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Control Panel Operator: Job Description & Requirements

A control panel operator typically works in a petroleum refinery and is responsible for regulating the pressure, flow, rate, and temperature of the processing units. Read the job description, duties, training requirements, salary and employment outlook to decide if this is the right career for you.

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Career Definition for Control Panel Operators

A control panel operator, also called a process operator, is responsible for overseeing, reading, and maintaining the equipment that controls the temperature and flow of product in a petroleum refinery. Specific duties may include watching gauges, inspecting product, troubleshooting, record keeping, and preparing written documents for supervisors or safety inspectors. A control panel operator may have supervisory and/or training responsibilities and may be required to rotate shift cycles or work sites.

Education Bachelor's degree or apprenticeship; certification may be required
Job Skills Math and science aptitude, troubleshooting skills, stress management, attention to detail, mechanical aptitude
Median Salary (2015)* $65,190 (for petroleum pump system operators, refinery operators and gaugers)
Job Outlook (2014-2024)* 2% (for petroleum pump system operators, refinery operators and gaugers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Required

A bachelor's degree in process operation sciences or a related field may be necessary for some positions; however, many control panel operators have worked their way up to this position through apprenticeships or by taking certification courses offered through their employer. Other certifications may be needed if refrigerants, hazardous materials, or certain kinds of equipment will be used by the control panel operator. These requirements vary state-to-state.

Skills Required

Excellent troubleshooting skills, a mechanical aptitude, and attention to detail are needed for a successful career in control panel operation. A strong background in math and science are needed, especially for job seekers who lack a college degree. The work of a control panel operator can be mentally demanding due to the high levels of responsibility they are given, so the ability to manage stress is a valuable asset.

Career and Economic Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the median annual wage for petroleum pump system operators, refinery operators and gaugers as $65,190 in May 2015. The BLS lists Texas as the state with the highest concentration of workers in this field, while Colorado rates as the top payer. Slower-than-average job growth of 2% was anticipated for these operators and gaugers from 2014-2024.

Alternate Career Options

Related careers include:

Petroleum Engineer

After earning a bachelor's degree in petroleum, chemical or mechanical engineering, these professionals secure jobs developing methods for extracting gas and oil from the earth. Faster than average employment growth of 10% was anticipated in this field by the BLS from 2014 through 2024. According to that same source, these engineers earned an annual median salary in 2015 of $129,990.

Geological and Petroleum Technician

Faster than average job growth of 12% from 2014-2024 was also forecast by the BLS for these techs, who usually have an associate's degree in applied science or science technology and learn many of their skills while on the job. Their work involves assisting engineers and scientists in exploring the extraction of natural resources from the earth. According to the BLS, these techs earned annual median wages of $55,610 per year, as of 2015.

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