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Become An Unit Operator

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Working As An Unit Operator

  • Controlling Machines and Processes
  • Inspecting Equipment, Structures, or Material
  • Identifying Objects, Actions, and Events
  • Monitor Processes, Materials, or Surroundings
  • Getting Information
  • Unpleasant/Hazardous Environment

  • Stressful

  • $27,080

    Average Salary

What Does An Unit Operator Do

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers control the systems that generate and distribute electric power.

Duties

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers typically do the following:

  • Control power-generating equipment, which may use any one type of fuel, such as coal, nuclear fuel, or natural gas
  • Read charts, meters, and gauges to monitor voltage and electricity flows
  • Check equipment and indicators to detect evidence of operating problems
  • Adjust controls to regulate the flow of power
  • Start or stop generators, turbines, and other equipment as necessary

Electricity is one of our nation’s most vital resources. Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers control power plants and the flow of electricity from plants to substations, which distribute electricity to businesses, homes, and factories. Electricity is generated from many sources, including coal, gas, nuclear energy, hydroelectric energy (from water sources), and wind and solar power.

Nuclear power reactor operators control nuclear reactors. They adjust control rods, which affect how much electricity a reactor generates. They monitor reactors, turbines, generators, and cooling systems, adjusting controls as necessary. Operators also start and stop equipment and record the data produced. They may need to respond to abnormalities, determine the causes, and take corrective action.

Power distributors and dispatchers, also known as systems operators, control the flow of electricity as it travels from generating stations to substations and users. In exercising such control, operators monitor and operate current converters, voltage transformers, and circuit breakers over a network of transmission and distribution lines. They prepare and issue switching orders to route electrical currents around areas that need maintenance or repair. They must detect and respond to emergencies, such as transformer or transmission line failures, which can cause cascading power outages over the network of transmission and distribution lines they control. They may work with plant operators to troubleshoot electricity generation issues.

Power plant operators control, operate, and maintain machinery to generate electricity. They use control boards to distribute power among generators and regulate the output of several generators. They monitor instruments to maintain voltage and electricity flows from the plant to meet consumer demand for electricity—demand that fluctuates throughout the day.

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How To Become An Unit Operator

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers need extensive on-the-job training, which may include a combination of classroom and hands-on training. Nuclear power reactor operators also need a license. Many jobs require a background check, and workers are subject to drug and alcohol screenings.

Many companies require prospective workers to take the Power Plant Maintenance and Plant Operator exams from the Edison Electrical Institute to see if they have the right aptitudes for this work. These tests measure reading comprehension, understanding of mechanical concepts, spatial ability, and mathematical ability.

Education

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers need at least a high school diploma. However, employers may prefer workers who have a college or vocational school degree.

Employers generally look for people with strong math and science backgrounds for these highly technical jobs. Understanding electricity and math, especially algebra and trigonometry, is important.

Training

Power plant operators and dispatchers undergo rigorous, long-term on-the-job training and technical instruction. Several years of onsite training and experience are necessary for a worker to become fully qualified. Even fully qualified operators and dispatchers must take regular training courses to keep their skills up to date.

Nuclear power reactor operators usually start working as equipment operators or auxiliary operators, helping more experienced workers operate and maintain the equipment while learning the basics of how to operate the power plant.

Along with this extensive on-the-job training, nuclear power plant operators typically receive formal technical training to prepare for the license exam from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Once licensed, operators are authorized to control equipment that affects the power of the reactor in a nuclear power plant. Operators continue frequent onsite training, which familiarizes them with new monitoring systems that provide operators better real-time information regarding the plant.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Nuclear power reactor operators must be licensed through the NRC. To become licensed, operators must meet training and experience requirements, pass a medical exam, and pass the NRC licensing exam. To keep their license, operators must pass a plant-operating exam each year, pass a medical exam every 2 years, and apply for renewal of their license every 6 years. Licenses cannot be transferred between plants, so an operator must get a new license to operate in another facility.

Power plant operators who do not work at a nuclear power reactor may be licensed as engineers or firefighters by state licensing boards. Requirements vary by state and depend on the specific job functions that the operator performs.

Power distributors and dispatchers who are in positions in which they could affect the power grid must be certified through the North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s System Operator Certification Program. With sufficient training and experience, workers can become shift supervisors, trainers, or consultants.

Nuclear power plant operators begin working in nuclear power plants, typically as nonlicensed operators. After in-plant training and passing the NRC licensing exam, they become licensed reactor operators. Licensed operators can then advance to senior reactor operators, who supervise the operation of all controls in the control room. Senior reactor operators also may become plant managers or licensed operator instructors.

Important Qualities

Concentration skills. Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers must be careful, attentive, and persistent. They must be able to concentrate on a task, such as monitoring the temperature of reactors over a certain length of time without being distracted.

Detail oriented. Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers must monitor complex controls and intricate machinery to ensure that everything is operating properly.

Dexterity. Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers must use precise and repeated motions when working in a control room.

Mechanical skills. Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers must know how to work with machines and use tools. They must be familiar with how to operate, repair, and maintain equipment.

Problem-solving skills. Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers must find and quickly solve problems that arise with equipment or controls.

