Power Plant Technician Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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Get the truth about a power plant technician's salary, training requirements and career prospects. Read the job duties to learn the pros and cons of becoming a power plant technician.
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Power Plant Technician: Pros and Cons

Power plant technicians are the ones who bring electricity into your home by controlling the generation and distribution of power. Here's a quick overview of what to expect within this field:

Pros of a Power Plant Technician Career
High earning potential (median salary $70,070 as of May 2014)*
College degree not required*
Lower than average rate of on-the-job injury*
Opportunities for advancement to supervisor, consultant or trainer*

Cons of a Power Plant Technician Career
Low-growth field (decline of 8% projected from 2012-2022)*
Several years of on-the-job training required*
Constantly changing work schedule, including nights and weekends*
Routine work that requires high levels on concentration*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Power plant technicians may control power-generating equipment and systems, monitor power output, maintain equipment and adjust the power flow as necessary. They might work at a plant that generates power from gas, coal, hydroelectric sources, nuclear energy, wind or solar power. Electricity is considered a vital resource, and power plant technicians may have to respond to emergencies and deal with heightened security measures. Since electricity is so important, most power plant technicians work on rotating 8-12 hour shifts, meaning everyone has to occasionally work nights or weekends.

Salary and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), power plant technicians earned a median salary of $70,070 as of May 2014 (www.bls.gov). Wages tend to be slightly higher for those working in natural gas distribution. The majority of power plant technicians make between $57,000 and $82,000, with the highest paid making about $94,000 a year.

Job prospects are expected to decline by 8% during the 2012-2022 decade. This is due to a combination of increasing pressure to lower the nation's energy use and the replacement of older power plants with new, more efficient ones that require less human oversight. Nuclear power plant technician positions are expected to have no growth, but opportunities may be available due to new plant construction. There also will be a need to replace people who are expected to retire over the next decade.

Training and Licensing Requirements

While a college degree is not typically required to be a power plant technician, those entering the field often go through an on-the-job training period of several years. Additionally, regular training courses must be taken throughout employment to maintain skills and make sure knowledge stays up to date.

Those working in nuclear power plants must be licensed. This is done by taking an exam administered by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Additionally, those who are in positions where they have some control over the power grid must seek certification through the North American Energy Reliability Corporation (NERC). The certification lasts for 3 years.

Skills for Power Plant Technicians

Power plant technicians are expected to be diligent and detail-oriented, since these qualities are necessary for noticing problems. Familiarity with electrical and mechanical systems is also important; other imporant skills for power plant technicians include:

  • Math (especially trigonometry and algebra)
  • Mechanical (operating and repairing equipment)
  • Electrical (how electricity works)
  • Problem-solving (dealing with problems as they arise)

Actual Job Postings

Some states have additional licensure or certification requirements for power plant technicians, and employers will ask for these if necessary. Here are some actual job listings, available as of May 2012:

  • A renewable energy company in Massachusetts looked for a power plant operator to oversee boiler operation and plant equipment. A bachelor's degree was preferred, along with five years related experience.
  • A staffing agency wanted a power plant operator for a job in California. Duties were managing the operation and maintenance of the gas collection system. Experience with gas collection was required.
  • A city utility company in Missouri sought a power plant operator to control, operate and maintain the electric power system. A high school diploma or GED was required, as was two years of experience in a similar job.
  • A U.S. Navy contractor located in Indiana wanted a power plant technician to work in a nuclear test facility. Tasks included valve flow testing operations and maintaining plant equipment. An associate's degree in engineering technology was required.

How to Beat the Competition

While only a high school diploma is necessary, you may find that some employers prefer to have workers with an associate's or bachelor's degree, according to the BLS. Technical programs, such as power plant operations or power technician, tend to be offered at community and vocational schools. Additionally, if you can get some experience in a related industry, such as utilities, that might also be attractive to employers.

Alternative Fields

Line Installer

If you don't like the idea of a rotating shift, you might consider becoming a line installer, installing and fixing cables such as those used for telecommunications and power. Line installers usually work regular business hours. The BLS reports that as of May 2011, their median annual salary was $60,000, and job growth was projected at 13% over the 2010-2020 decade. This career does not typically require a college degree.

Electrician

Electricians are in charge of the installation and maintenance of electrical systems in buildings. This may be a good alternative if you're worried about the lack of job growth in the power plant technician field, since positions for electricians are expected to grow 23% between 2010 and 2020, according to the BLS. Additionally, as of May 2011, their median salary was $49,000.

Construction Equipment Operator

A career as a construction equipment operator might be for you if you prefer to be outside. Construction equipment operators control the heavy machinery necessary to construct buildings, roads and other structures. Per the BLS, construction equipment operator positions are predicted to grow 23% from 2010-2020, and the median salary was $42,000 as of May 2011.

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