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Operating Engineer or Construction Equipment Operator

Job Outlook: 3% (Slower than average)

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What Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators Do About this section

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 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 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 to service, troubleshoot, repair, and monitor heating, cooling, and ventilation systems.

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

Work Environment About this section

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 34,400 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of stationary engineers and boiler operators were as follows:

Manufacturing 19%
Educational services; state, local, and private 17
Hospitals; state, local, and private 16
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 10
State government, excluding education and hospitals 7

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 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 risk injury on the job. 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 may work either one of three 8-hour shifts or one of two 12-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 of these workers must work weekends and holidays.

How to Become a Stationary Engineer or Boiler Operator About this section

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

Stationary engineers and boiler operators typically need a high school diploma or equivalent and are trained either on the job or through an apprenticeship program. Many employers require stationary engineers and boiler operators to demonstrate competency through licenses or company-specific exams before they are allowed 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 or operator. Trainees are assigned basic tasks, such as monitoring the temperatures and pressures 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 operating and maintaining equipment; using controls and balancing heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems; safety; electricity; and air quality. Employers may prefer to hire these workers because they usually require considerably less on-the-job training. However, because of the limited number of apprenticeship programs, employers often have difficulty finding workers who have completed one.

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 allowed 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 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, ensuring a level of knowledge needed to operate different types of boilers safely.

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 About this section

Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators

Median annual wages, May 2019

Stationary engineers and boiler operators

$62,150

Plant and system operators

$60,330

Total, all occupations

$39,810

 

The median annual wage for stationary engineers and boiler operators was $62,150 in May 2019. 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 $39,050, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $100,080.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for stationary engineers and boiler operators in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals $83,890
Hospitals; state, local, and private 65,130
State government, excluding education and hospitals 63,190
Educational services; state, local, and private 58,020
Manufacturing 57,580

Most stationary engineers and boiler operators work full time. In facilities that operate around the clock, engineers and operators may work either one of three 8-hour shifts or one of two 12-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 of these workers must work weekends and holidays.

Job Outlook About this section

Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators

Percent change in employment, projected 2019-29

Total, all occupations

4%

Stationary engineers and boiler operators

2%

Plant and system operators

-5%

 

Employment of stationary engineers and boiler operators is projected to grow 2 percent from 2019 to 2029, slower than the average for all occupations.

Steam is an important and cost-effective way to fuel machinery and to provide utilities in large facilities. Workers will be needed for routine maintenance and to ensure that the equipment is working properly.

Job Prospects

Some job openings for stationary engineers and boiler operators are expected to arise from the need to replace workers who leave the occupation or the labor force each year.

Job opportunities should be best for those with apprenticeship training.

Employment projections data for stationary engineers and boiler operators, 2019-29
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2019 Projected Employment, 2029 Change, 2019-29 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Stationary engineers and boiler operators

51-8021 34,400 35,100 2 800 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

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, Inc.

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Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators

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