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Stationary Engineer: Job Description & Career Info

Discover what education and skills a stationary engineer needs. Learn about salary, work duties and employment outlook to make an informed career decision.

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Career Definition for a Stationary Engineer

Stationary engineers service, and monitor equipment similar to that used on trains and ships, such as pumps, boilers, and turbines, but the equipment is stationary, rather than mobile. They also maintain and operate mechanical equipment that controls heating, air conditioning, electrical, fire, and safety systems in commercial buildings. They may work in shopping malls, hospitals, stadiums, industrial complexes, and factories, monitoring gauges, replacing worn or defective equipment, and documenting maintenance events. They are on track to become supervisors or chief engineers, and may lead teams of assistant stationary engineers in larger facilities.

Education High school diploma and 4-year apprenticeship
Job Skills Mechanical, computer, and analytical skills, ability to troubleshoot, good communication and interpersonal skills
Median Salary (2015)* $58,530 (for stationary engineers and boiler operators)
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 1% (for stationary engineers and boiler operators)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education and Licensing Requirements

Becoming a stationary engineer at the journey level usually requires a high school diploma and the completion of a four-year apprenticeship through the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE). The IUOE apprenticeship is a combination of classroom instruction and 8,000 hours of training (www.iuoe.org). Many stationary engineers also complete certificate programs in stationary engineering or earn associate degrees in fields such as industrial technology. Additional training is also helpful to keep up with technical advances, such as increased computerization of mechanical systems. Licensure is required in almost every state and may require further coursework in addition to passing a written exam. There are several levels of licenses issued, each with a different set of requirements.

Necessary Skills

Stationary engineers must have mechanical and analytical skills, as well as the ability to troubleshoot and resolve issues as they arise. Depending on the size of the facility, they must be able to work independently and as part of a team, requiring strong communication and interpersonal skills. Stationary engineers who rise to supervisory positions must have strong management and leadership ability. Increased automation of mechanical systems makes computer skills essential for most positions, and stationary engineers must continually learn new skills to keep up with technical advances. They must be able to work in noisy environments, stand for long periods of time, crawl, climb, and work with hazardous equipment.

Career and Economic Forecast

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that this occupation will grow more slowly than other professions, partly due to the automation of newer mechanical systems (www.bls.gov); the BLS predicts 1% job growth for stationary engineers and boiler operators for the 2014-2024 decade. Experienced stationary engineers may strengthen promotion and job prospects through continuing education and additional licensure. Salaries vary by experience, but in May 2015, the BLS reported median annual earnings for stationary engineers as $58,530, with salaries ranging from less than $35,400 to more than $91,260.

Alternative Careers

Similar careers to a stationary engineer include:

Power Plant Operator

For those interested in running power-generating machines and providing electricity for homes and businesses, becoming a power plant operator could be a good fit. These operators use instrument panels to turn equipment on and off, in addition to managing the flow of the electrical currents and observing control monitors for signs of problems.

Although on-the-job training is how most prepare for this job, some employers may prefer candidates who have taken math and electrical courses at a college or vocational school. Some companies may require applicants to take the Plant Operator and Power Plant Maintenance exams to see if they can handle the job responsibilities. Additionally, licensing is required for reactor operators working at nuclear power facilities.

Because of advances in technology and more automated and efficient control systems, the BLS expects job opportunities for power operators to decrease by 6% from 2014-2024. In May of 20152, the BLS estimated the median salary for these workers to be $75,660.

Water Treatment Plant Operator

Performing many of the same type of duties of power plant operators, water treatment plant operators monitor and control the machines that clean impurities out of water and prepare it for future use. They also wash out tanks and other equipment, analyze water samples, manage the addition of chemicals and keep detailed records of the cleansing process.

Education beyond high school is not usually required for treatment plant operators, but earning a certificate or associate degree in water quality management may be appealing to some employers. To qualify for the required state licensure, operators usually start out in an entry-level attendant position and gain the necessary work experience.

According to the BLS, water and wastewater treatment plant operators should experience employment growth of 6% between 2014 and 2024, resulting in 7,000 new job openings. These workers earned a median annual income of $44,790 in 2015, as seen in BLS reports.

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