Process plant operator

What they do

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.

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 Pilbara 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.

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.

How do I become one?

Education and training

To become a process plant operator you usually have to gain a qualification 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. Browse courses through Jobs and Skills WA and search on the My Skills website to find a registered provider near you.

You can also undertake a traineeship in process plant operations (level 2 or level 3). The traineeships usually take between 18 and 24 months to complete, and the level 2 traineeship is available as a school-based traineeship.

Apprenticeships and traineeships

As an apprentice or trainee, you enter into a formal training contract with an employer, enabling you to complete training towards a nationally recognised qualification. You spend  time working and learning practical skills on the job and you spend some time undertaking structured training with a registered training provider.

You can do an apprenticeship or traineeship if you are a school-leaver, re-entering the workforce or as an adult or mature-aged person wishing to change careers. You can even begin your apprenticeship or traineeship while you're still at school.

If you are still at school you can access an apprenticeship through your school. Talk to your school's VET Co-ordinator to start your training now through VET in Schools. If you are no longer at school you can apply for an apprenticeship or traineeship and get paid while you learn and work.

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