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.
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
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
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.
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.
Computer operators can progress to team leader, supervisor and shift manager posts after further training and experience.
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).
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.
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.
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.
- 11% of people in occupations such as computer operator work part-time.
- 22% have flexible hours.
- 6% of employees work on a temporary basis.
Apprenticeships: Get In. Go Far
National Apprenticeship Service (NAS)
Tel: 0800 015 0400
Skills Development Scotland - Modern Apprenticeships
Tel: 0800 9178000
The Tech Partnership
Skills for business and information technology
Address: 1 Castle Lane, London SW1E 6DR
Tel: 020 7963 8920
BCS: The Chartered Institute for IT
Address: First Floor, Block D, North Star House, North Star Avenue, Swindon SN2 1FA
Tel: 0845 3004417
Careers Wales - Welsh Apprenticeships
Tel: 0800 028 4844