Becoming a Kiln Operator: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a kiln operator career? Get real job descriptions, job outlook and salary info to see if becoming a kiln operator is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Kiln Operator

As a kiln operator, you can expect to work around open fires, extremely hot steam and dehumidifiers. Continue reading the following pros and cons to help decide if this is the right career for you.

Pros of Becoming a Kiln Operator
The most experienced workers can earn decent wages (top 90% earned about $55,000 in May 2014)***
Most positions only require a high school education*
Several different types of kilns to work with**
Allows for some control over processes and scheduling**

Cons of Becoming a Kiln Operator
Inexperienced workers may earn low wages (bottom 10% earned $22,000 in May 2014)***
May be required to work with toxic chemicals and solvents*
Many strict safety guidelines**
May be exposed to flames**

Sources: *O*Net Online, **U.S. Department of Agriculture, ***U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information

Job Descriptions and Duties

Basic responsibilities of a kiln operator include loading and unloading the kiln, operating the controls of the kiln and monitoring temperature gauges. Job responsibilities vary based on which product is being manufactured. For example, in the lumber industry, the kiln operator monitors the moisture of the lumber and determines the drying time needed. Additional duties can include cleaning machinery, ensuring correct operation, determining project scheduling, making sure materials are at the correct weight and understanding how to read work orders. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for workers in this field was $34,900 in May 2014.

Career Paths and Specializations

Work can be found with lumber companies, water treatment facilities, cement companies and construction firms. If you are interested in working with related machines, you may find that your skills can be applied to working with furnaces, driers, tender machines, kettles and ovens. Another alternative can be found working with tobacco drying, food drying, roasting and baking machines.

Education Requirements

There are no standard training or education requirements to become a kiln operator. Operators are usually trained on the job. Operators need to be able to handle lifting heavy objects, standing, kneeling or stooping for long periods of time while withstanding extreme heat. You may also find some advanced positions that require you to have some experience in a specific field before being considered. If a position requires formal education from a technical degree program, you may be eligible if you have ample, related experience.

Useful Skills

To be successful in this field, you need to know how to recognize potential equipment hazards, use material transportation tools and log related operations. Your job may also require you to operate other machines, including forklifts, coal mills, computers and moisture meters. Employers may require you to have the following general traits:

  • Ability to use Microsoft Office applications
  • Strong written and verbal communication skills
  • Ability to work with a team and maintain group safety
  • Business-driven with the ability to adapt to any impromptu changes in scheduling

Job Postings from Real Employers

Since there aren't many job openings available for kiln operators, you may need to look at specific company job postings or specialized posting boards. Leadership positions may also require you to be in charge of other employees, provide instructions to maintenance workers and operate main control computers. The following are examples of job postings in April 2012:

  • A lumber mill in Idaho was looking for an operator that knew how to use a forklift, start kiln charges, work with steam flow and follow an operation schedule.
  • A building materials company in Indiana was looking for someone who was able to inspect kiln machines according to safety standards, test for malfunctions, follow company compliance guidelines and work in inclement weather.
  • A wastewater service company in Arizona searched for someone that also was familiar with boilers, blowers, compressors, pumps and mechanical feed systems.

How Can I Stand Out?

Although formal education may not be required, you may be able to find some training workshops that provide live training on a kiln. During these courses, you can develop the business-related skills necessary for creating effective kiln use schedules, increasing productivity, improving production costs, improving drying quality and handling materials. These workshops can also cover how to prepare for drying, judge lumber quality, examine kiln mechanical components, follow safety procedures, dry various types of wood and maintain equipment. You may also find that some forest technology associate's degree programs can also prepare you for dry kiln operations.

For additional skill development, you may want to consider joining an organization similar to the New England Kiln Drying Association or the Ohio Valley Lumber Drying Association. Some organizations may provide seminars, training sessions and continuing education opportunities.

Alternative Career Fields

If you are interested in working with other types of machinery, you may want to pursue a career as a metal and plastic machine worker. In this field you may be responsible for lifting heavy materials, preparing machinery with the proper settings, ensuring operation safety, maintaining equipment and making adjustments to compensate for material characteristics. Some equipment you may work with includes drawing, drilling, lathe, caster, plating, cutting, boring and polishing machines. Some employers don't even require you to have a high school education. According to the BLS, these machine workers were estimated to have earned a median salary of $35,000 in May 2011. It was predicted that only about 56,100 jobs would be added to the occupation from 2010-2020, reflecting a slower-than-average employment growth of six percent.

As a painting and coating worker, job duties include applying paint to various different objects, cleaning equipment after use, identifying the correct paint for different situations, applying protective coatings and protecting paint from dust. Working in this field can mean that you are proficient with spray paint guns, detailing materials, food decorating tools and drying ovens. You may be able to find work as a machine operator, decorating worker, transportation equipment painter, dipper or coating operator. Most employers only require you to have a high school education. Skills may be developed on the job or through vocational education. As of May 2011, the BLS estimated that employees in this field earned a median salary of $26,000. Additionally, it was projected that employment growth would be slower than average at nine percent from 2010-2020.

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