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Unit Operator jobs

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Unit Operator Career Paths

Unit Operator
Operation Supervisor General Manager
Area Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Program Manager Service Director Director Of Food And Beverage
Assistant General Manager
5 Yearsyrs
Operations Manager Account Executive Sales Manager
Branch Manager
6 Yearsyrs
Operations Manager General Manager
Business Manager
7 Yearsyrs
General Manager Technician Engineer
Chief Engineer
10 Yearsyrs
Registered Nurse Staff Nurse Program Manager
Chief Operating Officer
11 Yearsyrs
Technician Engineer Project Engineer
Construction Manager
10 Yearsyrs
Operation Supervisor Operations Manager General Manager
District Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Heavy Equipment Operator Delivery Driver Maintenance Technician
Facilities Manager
8 Yearsyrs
Operator Technician Service Manager
General Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Security Officer Operator Operation Supervisor
Logistics Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Heavy Equipment Operator Truck Driver Driver
Operation Supervisor
5 Yearsyrs
Registered Nurse Case Manager Program Manager
Operations Director
9 Yearsyrs
Operator Foreman Technician
Operations Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Control Room Operator Operation Supervisor Operations Manager
Plant Manager
11 Yearsyrs
Control Room Operator Maintenance Technician Production Supervisor
Production Manager
6 Yearsyrs
Technician Maintenance Technician
Production Supervisor
7 Yearsyrs
Security Officer Operations Manager Distribution Center Manager
Shipping Manager
5 Yearsyrs
General Manager Account Manager Operations Manager
Site Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Program Manager Technical Director Production Manager
Warehouse Manager
5 Yearsyrs
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Average Length of Employment
Senior Operator 4.2 years
Process Operator 4.0 years
Utility Operator 4.0 years
Unit Operator 4.0 years
Relief Operator 3.9 years
Plant Operator 3.9 years
B-Operator 3.8 years
Generator Operator 3.6 years
Machine Operator 3.0 years
Outside Operator 2.9 years
Operator 2.8 years
Line Operator 2.4 years
Top Employers Before
Operator 9.4%
Supervisor 8.2%
Driver 4.5%
Consultant 4.5%
Internship 4.1%
Mechanic 3.7%
Specialist 3.3%
Top Employers After
Operator 8.9%
Supervisor 7.8%
Manager 5.0%
Consultant 3.5%
Technician 3.5%

Unit Operator Demographics

Gender

Male

78.9%

Female

18.3%

Unknown

2.8%
Ethnicity

White

78.5%

Hispanic or Latino

12.7%

Asian

6.3%

Unknown

1.7%

Black or African American

0.7%
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Languages Spoken

Spanish

44.4%

French

13.9%

Chinese

5.6%

Japanese

5.6%

Mandarin

5.6%

Swedish

2.8%

Portuguese

2.8%

Irish

2.8%

Kurdish

2.8%

Norwegian

2.8%

Urdu

2.8%

Danish

2.8%

Korean

2.8%

Arabic

2.8%
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Unit Operator Education

Schools

Community College of the Air Force

10.3%

University of Phoenix

10.3%

University of Florida

7.7%

Villanova University

6.4%

Bismarck State College

5.1%

American University

5.1%

University of Kentucky

5.1%

University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

5.1%

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

5.1%

University of Nevada - Reno

3.8%

Austin Peay State University

3.8%

Vincennes University

3.8%

Drexel University

3.8%

Cornell University

3.8%

Columbia Southern University

3.8%

The Academy

3.8%

Saint Leo University

3.8%

University of Maryland - College Park

3.8%

Chippewa Valley Technical College

2.6%

University of Maryland - University College

2.6%
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Majors

Business

22.3%

Chemical Engineering

14.8%

Nursing

6.0%

Criminal Justice

6.0%

General Studies

5.7%

Environmental Control Technologies/Technicians

4.6%

Accounting

4.2%

Management

3.5%

Finance

3.5%

Psychology

3.2%

Mechanical Engineering

3.2%

Industrial Technology

2.8%

Education

2.8%

Political Science

2.8%

Fire Science And Protection

2.5%

Aviation

2.5%

Project Management

2.5%

Communication

2.5%

Liberal Arts

2.5%

Automotive Technology

2.1%
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Degrees

Bachelors

35.0%

Other

28.5%

Masters

14.4%

Associate

11.5%

Certificate

6.5%

Doctorate

2.7%

Diploma

1.0%

License

0.4%
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Job type you want
Full Time
Part Time
Internship
Temporary

Top Skills for An Unit Operator

UnitOperationsSafetyProceduresProductQualityEmergencyResponseBoilersRoutineMaintenancePlantEquipmentLaboratoryAnalysisControlRoomAuxiliaryEquipmentHeatExchangerSuperviseReverseUnitRefineryPDataEntryHazardousMaterialsMWTVADailyOperations

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Top Unit Operator Skills

  1. Unit Operations
  2. Safety Procedures
  3. Product Quality
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Monitored process variables for safe unit operations.
  • Supervised Contract employees during outage operations to ensure proper operation of equipment, as well as following safety procedures.
  • Worked in a variety of positions, from Maintenance to Process Unit operation to Product quality control and movement.
  • Participate in safety audits and programs and provide emergency response when required.
  • Operated power generating equipment, including boilers and turbines.

Top Unit Operator Employers

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