Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators

Summary

stationary engineers and boiler operators image
Stationary engineers and boiler operators manage utility or industrial equipment such as boilers, stationary engines, and generators.
Quick Facts: Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators
2012 Median Pay $53,560 per year
$25.75 per hour
Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Long-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2012 37,900
Job Outlook, 2012-22 3% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 1,200

What Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators Do

Stationary engineers and boiler operators control stationary engines, boilers, or other mechanical equipment to provide utilities for buildings or for industrial purposes.

Work Environment

The majority of stationary engineers and boiler operators work in manufacturing, government, educational services, and hospitals. Those who work in facilities that operate around the clock often work evenings and weekends. Shift work also is common.

How to Become a Stationary Engineer or Boiler Operator

Stationary engineers and boiler operators need at least a high school diploma and are trained on the job by more experienced engineers. Many employers require stationary engineers and boiler operators to demonstrate competency through licenses or company-specific exams before they are able to operate equipment without supervision.

Pay

The median annual wage for stationary engineers and boiler operators was $53,560 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of stationary engineers and boiler operators is projected to grow 3 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Those with apprenticeship training will have the best job opportunities.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of stationary engineers and boiler operators with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about stationary engineers and boiler operators by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators Do

Stationary engineers and boiler operators
Stationary engineers and boiler operators repair malfunctioning equipment.

Stationary engineers and boiler operators control stationary engines, boilers, or other mechanical equipment to provide utilities for buildings or for industrial purposes.

Duties

Stationary engineers and boiler operators typically do the following:

  • Operate engines, boilers, and auxiliary equipment
  • Read gauges, meters, and charts to track boiler operations
  • Monitor boiler water, chemical, and fuel levels
  • Activate valves to change the amount of water, air, and fuel in boilers
  • Fire coal furnaces or feed boilers, using gas feeds or oil pumps
  • Inspect equipment to ensure that it is operating efficiently
  • Check safety devices routinely
  • Record data and keep logs of operation, maintenance, and safety activity

Most large office buildings, malls, warehouses, and other commercial facilities have extensive heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems that maintain comfortable temperatures all year long. Industrial plants often have additional facilities to provide electrical power, steam, or other services. Stationary engineers and boiler operators control and maintain these systems, which include boilers, air-conditioning and refrigeration equipment, turbines, generators, pumps, and compressors.

Stationary engineers and boiler operators start up, regulate, repair, and shut down equipment. They monitor meters, gauges, and computerized controls to ensure that equipment operates safely and within established limits. They use sophisticated electrical and electronic test equipment when servicing, troubleshooting, repairing, and monitoring heating, cooling, and ventilation systems.

Stationary engineers and boiler operators also regularly perform routine maintenance. They may do a complete overhaul or replace defective valves, gaskets, or bearings. In addition, stationary engineers and boiler operators lubricate moving parts, replace filters, and remove soot and corrosion that can make a boiler less efficient.

Work Environment

Stationary engineers and boiler operators
Stationary engineers and boiler operators typically work in boiler rooms and mechanical rooms.

Stationary engineers and boiler operators held about 37,900 jobs in 2012.

They were employed in a variety of industries. Because most stationary engineers and boiler operators work in large commercial or industrial buildings, the majority of jobs were in manufacturing, government, educational services, and hospitals.

The industries employing the largest numbers of stationary engineers and boiler operators in 2012 were as follows:

Manufacturing26%
Government19
Hospitals; state, local, and private16
Junior colleges, colleges, universities, and professional schools;
state, local, and private
13
Electric power generation, transmission and distribution5

In a large building or industrial plant, a senior stationary engineer or boiler operator may be in charge of all mechanical systems in the building and may supervise a team of assistant stationary engineers, assistant boiler tenders, and other operators or mechanics.

In small buildings, there may be only one stationary engineer or boiler operator who operates and maintains all of the systems.

Some stationary engineers and boiler operators are exposed to high temperatures, dust, dirt, and loud noise from the equipment. Maintenance duties also may require contact with oil, grease, and smoke.

Workers spend much of their time on their feet. They also may have to crawl inside boilers and work while crouched, or kneel to inspect, clean, or repair equipment.

Injuries and Illnesses

Stationary engineers and boiler operators work around hazardous machinery. They must follow procedures to guard against burns, electric shock, noise, dangerous moving parts, and exposure to hazardous materials.

Work Schedules

Most stationary engineers and boiler operators work full time during regular business hours. In facilities that operate around the clock, engineers and operators usually work one of three 8-hour shifts on a rotating basis. Because buildings such as hospitals are open 365 days a year and depend on the steam generated by boilers and other machines, many must work weekends and holidays.

How to Become a Stationary Engineer or Boiler Operator

Stationary engineers and boiler operators
Stationary engineers and boiler operators continue training throughout their career.

Stationary engineers and boiler operators need at least a high school diploma and are trained on the job by more experienced engineers. Many employers require stationary engineers and boiler operators to demonstrate competency through licenses or company-specific exams before they are able to operate equipment without supervision.

Education

Stationary engineers and boiler operators need at least a high school diploma. Students should take courses in math, science, and mechanical and technical subjects.

With the growing complexity of the work, vocational school or college courses may benefit workers trying to advance in the occupation.

Training

Stationary engineers and boiler operators typically learn their work through long-term on-the-job training under the supervision of an experienced engineer. Trainees are assigned basic tasks, such as monitoring the temperatures and pressure in the heating and cooling systems and low-pressure boilers. After they demonstrate competence in basic tasks, trainees move on to more complicated tasks, such as the repair of cracks or ruptured tubes for high-pressure boilers.

