A plant operator is a person who works in any plant setting and runs the machinery and computer systems that controls the plant. Very often, the plant operator will work in a control room, but he or she may work in other settings such as on the machine floor. Maintenance of machinery or computer systems may be one of the job functions of the operator as well, and troubleshooting will be a major responsibility of any operator in the plant.
The specific job responsibilities of a plant operator can vary depending on the type of plant in which the person will work. It is likely that many operators will work in the plant, performing different job functions as necessary. A plant operator may be a managerial position, which means the operator will need to monitor the work of other employees and oversee complex processes throughout the plant. Other plant operator positions may focus exclusively on one function, such as operating a particular machine or computer system. Maintenance operators will be responsible for maintaining facilities and machinery. This means that the training for such a position can vary as well.
Some plant operator positions may only require a high school education and on the job training, while others may require a college degree or certificate. If the operator will be working with complex machinery, it is likely that he or she will need to take part in on the job training or an apprenticeship; during such an apprenticeship, the operator will work under the supervision and guidance of a more experienced worker. The duration of this apprenticeship can vary depending on the complexity of the job, but the employee can expect to spend anywhere from one to five years as an apprentice.
Workers who are new to the industry or who have just been hired as a plant operator may end up working various shifts. This means the employee may end up working on weekends, holidays, or during the nights, since the plant is not likely to shut down at any particular time of day. Such shifts are usually less desirable because the schedule can be strenuous, but these shifts may also pay more, depending upon the plant. Shifts can vary from week to week or month to month, and the operator may have the option of changing his or her work schedule periodically.