Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers

Summary

power plant operators distributors and dispatchers image
Power plant operators monitor power-generating equipment such as nuclear reactors from control rooms.
Quick Facts: Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers
2020 Median Pay $qf_median_annual_wage_html $qf_median_hourly_wage_html
Typical Entry-Level Education $qf_education_html
Work Experience in a Related Occupation $qf_experience_html
On-the-job Training $qf_training_html
Number of Jobs, 2020 $qf_number_jobs_html
Job Outlook, 2020-30 $qf_outlook_html
Employment Change, 2020-30 $qf_openings_html

What Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers Do

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers control the systems that generate and distribute electric power.

Work Environment

Most power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers work full time. Many work rotating 8- or 12-hour shifts.

How to Become a Power Plant Operator, Distributor, or Dispatcher

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers typically need a high school diploma or equivalent combined with extensive on-the-job training that may include a combination of classroom and hands-on training. Many jobs require a background check and drug and alcohol screenings. Nuclear power reactor operators also need a license.

Pay

Job Outlook

Overall employment of power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers is projected to grow $pc.toString().replaceAll("^\-","") percent from 2020 to 2030, $gra.

About $tools.number.format('#,###',$op) openings for power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers Do

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers
Operators may have to operate or repair complex machinery.

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers control the systems that generate and distribute electric power.

Duties

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers typically do the following:

  • Control power-generating equipment, which may use any one type of fuel, such as coal, nuclear power, or natural gas
  • Read charts, meters, and gauges to monitor voltage and electricity flows
  • Check equipment and indicators to detect evidence of operating problems
  • Adjust controls to regulate the flow of power
  • Start or stop generators, turbines, and other equipment as necessary

Electricity is one of our nation’s most vital resources. Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers control power plants and the flow of electricity from plants to substations, which distribute electricity to businesses, homes, and factories. Electricity is generated from many sources, including coal, gas, nuclear energy, hydroelectric energy (from water sources), wind, and solar power.

Nuclear power reactor operators control nuclear reactors. They adjust control rods, which affect how much electricity a reactor generates. They monitor reactors, turbines, generators, and cooling systems, adjusting controls as necessary. Operators start and stop equipment and record the data produced. They also respond to abnormalities, determine the causes, and take corrective action.

Power distributors and dispatchers, also known as systems operators, control the flow of electricity as it travels from generating stations to substations and users. In exercising such control, they monitor and operate current converters, voltage transformers, and circuit breakers over a network of transmission and distribution lines. They prepare and issue switching orders to route electrical currents around areas that need maintenance or repair. They detect and respond to emergencies, such as transformer or transmission line failures, which can cause cascading power outages over the network. They may work with plant operators to troubleshoot electricity generation issues.

Power plant operators control, operate, and maintain machinery to generate electricity. They use control boards to distribute power among generators and regulate the output of several generators. They monitor instruments to maintain voltage and electricity flows from the plant to meet fluctuating consumer demand throughout the day.

Work Environment

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers
Power plant operators must monitor plant equipment and take action if problems arise.

Operators, distributors, and dispatchers who work in control rooms generally sit or stand at a control station. The work requires constant attention. Workers also may do rounds, checking equipment and doing other work outside the control room. Transmission stations and substations where distributors and dispatchers work are typically in locations that are separate from the generating station where power plant operators work.

Because power transmission is both vitally important and sensitive to attack, security is a major concern for utility companies. Nuclear power plants and transmission stations have especially high security, and employees work in secure environments.

Work Schedules

Because electricity is provided around the clock, operators, distributors, and dispatchers usually work rotating 8- or 12-hour shifts. Work on rotating shifts can be stressful and tiring because of the constant changes in living and sleeping patterns.

How to Become a Power Plant Operator, Distributor, or Dispatcher

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers
Most power plant operators work at a control station.

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers typically need a high school diploma or equivalent combined with extensive on-the-job training, which may include a combination of classroom and hands-on training. Many jobs require a background check and screenings for drugs and alcohol.

Nuclear power reactor operators also need a license.

Many companies require prospective workers to take the Power Plant Maintenance and Plant Operator exams from the Edison Electrical Institute to see if they have the right aptitudes for this work. These tests measure reading comprehension, understanding of mechanical concepts, spatial ability, and mathematical ability.

Education

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers typically need at least a high school diploma or equivalent. However, employers may prefer workers who have a college or vocational school degree.

Employers generally look for people with strong math and science backgrounds for these highly technical jobs. Understanding electricity and math, especially algebra and trigonometry, is important.

Training

Power plant operators and dispatchers undergo rigorous, long-term on-the-job training and technical instruction. Several years of onsite training and experience are necessary for a worker to become fully qualified. Even fully qualified operators and dispatchers must take regular training courses to keep their skills up to date.

Nuclear power reactor operators usually start working as equipment operators or auxiliary operators, helping more experienced workers operate and maintain the equipment while learning the basics of how to operate the power plant.

