Kiln Operator: Job Description & Career Requirements

Learn what a kiln operator does and what's required to become one. See what the career and earning prospects are to decide if this job is right for you.

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Career Definition for a Kiln Operator

Kilns are large ovens that employ regulated temperature and air circulation to harden, bake, burn, calcify, or dry a variety of materials, including clay and glass. Heat causes chemical and physical reactions to occur that cause material to be permanently altered. Kilns and the heating process are used to dry lumber, strengthen glass and make it safer for consumer use, smelt ore, create cement from limestone, dry malted barley for brewing, and finish ceramic pottery. Kiln operators may also oversee the cremation process.

Kiln operators program the kiln according to a prescribed schedule as required by the medium to be treated. Each product and its type must fire at a precise temperature and for a specific duration. Kiln operators must know this and adjust the temperature and air circulation rate accordingly. They're also responsible for removing waste from kilns at the end of the process, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service.

Kiln operators must be familiar with the various types of kilns that exist across industries, as well as their firing and cooling processes. Industrial kilns can cost more than a million dollars. Proper use is vital.

Education No formal education required, technical school and industrial background recommended
Job Skills Physical fitness, good judgment, problem-solving, minimum supervision needed
Median Salary (2017)* $37,580 for kiln operators
Job Growth (2016-2026)* -5% for kiln operators

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

There are no formal education requirements for kiln operators because most are trained on the job. However, employers typically prefer those with some technical schooling and a background in industrial manufacturing. Universities offer short-term courses in kiln operation, particularly kiln drying techniques used in the lumber industry.

Required Skills

Kiln operators should enjoy practical and manual work, be physically fit, and employ good judgment with minimum supervision. Good observational and problem-solving skills are needed to make adjustments to kiln settings during the drying and firing process.

Career and Economic Outlook

The greatest number of kiln operators can be found in the glass, clay, rubber manufacturing, and lumber industries. A decline in jobs of 5% from 2016-2026 is projected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The median annual salary for a kiln operator in May 2017 was $37,580, according to the BLS, though wages may vary by industry.

Alternate Career Options

Here are some other opportunities for careers in machine operations:

Coating, Painting, and Spraying Machine Setter, Operator, and Tender

This job requires the set-up, operation, and monitoring of machines that apply paint and related substances to products like ceramics, metal, plastics, glass, and more. Set-up includes configuring the nozzles that apply paint or coating and the conveyor belt that moves painted products through the painting and drying process. Coating, painting, and spraying machine setters, operators, and tenders have a high school diploma and complete on-the-job training. Those who work on painting cars can earn voluntary professional certification. The BLS reports that the rate of employment for this career is expected to grow 2% from 2016-2026 and that this job paid a median salary of $36,010 in 2017.

Machine Setter

A machine setter configures a piece of machinery to perform a specific task according to blueprints or other approved plans and then tests it to ensure it's set up the right way before machine operators use it for a product run. A high school diploma is required for employment, followed by on-the-job training for new hires. Voluntary professional certification is available through the National Institute for Metalworking Skills.

The BLS predicts that jobs for metal and plastic machine workers in general will decrease 9% from 2016-2026, with some specific careers within this field showing an even greater number of declining jobs. Salaries vary by the kind of machine setting a worker does; for example, the BLS reports that forging machine setters earned a median salary of $38,650 in 2017, while milling and planing machine setters earned $42,650 that same year.

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