What Does a Power Plant Operator Do?

Power plant operators are a key link in the nation’s energy chain. They operate and maintain machinery to generate electricity, and they work with distributors and dispatchers to ensure electricity flows to substations and then to homes and businesses.

Power plant operators control power-generating equipment — calibrating it, reading meters and ensuring smooth operation by manipulating the various components. 

The work environment may involve temperature extremes, crouching in small spaces to operate equipment and working near and on high-voltage equipment.

Beyond the physical requirements, this career is well-suited to someone who has good judgment and trouble-shooting skills. If this sounds like a good fit for you, keep reading to learn more about this important and exceptionally well-paying career. 

$ 44,000 - $ 111,000
$ 85,000
Female power plant operator inspecting equipment
Power plant operators are detail-oriented, spending much of their time checking that equipment is running properly. (Credit: FrameStockFootages /Shutterstock)

Job Responsibilities

  • Ensure constant flow of electricity to avoid blackouts
  • Monitor power-generating equipment fueled by coal, gas, nuclear energy, hydroelectric energy, wind or solar power
  • Monitor instruments to maintain voltage
  • Check equipment and valves that monitor pressure, temperature and vibration
  • Start or stop generator's turbines when needed
  • Disconnect equipment from circuitry 
  • Perform maintenance on machines
  • Log operational data and compile reports

How To Become A Power Plant Operator: FAQs

What are the education and training requirements?

A high school diploma or equivalent is typically required, but the bulk of the training happens on the job. That’s why this job is mentioned in our story about the fastest routes to a skilled trade job

Some employers prefer applicants who have previous military experience or who have earned a certificate at a technical school. Courses covered include mechanical skills, preventive maintenance, electricity basics (voltage and electricity flows) and fossil fuel theory. 

The reason for these limited requirements is that power plant operators get years of extensive on-the-job training before they are considered qualified. 

Continuing education is a must for operators, distributors and dispatchers to ensure safety and keep up with changing technology. 

What other qualifications do I need?

Power plant jobs require a background check and drug and alcohol screenings. Some states require operators to be licensed as engineers or firefighters. 

Operators in roles directly linked to the power grid need to be certified through the North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s System Operator Certification Program.

Operators who work at nuclear power plants must earn a licensing credential. Learn more about nuclear technicians in our separate career page.

Where do power plant operators work? What kind of hours do they work?

They work at utility companies and government agencies. Most power plant operators work full-time, often with rotating 8- or 12-hours shifts including nights, weekends and holidays to accommodate the constant need for electricity. These types of shifts are known to affect living and sleeping patterns, so taking on this role will require adjustments for you and your family.

Is it satisfying to be a power plant operator?

According to those who hold this job or study people who do, yes. Check out this video from CareerWatch, which covers power plant operator salary trends and pros and cons. As the narrator notes, this is a highly specific job so the overall work force is small.

What skills and qualities would make someone a good fit for this job?

Successful power plant operators share these traits: 

  • Strong problem-solving skills
  • Detailed-oriented
  • Highly organized
  • Good communication skills but enjoy working independently 
  • Sharp observational skills
  • Mechanical aptitude
  • Strong math skills
The bottom line:

This is one of the highest-paying jobs in power generation that only require a high-school diploma and extensive training. With a median salary of $85,000 and the chance to learn while you earn, this career is a hidden gem. If you’ve got the right personal qualities and you want to ensure delivery of a vital resource, this job could be a great fit. Check out SkillPointe’s training options and get started on your new career!

Power Plant Operator Training in Your Area

Three Rivers College logo

Power Plant Technician, Certificate

Three Rivers College
Poplar Bluff (292.5 Miles)
Black Hawk College logo

Power Plant Operations Certificate of Completion (Online)

Black Hawk College
Moline (413.5 Miles)

Power Plant Technology Technical Certificate

Ivy Tech Community College - Evansville
Evansville (450.3 Miles)
Red Rocks Community College logo

Power Technology, A.A.S.

Red Rocks Community College
Lakewood (543.9 Miles)

Power Plant Technology Technical Certificate

Ivy Tech Community College - Valparaiso
Valparaiso (553.9 Miles)
Milwaukee Area Technical College logo

Boiler Operator Certificate

Milwaukee Area Technical College
Milwaukee (581.7 Miles)
Milwaukee Area Technical College logo

Power Engineering and Boiler Operator Technical Diploma

Milwaukee Area Technical College
Milwaukee (581.7 Miles)
Bismarck State College logo

Power Generation Technology, A.A.S.

Bismarck State College
Bismarck (721.2 Miles)
Bismarck State College logo

Power Generation Technology Certificate

Bismarck State College
Bismarck (721.2 Miles)
Bay de Noc Community College logo

Power Plant Operations Certificate of Completion (Online)

Bay de Noc Community College
Escanaba (747.2 Miles)
West Virginia University at Parkersburg logo

Chemical and Polymer Operator Technology Certificate of Applied Science

West Virginia University at Parkersburg
Parkersburg (784.8 Miles)
Northland Pioneer College logo

EIT Operations/Maintenance, A.A.S.

Northland Pioneer College
Holbrook (819.5 Miles)