How to Become a Power Plant Operator

portrait of Nalea Ko
by Nalea Ko
Published on November 9, 2021

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Power plant operators work around the clock to keep communities powered up. Utility companies and government agencies need power plant operators to monitor equipment powered by coal, nuclear energy, hydroelectric energy, and wind and solar energy.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers earned a median annual salary of $89,090 in May 2020. Salaries often increase as power plant operators gain experience, participate in additional training, and continue their education.

The BLS projects power plant operator roles will decrease by 14% between 2020 and 2030. However, employers will still create 3,500 positions every year. New positions will open as power plant operators switch careers or retire, offsetting job losses from automation and a reduction in nuclear energy use.

Being a power plant operator offers a satisfying career and a good paycheck without a college degree. This guide details how you can become a power plant operator, including the educational and technical training requirements.

What Are the Requirements to Become a Power Plant Operator?

The career training needed to become a power plant operator depends on the work setting. According to the BLS, 71% of power plant operators work for utility companies, and another 16% hold positions at government agencies.

Power plant operators have physically demanding jobs. They must lift heavy objects, climb ladders, and stand or walk for long periods of time. They must check equipment in hot and cramped settings. Aside from the physical requirements, power plant operators also must complete mechanical training and meet other employment standards.

High School or GED Diploma

At a minimum, power plant operators must hold a high school diploma or GED certificate. A college degree or vocational training can set applicants apart from others in a hiring pool, but employers rarely require college experience.

Technical School Background

Vocational schools and community colleges provide students with classroom and hands-on experience. Students learn nuclear and fossil fuel theory, as well as mechanical and maintenance skills. Courses may include preventative maintenance techniques, reading prints and schematics, and electrical principles. An associate degree program in power plant technology may allow students to take on shift work at the college power plant or local plant.

Background Check

Employers commonly require background checks, fingerprinting, and drug tests because of the importance of a power plant operator's job. Power plant operators oversee plant operations and maintain safety protocols. Their daily tasks include responding to issues to prevent power disruptions, but they have other essential responsibilities such as operating boilers, performing inspections and readings, and testing water chemistry.

Other Aptitudes

Working as a power plant operator also requires solid computer skills and an aptitude for math and science. Some workers may arrive on the job with firefighting or military experience. Operators who work in nuclear power must obtain a license through the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

What Does Power Plant Operator Training Look Like?

Power plant operators can gain training at vocational schools and community colleges by earning certificates or associate degrees. However, most power plant operators gain their training outside of the classroom. Schools give students a foundation in practical measurements, scientific principles, mechanical technologies and maintenance, electrical principles, electric and steam power generation plants, and electrical power transmission and distribution.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Power Plant Operator?

It takes years of work experience to become a power plant operator, a position responsible for maintaining equipment, taking practical measurements, responding to emergency alarms, interpreting blueprints, reading meters and gauges, and recording voltage and electricity flows. Specific training depends on if the power plant operator works in gas, coal, nuclear, solar, or hydroelectric power.

As they gain more experience, power plant operators can advance and become shift supervisors, power plant mechanics, and consultants.

Frequently Asked Questions About Power Plant Operator Training

What is the salary of a power plant operator?

According to the BLS, power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers earned a median annual salary of $89,090 in May 2020. These professionals can earn more with additional credentials. Pay also depends on the specific work setting.

At utility companies, power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers earned a median annual salary of $91,170 in May 2020, compared to $86,350 at government agencies. Gaining more experience can increase a power plant operator's salary. The top 10% of power plant operators earned more than $121,490 per year. Specialists like nuclear power reactor operators earned a median salary of $104,040 a year in May 2020.

What skills do you need to be a power plant operator?

It takes sound judgment, problem-solving skills, dexterity, and mechanical aptitude to hold a job that presents new obstacles every day. Power plant operators oversee the operations of crucial power equipment, including boilers, turbines, and generators. The job requires monitoring computers to ensure power flows from the plant at safe levels. They also check temperatures, air flows, and vibrations.

New hires need strong math and science skills just to begin as power plant operator apprentices. Past experience in related industries, or in the Navy or Air Force can help prepare professionals for this work.

Is a power plant operator a good career choice?

Working as a power plant operator offers a rewarding career where every day presents new challenges. Power plant operators solve issues and problems to ensure that people have the power they need. The top 10% of power plant operators earned more than $121,490 per year in May 2020, according to the BLS.

Read our guide to find out how to become an electrical lineman. Learn what training electrical line technicians need, and discover the average salary. Electrical linemen maintain the power grid. Discover what it takes to become an electrical line technician, including skill and education requirements. Learn how to become an electrician, including everything you need to know about electrician training and licensing requirements.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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