How to Become a Power Plant Operator
Power plant operators are professionals who control the machinery that creates electricity for communities. Becoming a power plant operator is similar to becoming an electrician or other trade, in that these positions usually require some formal training prior to earning licensure or certification. Below, we break down each step to becoming a power plant operator in more detail.
Meet Education Requirements
Most power plant operators are only required to have a high school diploma or equivalent, but some employers prefer power plant operators who hold a postsecondary degree. Due to the technical nature of the career, it is important that aspiring power plant operators have a background in science and math. There are many degree programs available in math and statistics, some of which could provide power plant operators with the background in trigonometry and algebra needed for these positions.
Get Power Plant Operator Training
Training is a very important part of becoming a power plant operator, as even experienced operators must stay up-to-date on current skills in the field. Training for power plant operators is usually long-term and takes place at an operator's place of employment. Some operators may be paired with experienced operators to learn the ins and outs of the technical skills required for their position. Training may last for several years to help operators meet licensure requirements.
Fulfill Licensure and Other Requirements
Most power plant operators need to submit to a background check. These operators may also need to pass alcohol and drug screenings.
Professional certification and licensure requirements usually vary. For example, some power plant operators may be licensed by their state as firefighters or engineers, while power plant operators who work with the power grid may need to complete the System Operator Certification Program from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. Nuclear power reactor operators, however, must obtain licensure through the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). This process requires passing an exam and completing on-going training.
Power Plant Operator Job Duties
Power plant operators control various machines to generate electricity and must also help maintain these machines and ensure they are working properly. These operators also help determine the distribution of electricity through the use of control boards to move and regulate power across different generators. Other job duties for these professionals may include:
- Monitoring voltage and electricity flows to meet demand
- Examining equipment for operating issues
- Stopping or starting equipment and machines as needed
Nuclear Power Reactor Operators
Nuclear power reactor operators are a special kind of operator who controls nuclear reactors. While they still monitor and distribute the flow of electricity, these operators must be prepared to respond to and correct any nuclear abnormalities. The added measure of danger from working with nuclear material necessitates the additional training and licensure for nuclear power reactor operators.
Power Plant Operator Salary
As of May 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that power plant operators (excluding nuclear power reactor operators) made an average annual salary of $78,030. The top paying industry for these professionals was the federal executive branch, where operators made an average annual salary of $90,100.
Nuclear power reactor operators made an average annual salary of $95,310 as of May 2018, per the BLS. The top paying industry for these operators was also the federal executive branch, where these professionals made an average salary of $103,770.