Power plant operators monitor, control and maintain machinery used to generate and distribute electricity. Power may be generated from one or more sources, including coal, gas and hydroelectric energy.
Plant operators evaluate charts, meters and gauges to check voltage and electricity flow, and to identify any problems. They adjust controls to respond to fluctuating levels of electricity demand from customers and stop and start generation equipment when necessary.
Nights, weekends, holidays occasionally
Power plant operators may spend long hours standing or sitting at a control station. The work requires constant, focused attention. You may also do rounds, checking and repairing equipment as well as performing other duties.
Operators typically work full time, in 8- to 12-hour shifts that provide round-the-clock coverage. Shifts can include late nights, weekends and holidays.
Power plants are highly secure environments, and workers must be vigilant against potential attacks. The focused work, long hours and vigilance required can make this a stressful job.
Annual salary estimates are based on percentile wage data collected through the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey of US workers.
DVM / VMD degree
Power plant operators typically need a high school diploma and extensive on-the-job training. Some employers prefer candidates with a bachelor's or vocational school degree. Coursework in maths and science, particularly algebra, trigonometry and electricity, are recommended.
Training may take several years to complete and can combine both classroom and hands-on experience. Some employers may require aptitude testing provided by the Edison Electrical Institute (EEI). Those with work affecting the power grid will likely need to be certified through the North American Electrical Reliability Corporation (NERC).
Some power plant operators may also need to be licensed engineers or firefighters. Check with your state licensing board for their specific requirements.
Years of experience, including continuing education and training, will help you move on to positions with more responsibility. Career advancement opportunities include supervisor, trainer and consultant roles. Some operators earn an associate’s degree and transition to a job as a nuclear power plant technician.
Joining the military service after high school is another option to gain training as a plant operator. The military employs thousands of operators and is always in need of new staff. Experience as a power plant operator in the military can easily transfer to work in the private sector later in your career.