Computer Help Desk Operator
Computer help desk operators deal with telephone calls and emails from people who are having problems with computer hardware or software. They find out what the problem is and then try to find a solution for the caller. They work for manufacturers and suppliers of hardware and software, internet service providers and large organisations whose staff use computers in their work.
Also known as
- Helpdesk Operator, Computers
- IT Service Desk Analyst
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Computer help desk operators help people to solve problems they might have with computer hardware or software. These problems could be with the computer itself, with the organisation's network or printers, or with specific applications and services, such as:
- accounting programs
- word-processing programs
- desktop publishing programs
- computer-aided design (CAD) programs
- the internet.
They might help people who are having problems logging in to applications, or who have forgotten their passwords. Some people might be having trouble using websites, or applications on smart phones or tablets.
Help desk operators take telephone enquiries from computer users. They often wear hands-free headsets, enabling them to take notes or operate a computer while speaking to the user. They might also receive enquiries by email or online.
They first establish the nature and cause of users' problems by asking a series of questions. First-line or trainee operators might then pass on many of the calls to the correct person to solve the problem.
Operators talk the user through the steps they took before and after the problem happened. They have a computer in front of them, from which they are able to obtain information and follow on-screen the steps the user is taking. They might need to refer to reference notes to see if this problem has happened before and what the solution was then. Or they might use a manual or technical guide to help them.
Help desk operators aim to explain to the caller how to resolve the problem and avoid it in the future. They might need to tell the caller that they will investigate further and call them back or email them. If they cannot solve the problem, they pass it on to a specialist member of the IT support staff.
In some cases, problems could be due to mistakes made by the user; in others, they might be caused by a fault in the user's computer or software, or on an organisation's network.
In some cases, operators might have to advise users to return the item concerned to the supplier for a repair or refund. In others, they could arrange for an engineer to visit the customer to find out more.
Help desk operators keep records of calls received, problems logged and solutions found. They usually use specialist computer software systems to record these details and produce reports.
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 help desk operator, you'll need to:
- Have a strong interest in IT.
- Have a good knowledge of relevant hardware, applications, software, networks and systems (although training will normally be provided).
- Have problem-solving skills.
- Be able to ask relevant questions and listen very carefully.
- Have a logical, patient, methodical approach when identifying the cause of a problem.
- Be tactful.
- Have good communication and customer service skills and a calm, clear telephone manner.
- Be able to pay attention to detail.
- Work under pressure at busy times.
- Use your initiative, while working within set procedures.
- Keep accurate records.
- Work well as part of a team.
- Use your judgement to decide when issues should be passed on to colleagues.
- Be prepared to keep your knowledge of new computer hardware and software up to date.
- Manage your time well.
Pay and Opportunities
Salaries for computer help desk operators vary depending on the size and type of company they work for, and the level of technical competence required for the job. The pay rates given below are approximate.
Help desk operators earn in the range of £17,000 - £22,000 a year, rising to £27,500 - £34,500. Higher earners can make over £40,000 a year.
Salaries could include performance-related pay, profit share or company bonuses.
Hours of work
Help desk operators usually work a basic 35-hour week, Monday to Friday. Early starts, late finishes, weekend work and shift work might be required.
Where could I work?
Employers include computer manufacturers, software suppliers and internet service providers, as well as firms in industry and commerce, including banks, building societies and insurance companies, and those in the public sector: local and central government departments and the NHS.
Opportunities for help desk operators occur in towns and cities throughout the UK. A significant number of vacancies for IT and telecoms professionals are in London and the South East of England.
What's happening in this work area?
The IT industry is predicted to grow much faster than the rest of the UK workforce over the next ten years. The recession has affected the IT industry, but overall it has emerged in a very strong position.
There is a shortage of candidates with IT skills and qualifications in the UK.
Future skills needsTechnical skills are highly important in this industry. However, employers have also highlighted the need for the following non-technical skills:
- teamworking skills
- good communication skills
- business skills.
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
Some employers look for trainees with at least 5 GCSEs at grade C or above, including English and Maths. Some entry-level posts are for people with A levels.
Others prefer to recruit graduates, or holders of a foundation degree/HND, in relevant computing subjects. A few higher education (HE) courses offer technical or end-user support as their main focus.
Some universities and employers offer internships or student placements that develop business, communication and interpersonal skills.
An Intermediate or Advanced Level Apprenticeship is also a great place to start.
Employers provide training on-the-job. New entrants might work as first-line help desk operators, recording details and then passing on many of the calls to the correct person to solve the problem.
Help desk operators might attend training courses run by organisations such as the Service Desk Institute; these are courses that concentrate on procedures and standards.
It might be possible to work towards relevant work-based qualifications for IT users, practitioners or professionals.
The CompTIA A+ certification is the industry standard for support technicians and is not linked to any specific supplier. The qualification consists of two parts: part one covers fundamental knowledge and part two covers skills. There is an exam for each part.
There are also qualifications relevant to the specific networks and systems used in an organisation, for example, Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) or Solutions Expert (MCSE). Studying for these qualifications typically involves attending short, intensive courses at specially accredited training centres.
They are also likely to have to attend short courses provided by suppliers and external training organisations to help familiarise them with new hardware and software prior to its introduction to their organisation.
Computer help desk operators can progress to more senior or specialist positions, such as help desk analysts or team leaders, after training and experience.
Following that, they could progress to support manager posts.
Some employers like to recruit people with at least 5 GCSEs at grade C or above, including English and Maths, providing them with on-the-job training.
Other employers prefer to recruit those with a degree or HND in a relevant subject, such as computing or business information technology.
For entry to a relevant degree course, the usual minimum qualifications are:
- 2/3 A levels
- GCSEs at grade C or above in 2/3 other subjects
- English and Maths at GCSE.
Alternatives to A levels include:
- Edexcel (BTEC) Level 3 National qualifications
- the International Baccalaureate Diploma.
Some universities accept the Welsh Baccalaureate as equivalent to 1 A-level.
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.
Some entrants have skills in computer sales, customer service or telesales. Relevant certified technical IT qualifications can be an advantage.
You might be able to take an Intermediate Level Apprenticeship, an Advanced Level Apprenticeship or a Higher Apprenticeship in Information and Communication Technology.
The CompTIA A+ certification is the industry standard for support technicians and is available via online study.
- 4% of people in occupations such as computer help desk operator are self-employed.
- 8% work part-time.
- 25% have flexible hours.
- 6% of employees work on a temporary basis.
Professional institutionsProfessional institutions have the following roles:
- To support their members.
- To protect the public by keeping standards high in their professions.
For more information on the institution(s) relevant to this career, check out the contacts below.
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
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