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Process plant operator

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Summary of occupation

Process plant operators control, monitor and maintain the machines and equipment used to produce, refine and pump chemicals, oil, gas and petroleum. In most cases, the machinery and equipment used in these processes is computer controlled, and it is the responsibility of process plant operators to set the controls and observe gauges and other instrumentation to monitor progress and check for malfunctions, leaks and other faults. Some process plant operators will also be responsible for preparing and measuring the raw materials to be used in manufacturing and refining processes.

ANZSCO description: Process plant operators control, monitor and  maintain the machines and equipment used to produce, refine and pump  chemicals, oil, gas and petroleum.
Alternative names: Chemical, Oil and Hydrocarbon Plant Operator, CHO Process Plant Operator
Specialisations: Chemical Plant Operator, Hydrocarbon Extraction Plant Operator, Hydrocarbon Transmission Plant Operator, Oil Refining Plant Operator
Job prospects: Average
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Knowledge, skills and attributes

A process plant operator needs:

  • to be physically fit
  • to enjoy practical and manual activities
  • to be able to follow written instructions
  • the ability to work as part of a team
  • good hand-eye co-ordination
  • good problem-solving and analytical skills
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Working conditions

The majority of process plant operators in Western Australia work in the Perth metropolitan region, however, there are also significant opportunities in the Pilbarra region. They often work in production areas that can be hot, dusty and noisy, and may sometimes contain fumes, however these areas are generally spacious and well ventilated. Some process plant operators may work offshore on oil rigs. Most process plant operators work shift-work, which may include nights and weekends. 'Fly in, fly out' work may also be required for those working in remote locations. Working with heavy machinery and chemicals is potentially hazardous, and strict safety procedures and regulations must be followed to minimise the danger.

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Salary details

On average, process plant operators, classified under chemical, gas, petroleum and power generation plant operators, can expect to earn $2 000 or more per week ($104 000 or more per year), depending on the organisation they work for, and their level of experience. As a process plant operator develops their skills, their earning potential will generally increase.

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Tools and technologies

Process plant operators need to be familiar with the range of equipment and machinery used in their particular operation. As most of the processes are controlled by automated computer systems, process plant operators need to be comfortable with using computers and other electronic instrumentation. Safety equipment such as overalls, hardhats, safety glasses, ear protection and safety boots is also often required.

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Education and training/entrance requirements

To become a process plant operator you usually have to complete a Certificate II or III in Process Plant Operations. 

The Certificate II and III in Process Plant Operations are offered at TAFE Colleges and other registered organisations throughout Western Australia.

​You can also become a process plant operator by completing a traineeship. A process plant operations traineeship usually takes 12 to 24 months to complete.

Related courses

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Apprenticeships and traineeships

As an apprentice or trainee, you enter into a formal training contract with an employer. You spend most of your time working and learning practical skills on the job and you spend some time undertaking structured training with a registered training provider of your choice. They will assess your skills and when you are competent in all areas, you will be awarded a nationally recognised qualification.

If you are still at school you can access an apprenticeship through your school. You generally start your school based apprenticeship by attending school three days a week, spending one day at a registered training organisation and one day at work. Talk to your school's VET Co-ordinator to start your training now through VET in Schools. If you get a full-time apprenticeship you can apply to leave school before reaching the school leaving age.

If you are no longer at school you can apply for an apprenticeship or traineeship and get paid while you learn and work.

Related apprenticeships

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Recognition of prior learning

If you think you already have some of the skills or competencies, obtained either through non-formal or informal learning, you may be able to gain credit through recognition of prior learning.

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Related videos

Process Plant Operator Video Process Plant Operator Occupation

Process plant operators control, monitor and maintain the machines and equipment used to produce, refine and pump chemicals, oil, gas and petroleum.

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