Along with this extensive on-the-job training, nuclear power plant operators typically receive formal technical training to prepare for the license exam from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Once licensed, operators are authorized to control equipment that affects the power of the reactor in a nuclear power plant. Operators continue frequent onsite training, which familiarizes them with new monitoring systems that provide operators better real-time information regarding the plant.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Nuclear power reactor operators must be licensed through the NRC. They typically begin working in nuclear power plants as unlicensed operators, where they gain the required knowledge and experience to start the licensing process. To become licensed, operators must meet training and experience requirements, pass a medical exam, and pass the NRC licensing exam. To keep their license, operators must pass a plant-operating exam each year, pass a medical exam every 2 years, and apply for renewal of their license every 6 years. Licenses cannot be transferred between plants, so an operator must get a new license to work in another facility.

Power plant operators who do not work at a nuclear power reactor may be licensed as engineers or firefighters by state licensing boards. Requirements vary by state and depend on the specific job functions that the operator performs.

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers who are in positions which could affect the power grid may need to be certified through the North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s System Operator Certification Program. 

Advancement

With sufficient education, training and experience, power plant distributors and dispatchers can become shift supervisors, trainers, or consultants.

Licensed nuclear power plant operators can then advance to senior reactor operators, who supervise the operation of all controls in the control room. Senior reactor operators also may become plant managers or licensed operator instructors.

Important Qualities

Concentration skills. Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers must be careful, attentive, and persistent. They must be able to concentrate on a task, such as monitoring the temperature of reactors over a certain length of time, without being distracted.

Detail oriented. Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers must monitor complex controls and intricate machinery to ensure that everything is operating properly.

Dexterity. Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers must use precise and repeated motions when working in a control room.

Mechanical skills. Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers must know how to work with machines and use tools. They must be familiar with how to operate, repair, and maintain equipment.

Problem-solving skills. Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers must find and quickly solve problems that arise with equipment or controls.

Pay

Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers

Median annual wages, May 2020

Plant and system operators

$62,540

Total, all occupations

$41,950

 

Because electricity is provided around the clock, operators, distributors, and dispatchers usually work rotating 8- or 12-hour shifts. Work on rotating shifts can be stressful and tiring because of the constant changes in living and sleeping patterns.

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers have a higher percentage of workers who belong to a union.

Job Outlook

Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers

Percent change in employment, projected 2020-30

Total, all occupations

8%

Plant and system operators

-2%

 

Overall employment of power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers is projected to grow $pc.toString().replaceAll("^\-","") percent from 2020 to 2030, $gra.

About $tools.number.format('#,###',$op) openings for power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Overall employment of power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers is projected to decline 6 percent from 2018 to 2028. Although electricity use is expected to grow, technological advances and greater efficiency are expected to reduce employment.

Employment of power plant operators in nonnuclear power plants is projected to decline 5 percent from 2018 to 2028. Power plants are becoming more efficient and, in many cases, have higher electricity-generating capacities. Modernized control rooms in power plants will also provide workers with more information and automate some tasks. As a result, workers are able to work more effectively, which limits the number of opportunities for new job.

Employment of power distributors and dispatchers is projected to decline 4 percent from 2018 to 2028. Due to advances in smart grid technology, some tasks that dispatchers perform can be automated, such as rerouting power during an outage. However, some distributors and dispatchers will still be needed to manage the complex electrical grid.

Employment of nuclear power reactor operators is projected to decline 16 percent from 2018 to 2028. No new nuclear plants have opened since the 1990s, and although some are in the application process, opening a new one can take many years. The existing nuclear power plants are also becoming more efficient.

Job Prospects

Job prospects may be limited as technology advances and these jobs become more automated. Many people will seek these high-paying jobs, so those with strong technical and mechanical skills will have better job prospects.

Employment projections data for power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers, 2020-30
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2020 Projected Employment, 2030 Change, 2020-30 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers

51-8010 49,000 41,900 -14 -7,100 Get data

Nuclear power reactor operators

51-8011 5,300 3,600 -33 -1,800 Get data

Power distributors and dispatchers

51-8012 10,000 9,300 -7 -700 Get data

Power plant operators

51-8013 33,600 29,000 -14 -4,600 Get data

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS)

The Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2020 MEDIAN PAY
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Line installers and repairers Line Installers and Repairers

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Hazardous materials removal workers Hazardous Materials Removal Workers

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Nuclear technicians Nuclear Technicians

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Contacts for More Information

For more information about power plant operators, nuclear power reactor operators, and power plant distributors and dispatchers, visit

American Public Power Association

Center for Energy Workforce Development

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers

For more information on nuclear power reactor operators, including licensing, visit

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Nuclear Energy Institute

For information on certification for power distributors and dispatchers, visit

North American Electric Reliability Corporation

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/production/power-plant-operators-distributors-and-dispatchers.htm (visited December 02, 2022).

Last Modified Date: Wednesday, September 4, 2019