overview of being a power plant operator.

Education Required High-school diploma
Education Field of Study Strong science or math background is preferred
Training Long-term, on-the-job
Licensure or Certification U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commission License (nuclear power reactor operators); North American Electric Reliability Corporation certification (power grid workers); other licensing varies by state
Key Responsibilities Control and maintain equipment, regulate generators, monitor machinery
Job Growth (2016-2026) 1%*
Median Salary (2017) $77,180*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Are the Duties and Responsibilities of a Power Plant Operator?

A power plant operator is responsible, as part of a team, for ensuring that homes and workplaces receive electricity. They are required to work with machinery used to generate the power supplied to these outlets, so a good understanding of how the machinery operates is essential. It is their duty to monitor the generators, reading charts and instruments accurately so that they can alter the flow of power or make other changes as necessary. As part of their role, a power plant operator will detect and fix problems with the generators, along with starting or stopping machinery if needed.

Power plant operators will sometimes monitor their immediate surroundings by walking around, but they will mostly be based in one room with control panels connected to power generators. They have to remain engaged and alert throughout their work shift so that they can react to any changes on the switchboard.

How Do I Become a Power Plant Operator?

Becoming a power plant operator requires a minimum of a high-school diploma; however, some employers will ask for a vocational or college degree in a relevant field such as science or math. Due to the high-pressure nature of this role, many employers will require the candidate to take tests which determine whether they are suitable for this type of work. These tests may focus on mathematical, algebraic, and mechanical understanding. A background check, including drugs and alcohol screening, is also often required.

Intensive on-the-job training takes place over several years, and regular training is required throughout the role so that all power plant operators are up-to-date with the latest systems and technology used in the power plant. The initial onsite training is also usually combined with formal training to prepare new employees for any licensure or certification examinations required.

How Much Money Will I Earn?

In May 2017, the median salary for power plant operators, distributors and dispatchers, in general, was $80,440, according to the BLS. Those who worked for a utility company generally earned more than those who worked for the government in this field. For power plant operators specifically, the median annual salary in 2017 was $77,180, slightly lower than the overarching median for this field.

In What Type of Environment Will I Work?

Most power plant operators work for a utility company, although the BLS reported that in 2016 17% of people in this role worked for the government. This job usually involves working in a control room which requires constant attention and monitoring. Power plant operators will usually sit or stand in this room, using the equipment to monitor activity at the generation station where the electricity is being produced. Power plant operators must be flexible to work a range of hours, as electricity is widely needed around the clock, and they usually work in 8- or 12-hour shift patterns, which could take place during the day or at night.

What Is the Expected Job Growth?

Due to changes and advancements in technology, job growth in this field is expected to change only a little, if at all, between 2016 and 2026. These limited job opportunities are generally due to control panels being able to show more information, some tasks becoming automatic and other tasks being more easily corrected or addressed by one person. Tasks which may have previously been time-consuming could become much faster in the future, meaning that one person can complete more tasks within their working hours. As such, despite the use of electricity being expected to grow, the number of opportunities within the field are not.

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