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Job Photographs

  • A man sits at a desk in a large office, which contains many other desks.  People are sitting at the desks, using computers.  There is a large monitor screen high up on the wall.

    Computer operators can monitor processes from a central room.

  • A man is standing in front of a large machine, removing a large reel of magnetic tape from it.

    When the processing is finished, the operator removes the tape.

  • A man is crouching down next to a large printing machine.  The side door of the printer is open and the man is tearing off a section of paper.

    Some computer operators run batch printing jobs for users.

  • A man is sitting at a long desk full of computer screens.  He is using a computer.  Another man sits next to him, using a telephone and a computer.  There is a large monitor screen high up on the wall.

    The operator is watching carefully to make sure no problems occur.

  • A man is standing in front of one of a row of three large machines, which stand against a wall.  He is pressing a button on the machine.  There is a large reel of magnetic tape in the machine.

    Computer operators have to start some processes manually.

  • A man is placing a tape reel into a tall cabinet containing many rows of other stored tape reels.

    Backup tapes are stored in case there is a system failure.

  • A man sits at a desk in a very large room with no windows, using a computer.  Standing around the room are banks of tall metal cabinets.

    These large robots can be run automatically by the operator.

  • A man sits at a long desk, using a computer and speaking on a telephone.  The desk has six computers on it.  Another man is sitting next to him, also speaking on a telephone and using a computer.  There is a large monitor screen high up on the wall.

    Communication skills are important when there is a problem.

Computer Operator

Introduction

Computer operators control and monitor the processing of work through large, central computers. They might load discs or tapes, and they run programs. Operators take action when faults occur.

Work Activities

Computer operators control the processing of work through a mainframe computer. This is a large computer that is responsible for the central processing of an organisation's data.

Usually, organisations that have to process a large volume of data use mainframe computers, for example, banks, local authorities, HM Revenue & Customs, utility companies (gas, electricity and water) and the police. The main computer room is usually a secure area and only authorised staff can go in.

Operators start up the mainframe computer (unless it runs constantly). Then they load data and programs from magnetic tapes or discs, and start up the process operation.

They control and check operations from a console, using a keyboard to type instructions to the computer and its related equipment. Older computer systems need the operator to type in commands at several stages. Modern systems are more automated.

The operator might need only to load a special operations program, or type in an initial set of instructions, for the computer to run a whole sequence of operations.

Operators working on a night shift might process batches of data from transactions that have happened during the day, for example, in a bank they might be updating customers' accounts overnight.

Operators have to check that the system, including the related equipment, is working smoothly. For example, they must check that the printer is producing good quality printouts. If a fault occurs, operators have to find the problem or call in a service engineer.

If the fault is with the hardware, they might have to carry out simple repairs. The operator has to make sure all data is saved on storage discs (or 'backed up') in case the system breaks down.

This work also includes routine maintenance tasks such as checking the temperature and humidity in the room (mainframe computers need a carefully controlled environment). Operators run housekeeping programs and clean equipment.

They monitor how well the system works, keeping records to make sure the computer processes data as efficiently as possible.

Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.

Personal Qualities and Skills

As a computer operator, you'll need to:

  • Have good communication skills to explain problems clearly.
  • Be patient and able to pay good attention to detail, when making routine checks on the system.
  • Keep accurate written records.
  • Have an analytical mind and good problem-solving skills.
  • Keep information secure and confidential.
  • Be prepared to work night shifts.

You will also need to be able to:

  • Work logically and methodically, and follow set procedures.
  • Think quickly and cope well with pressure.
  • Use your initiative.
  • Work both on your own and in a team.

Pay and Opportunities

Pay

Salaries for computer operators vary depending on the range of their responsibilities, and the size and type of company they work for. The pay rates given below are approximate.

Salaries are in the range of £18,000 - £23,500 a year, rising to £29,500 - £37,500 a year. Higher earners can make up to £46,500 a year.

Hours of work

Computer operators usually work 35-37 hours a week. Shift work, including weekends, nights and bank holiday work on a rota basis, is common. Flexible working arrangements include part-time and temporary work.

Where could I work?

Employers are organisations that use a mainframe computer system, for example, local authorities, HM Revenue & Customs and the police, and those in industry and commerce, such as banks, building societies and insurance companies.

Opportunities for computer operators occur from time to time, in some towns and cities around the UK. Demand is decreasing and this is a small career area.

Where are vacancies advertised?

Vacancies are advertised on IT job boards and employers' websites, in local/national newspapers, on Universal Jobmatch and at Jobcentre Plus.

Entry Routes and Training

Entry routes

An Intermediate Level Apprenticeship is a great place to start.

Some employers expect GCSEs or A levels. They will want a good standard of English and maths (GCSEs grade C or above). It may be an advantage to have an IT-related qualification.

It might be possible to enter this job with few formal qualifications and receive on-the-job training, especially if you have some experience or aptitude for IT. This could be from work or work experience or from an interest in IT at home.

Employers might use an aptitude test in the selection process.

You may have to be 18 or over if the work involves overnight shift work.

Training

Employers and computer hardware/software companies provide on-the-job training in how to operate their equipment and systems.

Training could include working towards relevant work-based qualifications for IT users, practitioners or professionals. Examples include Diplomas in Professional Competence for IT and Telecoms Professionals at levels 2-4.

Progression

Computer operators can progress to team leader, supervisor and shift manager posts after further training and experience.

Qualifications

Relevant IT qualifications include:

  • GCSE ICT/IT/Computer Science
  • A level ICT/IT/Computer Science
  • Edexcel (BTEC) Level 2 First qualification
  • Edexcel (BTEC) Level 3 National qualification
  • Edexcel (BTEC) National Certificate or Diploma in information technology (entry requirement is usually 4 GCSEs at grade C or above, or equivalent).
Entry requirements to courses vary considerably. Check local college prospectuses.

To get onto an Intermediate Level Apprenticeship, you’ll usually need at least 2 GCSEs at grade C or above, possibly including English and Maths.

Adult Opportunities

Age limits

It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.

Depending on the post, age limits might apply to this occupation. A minimum age of 18 might be set if overnight shift work is involved, to comply with the Working Time Regulations.

Entry

Some entrants have skills in, for example, data entry, and/or qualifications in information technology.

You might be able to take an Intermediate Level Apprenticeship or an Advanced Level Apprenticeship.

Statistics

  • 11% of people in occupations such as computer operator work part-time.
  • 22% have flexible hours.
  • 6% of employees work on a temporary basis.

Further Information

Apprenticeships: Get In. Go Far

National Apprenticeship Service (NAS)

Tel: 0800 015 0400

Email: nationalhelpdesk@findapprenticeship.service.gov.uk

Website: www.apprenticeships.org.uk

Skills Development Scotland - Modern Apprenticeships

Tel: 0800 9178000

Email: info@skillsdevelopmentscotland.co.uk

Website: www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships

The Tech Partnership

Skills for business and information technology

Address: 1 Castle Lane, London SW1E 6DR

Tel: 020 7963 8920

Email: info@e-skills.com

Website: www.e-skills.com

BCS: The Chartered Institute for IT

Address: First Floor, Block D, North Star House, North Star Avenue, Swindon SN2 1FA

Tel: 0845 3004417

Email: custsupport@bcs.uk

Website: www.bcs.org

Careers Wales - Welsh Apprenticeships

Tel: 0800 028 4844

Website: ams.careerswales.com/

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