Some stationary engineers and boiler operators complete apprenticeship programs sponsored by the International Union of Operating Engineers. Apprenticeships usually last 4 years, include 8,000 hours of on-the-job training, and require 600 hours of technical instruction. Apprentices learn about the operation and maintenance of equipment; controls and balancing of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems; safety; electricity; and air quality. Employers may prefer to hire these workers because they usually require significantly less on-the-job training. However, because of the limited number of apprenticeship programs, employers often have difficulty finding workers who have completed an apprenticeship program. 

Experienced stationary engineers and boiler operators update their skills regularly through training, especially when new equipment is introduced or when regulations change.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Some state and local governments require licensure for stationary engineers and boiler operators. These governments typically have several classes of stationary engineer and boiler operator licenses. Each class specifies the type and size of equipment the engineer is permitted to operate without supervision. Many employers require stationary engineers and boiler operators to demonstrate competency through licenses or company-specific exams before they are able to operate the equipment without supervision.

A top-level engineer or operator is qualified to run a large facility, supervise others, and operate equipment of all types and capacities. Engineers and operators with licenses below this level are limited in the types or capacities of equipment they may operate without supervision.

Applicants for licensure usually must be at least 18 years of age, meet experience requirements, and pass a written exam. In some cases, employers may require that workers be licensed before starting the job. A stationary engineer or boiler operator who moves from one state or city to another may have to pass an examination for a new license because of regional differences in licensing requirements.

Advancement

Generally, stationary engineers and boiler operators can advance as they become qualified to operate larger, more powerful, and more varied equipment by obtaining higher-class licenses. In jurisdictions where licenses are not required, workers usually advance by taking company-administered exams, which ensures a level of knowledge needed to safely operate different types of boilers among stationary engineers and boiler operators.

Important Qualities 

Detail oriented. Stationary engineers and boiler operators monitor intricate machinery, gauges, and meters to ensure that everything is operating properly.

Dexterity. Stationary engineers and boiler operators must use precise motions to control or repair machines. They grasp tools and use their hands to perform many tasks.

Mechanical skills. Stationary engineers and boiler operators must know how to use tools and work with machines. They must be able to repair, maintain, and operate equipment.

Problem-solving skills. Stationary engineers and boiler operators must figure out how things work and quickly solve problems that arise with equipment or controls.

Pay

Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators

Median annual wages, May 2012

Plant and system operators

$53,820

Stationary engineers and boiler operators

$53,560

Total, all occupations

$34,750

 

The median annual wage for stationary engineers and boiler operators was $53,560 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $33,600, and the top 10 percent earned more than $78,050.

Most stationary engineers and boiler operators work full time during regular business hours. In facilities that operate around the clock, engineers and operators usually work one of three 8-hour shifts on a rotating basis. Because buildings such as hospitals are open 365 days a year and depend on the steam generated by boilers and other machines, many must work weekends and holidays.

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, stationary engineers and boiler operators had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2012.

Job Outlook

Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Total, all occupations

11%

Stationary engineers and boiler operators

3%

Plant and system operators

-1%

 

Employment of stationary engineers and boiler operators is projected to grow 3 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Employment in the manufacturing industry is projected to experience a slight decline over the projection period contributing to the slower than the average growth for stationary engineers.

Although employment is spread across many industries, it is concentrated in those that require large commercial and industrial buildings. As a result, most employment gains will come from growth in these industries.

Faster employment growth is expected in educational services and in healthcare facilities as more buildings are built to accommodate a growing population in need of these services. Stationary engineers and boiler operators are especially important in buildings that operate around the clock and need precise temperature control, such as hospitals.

Job Prospects

Job opportunities should be best for those with apprenticeship training. Although apprenticeship programs have a competitive application process, they are the most reliable path into the occupation. In addition, workers who are licensed before they seek employment will have better job opportunities.

Employment projections data for Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Stationary engineers and boiler operators

51-8021 37,900 39,000 3 1,200 [XLS]

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of stationary engineers and boiler operators.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2012 MEDIAN PAY
General maintenance and repair workers

General Maintenance and Repair Workers

General maintenance and repair workers fix and maintain machines, mechanical equipment, and buildings. They work on plumbing, electrical, and air-conditioning and heating systems.

High school diploma or equivalent $35,210
Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration and mechanics and installers

Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers—often called HVACR technicians—work on heating, ventilation, cooling, and refrigeration systems that control the temperature and air quality in buildings.

Postsecondary non-degree award $43,640
Industrial machinery mechanics and maintenance workers

Industrial Machinery Mechanics and Maintenance Workers and Millwrights

Industrial machinery mechanics and maintenance workers maintain and repair factory equipment and other industrial machinery, such as conveying systems, production machinery, and packaging equipment. Millwrights install, dismantle, repair, reassemble, and move machinery in factories, power plants, and construction sites.

High school diploma or equivalent $45,840
Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers

Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers

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

High school diploma or equivalent $68,230
Water and liquid waste treatment plant and system operators

Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operators

Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators manage a system of machines, often through the use of control boards, to transfer or treat water or wastewater.

High school diploma or equivalent $42,760
Boilermakers

Boilermakers

Boilermakers assemble, install, and repair boilers, closed vats, and other large vessels or containers that hold liquids and gases.

High school diploma or equivalent $56,560

Contacts for More Information

For information about apprenticeships, vocational training, and job opportunities, visit

Information about apprenticeships is also available from the U.S. Department of Labor's toll-free help line: (877) 872-5627 or the Employment and Training Administration.

For more information about training or becoming a stationary engineer or boiler operator, visit

National Association of Power Engineers

O*NET

Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/production/stationary-engineers-and-boiler-operators.htm (visited October 23, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014