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Job Photographs

  • A man, wearing a white lab coat and hard hat, is looking at some large pipes.  The pipes all lead from the ceiling down to the floor.

    Chemical plant process operators control the equipment used to make chemical products such as paints and medicines.

  • A man, wearing a white lab coat and a hard hat, is standing in a room with metal walls.  He is checking a piece of equipment, which is also made from metal.  There are some large round vats beside him.

    Sorting out routine problems that occur with the equipment.

  • A man, wearing a white lab coat and hard hat, is working in a room full of large pipes.  The pipes all lead from the ceiling down to the floor.

    Safety checks are an important part of the job.

  • A man, wearing a white lab coat, red hard hat and protective goggles, is using a large piece of scientific equipment to check the levels of a particular chemical.

    Checking the levels of a particular chemical to make sure the process is running efficiently.

  • A woman, wearing a white lab coat, is standing in a laboratory.  She is using a large piece of equipment on a workbench.

    In some industries, micro-organisms are used to make chemical processing cheaper or more efficient.

Chemical Plant Process Operator

Introduction

Chemical plant process operators use and monitor the equipment and machinery used to make chemical products. They are involved in making a wide range of products, including dyes and paints, drugs and medicines, plastics, artificial fibres, pesticides and fertilisers.

Also known as

  • Chemical Plant Process Worker

Video: - Barry: Chemical Plant Process Operator

Work Activities

Chemical plant process operators are responsible for the systems that control chemical plants.

They may be responsible for starting up and shutting down the control process. Once the process has begun, they check the meters, clocks and gauges that provide information on how the process is working.

They take readings from these instruments and make any changes, to ensure that the correct quantity of product is made, at the correct quality and that no unsafe conditions occur.

They clean and prepare equipment, and may measure out and prepare chemicals before adding them to reaction vessels.

Chemical plant process operators often carry out simple or routine maintenance tasks on machines. They look for faults, repair or replace equipment, and adjust pumps and controls.

In highly automated plants, experienced chemical plant process operators may work in a control centre. From here, they can monitor and control the whole process from computerised systems called DCS (Distributed Control Systems).

They may also take and analyse samples to check the quality of a product. They perform tests, record their results and make a note of any problems.

Chemical plant process operators might also package products, moving them by hand or using a fork-lift truck, making them ready for final transportation.

The processes are highly technical, and sometimes hazardous. Health and safety is a priority, and chemical plant process operators work to tight regulations (laws) and may also take part in safety inspections and reviews. Protective clothing, helmets and boots are normally worn.

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 chemical plant process operator, you need:

  • A logical, careful approach to your work.
  • To pay close attention to detail.
  • Good levels of concentration.
  • A reasonable level of fitness.
  • Good number skills to make accurate measurements.
  • Good problem-solving skills, as you might be dealing with technical faults.
  • The ability to react quickly and stay calm under pressure.
  • The ability to work on your own and as part of a team.
  • To follow safety procedures very carefully.

Some employers may ask you to take a medical examination, for example, you'll need good eyesight and colour vision to read the meters and dials.

Pay and Opportunities

Pay

The pay rates given below are approximate.

Chemical plant process operators earn in the range of £16,000 - £19,000 a year, rising to around £23,000 - £27,500 a year, with experience. Senior positions can earn up to £35,000 per year.

Hours of work

Chemical plant process operators usually work a basic 39-hour week. They usually work shifts on a rota basis. Most chemical plants operate 365 days a year, on a 24-hour basis.

What's happening in this work area?

The sector was hard hit by the recent recession, but it has recovered slightly.

However, cutbacks in public expenditure in areas such as defence will reduce growth rates.

It suffers from a shortage of high-skilled personnel, and also a shortage of women, with around 3 in 4 jobs being taken by men. As a result, men are expected to bear the brunt of expected fall in employment.

Full time employees are also expected to suffer the main job losses.

Part-time employment is increasing in importance.

Where could I work?

Employers are chemical product manufacturers. These range from very large multinational companies to small companies employing as few as 50 workers.

Opportunities for chemical plant process operators occur with manufacturers in towns and cities throughout the UK.

Where are vacancies advertised?

Vacancies are advertised in local/national newspapers, trade industry publications, at Jobcentre Plus and on the Universal Jobmatch website.

Entry Routes and Training

Entry routes

For school leavers, entry is usually into a trainee position.

An Intermediate or Advanced Level Apprenticeship is a great place to start.

Some people take a relevant college course before seeking employment.

Training

Many employers provide training in the workplace, usually covering health and safety, emergency procedures, machine maintenance and the main chemical processes taking place at the plant.

Employers may also provide day- or block-release to study at college for relevant qualifications.

Progression

Chemical plant process operators can progress to team leader/supervisor positions after further training and experience.

Qualifications

There are no formal entry requirements for this career. However, employers generally want to see evidence of basic literacy and number skills. Some may ask for GCSEs in Maths and a science, technology or engineering subject.

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

Training providers may ask you to take an aptitude test.

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.

Statistics

  • 8% of people in occupations such as chemical plant process operator work part-time.
  • 14% have flexible hours.

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

Teesside University Open Learning (Engineering)

Address: School of Science & Engineering, Teesside University, Middlesbrough, Tees Valley TS1 3BA

Tel: 01642 342740

Email: tuole@tees.ac.uk

Website: www.tees.ac.uk/schools/sse/tuol/

Careers Wales - Welsh Apprenticeships

Tel: 0800 028 4844

Website: ams.careerswales.com/

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