How to Become a Power Plant Operator: Career Guide

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How to Become a Power Plant Operator: Career Guide
Learn how to become a power plant operator. Research the job duties and the education and licensing
requirements and find out how to start a career in the energy production field.
Power Plant Operator Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that power
plant operators usually work at plants that produce electricity
through such means as generators, water turbines or nuclear
reactors. Operators monitor pieces of equipment, document energy production rates and check gauge
readings periodically. Throughout the course of a shift, power plant operators may make adjustments or
repairs on equipment to make sure everything runs safely and efficiently.
At a bare minimum, power plant operators require the equivalent of high school diplomas to find entry-level
positions. According to the BLS, some employers prefer applicants who have vocational certificates or
undergraduate degrees related to power plant technology fields. As of December 2012, job postings for
power plant operators on CareerBuilder.com showed that many employers favored related work experience,
including military and civilian experience at power plants or power stations. The table below indicates some
of the career qualifications necessary for becoming a power plant operator:
Common Requirements
Degree Level High school diploma (required),* undergraduate
degree or certificate (recommended)**
Degree Field Power plant technology**
Licensure Operators who work with nuclear reactors require
licensing*
Experience 2-5 years' experience operating equipment,
supervising personnel, checking readouts and
documenting plant activities**
Key Skills Capable of remaining attentive, advanced
understanding of mechanics, strong problem solving
skills,* able to multitask, comfortable working with
others and capable of communicating clearly**
Computer Skills Knowledgeable with computerized equipment
diagnoses systems*
Technical Skills Able to monitor and repair boilers, generators, water
turbines and other power plant equipment**
Additional Requirements Able to pass background checks, if required, and
willing to submit to drug screenings*
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **December 2012 job postings on CareerBuilder.
Step 1: Get Vocational or Undergraduate Training
Technically, power plant operators may not need anything beyond high school diplomas to find employment,
per the BLS. Nevertheless, power plant operator job listings on CareerBuilder during December 2012
indicated that employers preferred applicants with extensive knowledge or experience in the power
generating industry. One way to gain such knowledge and training includes completing either vocational or
undergraduate programs related to power plant technology.
Schools offer certificate and associate degree programs in power plant technology, and many of these
programs prepare students for careers at several different types of power plants, including water treatment
facilities, thermal power, nuclear power and fossil fuel power plants. Typical coursework in these programs
includes electrical equipment, power plant systems, heat transfers, material properties, energy technology,
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power generation and safety protocols. Students may also take several courses in mathematics, physics
and computer sciences.
Success Tip:
Step 2: Take Aptitude Tests
Not all employers use aptitude tests to verify job applicants' skill levels. However, according to the BLS,
some employers may have potential workers take the Plant Operator (POSS) and Power Plant Maintenance
(MASS) exams, and both exams are offered by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI). Each exam includes
questions concerning reading comprehension skills, mechanical assembly, mathematics and mechanical
concepts. The POSS exam also includes questions that verify an individual's ability to interpret tables and
graphs.
Success Tip:
Step 3: Begin On-The-Job Power Plant Training
Applicants who pass aptitude tests are often hired to start on-the-job training at power plants, according to
the BLS. The initial training process can involve years of study and hands-on learning before professionals
are deemed truly competent. During the training period, operators often learn about each piece of
technology at the facility. Professionals who hold degrees or certificates in power plant technology may
complete shorter training programs, since they probably already received technical training while in school.
Nevertheless, each facility uses different equipment and has different goals, so new employees must be
willing to listen and comply with all training protocols.
Step 4: Build Experience
J ob postings for power plant operators on CareerBuilder.com in December 2012 showed that employers
wanted applicants who had 2-5 years' experience in the field, which implies that these particular employers
were looking for candidates who had already completed the initial training mentioned above. Most of these
same employers also stated that they wanted professionals with several years' experience on particular
pieces of equipment. For example, thermal power plant employers would probably prefer applicants with
extensive knowledge of thermal energy generating equipment.
Step 5: Obtain Necessary Licenses
The BLS indicated that only nuclear reactor power plant operators need licenses, and these professionals
must pass exams to become licensed through the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Power plant
operators at other types of power generating facilities do not usually require any type of licensing. The BLS
points out that some operators may elect to become licensed as firefighters for safety reasons. Other
operators may choose to become licensed engineers, especially if required by employers.
Step 6: Keep Licenses Current
As of 2012, the BLS showed that NRC's license renewal process for nuclear reactor power plant operators
included renewing licenses every six years. However, the NRC required licensed professionals to pass
updated exams on a yearly basis. Licensed professionals were also expected to submit to medical exams
every two years. Licensing and license renewals through the NRC are only valid at one site. So, if a worker
wanted to be an operator at multiple locations, he or she would have to be licensed at each facility and
maintain said licensing. License renewal requirements for firefighters and engineers vary by state and may
include completing continuing education credits.
Complete a power plant internship. Several associate degree programs offer students internship
opportunities at power plants. An internship in this field may help individuals figure out if they want to
work at nuclear power plants, for example, versus hydro-electric power plants. Most interns shadow
professional power plant operators to learn about the daily tasks of the job. Interns may also have to write
reports to document what they learned during their internships.
Sign up for preparation programs. The EEI often works with colleges and technical schools to provide
programs that may help individuals prepare for aptitude tests. For example, EEI's Career Assessment
Diagnostic Instrument (CADI) program helps students figure out which technical areas they excel at and
in which technical fields they require more study.
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How to Become a Power Plant Operator: Career Guide
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How to Become a Power Plant Operator: Career Guide
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How to Become a Power Plant Operator: Career Guide
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How to Become a Power Plant Operator: Career Guide
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