Stationary Engineers Career Information
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Significant Points· Job opportunities will be best for workers
with computer skills.
· Stationary engineers and boiler operators usually acquire their skills through a formal apprenticeship program or informal on-the-job training supplemented by courses at a trade or technical school.
· A license to operate boilers, ventilation, air conditioning, and other equipment is required in most States and cities.
Nature of the WorkHeating, air-conditioning,
and ventilation systems keep large buildings comfortable all year long. Industrial
plants often have 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, diesel
engines, turbines, generators, pumps, condensers, and compressors.
The equipment that stationary engineers and boiler operators control is similar
to equipment operated by locomotive or marine engineers, except that it is not
on a moving vehicle.
Stationary engineers and boiler operators start up, regulate, and shut down equipment. They ensure that it operates safely, economically, and within established limits by monitoring meters, gauges, and computerized controls. They manually control equipment and, if necessary, make adjustments. They use hand and power tools to perform repairs and maintenance ranging from a complete overhaul to replacing defective valves, gaskets, or bearings. They also record relevant events and facts concerning operation and maintenance in an equipment log. On steam boilers, for example, they observe, control, and record steam pressure, temperature, water level and chemistry, power output, fuel consumption, and emissions. They watch and listen to machinery and routinely check safety devices, identifying and correcting any trouble that develops.
Stationary engineers and boiler operators may use computers to operate the mechanical systems of new buildings and plants. Engineers and operators monitor, adjust, and diagnose these systems from a central location using a computer linked into the buildings' communications network.
Routine maintenance, such as lubricating moving parts, replacing filters, and removing soot and corrosion that can reduce operating efficiency, is a regular part of the work of stationary engineers and boiler operators. They test boiler water and add chemicals to prevent corrosion and harmful deposits. They also may check the air quality of the ventilation system and make adjustments to keep within mandated guidelines.
In a large building or industrial plant, a stationary engineer may be in charge of all mechanical systems in the building. Engineers may supervise the work of assistant stationary engineers, turbine operators, boiler tenders, and air-conditioning and refrigeration operators and mechanics. Some perform other maintenance duties, such as carpentry, plumbing, and electrical repairs. In a small building or industrial plant, there may be only one stationary engineer.
Working ConditionsStationary engineers and
boiler operators generally have steady, year-round employment. The average workweek
is 40 hours. In facilities that operate
around the clock, engineers and operators usually work one of three daily 8-hour
shifts on a rotating basis. Weekend and holiday work often is required.
Engine rooms, power plants, and boiler rooms usually are clean and well lighted. Even under the most favorable conditions, however, some stationary engineers and boiler operators are exposed to high temperatures, dust, dirt, and high noise levels from the equipment. General maintenance duties also may require contact with oil, grease, or smoke. Workers spend much of the time on their feet. They may also have to crawl inside boilers and work in crouching or kneeling positions to inspect, clean, or repair equipment.
Stationary engineers and boiler operators work around potentially hazardous machinery such as boilers and electrical equipment. They must follow procedures to guard against burns, electric shock, and exposure to hazardous materials such as asbestos or certain chemicals.
EmploymentStationary engineers and boiler operators held about 57,000 jobs in 2009. They worked in a variety of places, including factories, hospitals, hotels, office and apartment buildings, schools, and shopping malls. Some are employed as contractors to a building or plant.
Stationary engineers and boiler operators work throughout the country, generally in the more heavily populated areas in which large industrial and commercial establishments are located.
Training, Qualifications, Adv.Stationary engineers and
boiler operators usually acquire their skills through a formal apprenticeship
program or informal on-the-job training supplemented by courses at a trade or
technical school. In addition, valuable
experience can be obtained in the Navy or the Merchant Marine because marine-engineering
plants are similar to many stationary power and heating plants. Most employers
prefer to hire persons with at least a high school diploma, or equivalent, due
to the increasing complexity of the equipment with which engineers and operators
work. Many stationary engineers and boiler operators have some college education.
Mechanical aptitude, manual dexterity, and good physical condition also are
The International Union of Operating Engineers sponsors apprenticeship programs and is the principal union for stationary engineers and boiler operators. In selecting apprentices, most local labor-management apprenticeship committees prefer applicants with education or training in mathematics, computers, mechanical drawing, machine-shop practice, physics, and chemistry. An apprenticeship usually lasts 4 years and includes 8,000 hours of on-the-job training. In addition, apprentices receive 600 hours of classroom instruction in subjects such as boiler design and operation, elementary physics, pneumatics, refrigeration, air conditioning, electricity, and electronics.
Those who acquire their skills on the job usually start as boiler tenders or helpers to experienced stationary engineers and boiler operators. This practical experience may be supplemented by postsecondary vocational training in computerized controls and instrumentation. However, becoming an engineer or operator without completing a formal apprenticeship program usually requires many years of work experience.
Most large and some small employers encourage and pay for skill-improvement training for their employees. Training almost always is provided when new equipment is introduced or when regulations concerning some aspect of the workers' duties change.
Most States and cities have licensing requirements for stationary engineers and boiler operators. Applicants usually must be at least 18 years of age, reside for a specified period in the State or locality, meet experience requirements, and pass a written examination. 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 due to regional differences in licensing requirements.
There are several classes of stationary engineer licenses. Each class specifies the type and size of equipment the engineer can operate without supervision. A licensed first-class stationary engineer is qualified to run a large facility, supervise others, and operate equipment of all types and capacities. An applicant for this license may be required to have a high school education, apprenticeship or on-the-job training, and several years of experience. Licenses below first class limit the types or capacities of equipment the engineer may operate without supervision.
Stationary engineers and boiler operators advance by being placed in charge of larger, more powerful, or more varied equipment. Generally, engineers advance to these jobs as they obtain higher class licenses. Some stationary engineers and boiler operators advance to boiler inspectors, chief plant engineers, building and plant superintendents, or building managers. A few obtain jobs as examining engineers or technical instructors.
Job OutlookPersons wishing
to become stationary engineers and boiler operators may face competition for
job openings. Employment opportunities will be best for those with apprenticeship
training or vocational school courses covering systems operation using computerized
controls and instrumentation.
Employment of stationary engineers and boiler operators is expected to decline through the year 2010. Continuing commercial and industrial development will increase the amount of equipment to be operated and maintained. However, automated systems and computerized controls are making newly installed equipment more efficient, thus reducing the number of jobs needed for its operation. Some job openings will arise from the need to replace experienced workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force. However, turnover in this occupation is low, partly due to its high wages. Consequently, relatively few replacement openings are expected.
EarningsMedian annual earnings of stationary engineers and boiler operators were $40,420 in 2009. The middle 50 percent earned between $31,490 and $51,090 a year. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $24,470, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $61,530 a year. Median annual earnings of stationary engineers and boiler operators in 2009 were $46,600 in local government and $37,680 in hospitals.
Related OccupationsOther workers
who monitor and operate stationary machinery include chemical plant and system operators;
gas plant operators; petroleum pump system operators, refinery operators, and
gaugers; power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers; and water and
wastewater treatment plant and system operators. Other workers who maintain
the equipment and machinery in a building or plant are industrial machinery
repairers and millwrights.
Information about apprenticeships, vocational training, and work opportunities is available from State employment service offices, locals of the International Union of Operating Engineers, vocational schools, and State and local licensing agencies. Specific questions about this occupation should be addressed to:
Sources of Additional Information
Information about apprenticeships, vocational training, and work opportunities is available from State employment service offices, locals of the International Union of Operating Engineers, vocational schools, and State and local licensing agencies.
Specific questions about this occupation should be addressed to: