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
2016 Median Pay $78,370 per year
$37.68 per hour
Typical 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, 2016 54,700
Job Outlook, 2016-26 -1% (Little or no change)
Employment Change, 2016-26 -600

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 operator, 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

The median annual wage for power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers was $78,370 in May 2016.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers is projected to  show little or no change from 2016 to 2026. Electricity usage is expected to grow; however, technological advances and greater energy efficiency may dampen employment growth.

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 About this section

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 About this section

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

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers held about 54,700 jobs in 2016. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers was distributed as follows:

Power plant operators 36,100
Power distributors and dispatchers 11,600
Nuclear power reactor operators 7,000

The largest employers of power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers were as follows:

Utilities 72%
Government 17

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 About this section

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 About this section

Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers

Median annual wages, May 2016

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers

$78,370

Plant and system operators

$58,100

Total, all occupations

$37,040

 

The median annual wage for power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers was $78,370 in May 2016. 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 $48,200, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $105,730.

Median annual wages for power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers in May 2016 were as follows:

Nuclear power reactor operators $91,170
Power distributors and dispatchers 81,900
Power plant operators 74,690

In May 2016, the median annual wages for power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Utilities $79,150
Government 78,340

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 had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2016.

Job Outlook About this section

Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers

Percent change in employment, projected 2016-26

Total, all occupations

7%

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers

-1%

Plant and system operators

-1%

 

Overall employment of power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers is projected to show little or no change from 2016 to 2026. Although electricity usage is expected to grow, technological advances and greater efficiency may dampen employment growth.

Employment of power plant operators in nonnuclear power plants is projected to show little or no change from 2016 to 2026. 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 new job opportunities.

Employment of power distributors and dispatchers is projected to decline 3 percent from 2016 to 2026. 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 10 percent from 2016 to 2026. 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, 2016-26
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers

51-8010 54,700 54,200 -1 -600 employment projections excel document xlsx

Nuclear power reactor operators

51-8011 7,000 6,300 -10 -700 employment projections excel document xlsx

Power distributors and dispatchers

51-8012 11,600 11,300 -3 -300 employment projections excel document xlsx

Power plant operators

51-8013 36,100 36,500 1 500 employment projections excel document xlsx

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) 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. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

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 About this section

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 Help 2016 MEDIAN PAY Help
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 $45,760
Stationary engineers and boiler operators

Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators

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

High school diploma or equivalent $59,400
Construction equipment operators

Construction Equipment Operators

Construction equipment operators drive, maneuver, or control the heavy machinery used to construct roads, bridges, buildings, and other structures.

High school diploma or equivalent $45,040
Electricians

Electricians

Electricians install, maintain, and repair electrical power, communications, lighting, and control systems in homes, businesses, and factories.

High school diploma or equivalent $52,720
Electrical and electronics installers and repairers

Electrical and Electronics Installers and Repairers

Electrical and electronics installers and repairers install or repair a variety of electrical equipment in telecommunications, transportation, utilities, and other industries.

See How to Become One $55,920
Line installers and repairers

Line Installers and Repairers

Line installers and repairers, also known as line workers, install or repair electrical power systems and telecommunications cables, including fiber optics.

High school diploma or equivalent $62,650
Hazardous materials removal workers

Hazardous Materials Removal Workers

Hazardous materials (hazmat) removal workers identify and dispose of asbestos, lead, radioactive waste, and other hazardous materials. They also neutralize and clean up materials that are flammable, corrosive, or toxic.

High school diploma or equivalent $40,640
Nuclear technicians

Nuclear Technicians

Nuclear technicians assist physicists, engineers, and other professionals in nuclear research and nuclear energy production. They operate special equipment and monitor the levels of radiation that are produced.

Associate's degree $79,140

Contacts for More Information About this section

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

O*NET

Nuclear Power Reactor Operators

Power Distributors and Dispatchers

Power Plant Operators

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/production/power-plant-operators-distributors-and-dispatchers.htm (visited November 17, 2017).

Last Modified Date: Tuesday, October 24, 2017

What They Do

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Work Environment

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How to Become One

The How to Become One tab describes how to prepare for a job in the occupation. This tab can include information on education, training, work experience, licensing and certification, and important qualities that are required or helpful for entering or working in the occupation.

Pay

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State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's CareerOneStop.

Job Outlook

The Job Outlook tab describes the factors that affect employment growth or decline in the occupation, and in some instances, describes the relationship between the number of job seekers and the number of job openings.

Similar Occupations

The Similar Occupations tab describes occupations that share similar duties, skills, interests, education, or training with the occupation covered in the profile.

Contacts for More Information

The More Information tab provides the Internet addresses of associations, government agencies, unions, and other organizations that can provide additional information on the occupation. This tab also includes links to relevant occupational information from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).

2016 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2016

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2016, which is the base year of the 2016-26 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2016-26

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

2016 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.