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Process Operator: Job Description & Salary

Those who are employed as process operators fall within a broad career field that can involve producing various products or processing specific materials so that they're safe to use or dispose of. Read on to learn more about the work that process operators do and how to prepare to enter this career field.

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Career Definition of a Process Operator

Process operators are involved in the production of goods or overseeing the processing of materials. Those who work in production may help make things such as biodiesel or titanium sponge. Other things process operators make include laundry products and cleaning solutions. Their duties may vary based on the specific things they produce but typically include moving materials, operating machinery and tools, measuring and mixing ingredients, packaging products and maintaining records.

Process operators who work in processing may be involved with water and wastewater treatment or work as chemical plant and system operators. It's common for process operators to work with chemicals or other potentially hazardous materials as part of their regular duties. Their responsibilities can include measuring chemicals or other ingredients, testing samples of materials, operating machines and inspecting equipment.

Educational Requirements High school diploma or GED
Job Skills Mathematical skills, mechanical skills, communication skills, safety-conscious nature, physical fitness, comfortable working at heights, teamwork skills, computer skills
Median Salary (2016)* $45,760 (water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators); $59,920 (chemical plant and system operators)
Job Outlook (2014-2024)* 6% (water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators); -9% (chemical plant and system operators)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

In order to qualify as a process operator, it is necessary to have a high school diploma or GED. Process operators do not need postsecondary training, although some form of vocational training may be an asset. Training on computers may also help those seeking work in this field. Some employers may prefer to hire those with previous manufacturing experience, though on-the-job training may also be provided for these positions.

Required Skills

Process operators may be required to work at heights and lift materials regularly, so they need to be able to demonstrate physical fitness to work in this field. Basic mathematical skills can be important, since process operators may need to precisely measure things like chemicals. Since it's common for process operators to work with hazardous materials, it is very important that they are careful and follow safety protocols. Process operators also work with tools and mechanical equipment, so they need mechanical skills.

Career and Salary Outlook

Process operators are not listed separately by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Part of the reason is because there are so many different fields that process operators can work in. For example, the BLS reported that those who work in water and wastewater treatment could anticipate job growth of 6% from 2014 to 2024, while those who work as chemical plant and systems operators were expected to see jobs decline by 9% during the same time period. The BLS reported that, in 2016, chemical plant and systems operators earned a median income of $59,920 per year. This was higher than the median annual salary of $45,760 the BLS reported for those in water and wastewater treatment.

Related Careers

Process operators may work with different substances or have different objectives, but they all work with machinery. Those who are considering a career as a process operator may want to explore the links provided here to learn more about some other jobs that involve working with machinery. Like process operators, heavy equipment operators, communications equipment operators and boiler operators can all enter their field with a high school diploma or GED and learn their profession through on-the-job training.

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