Boiler operators run and maintain the equipment used to heat, cool, and power large buildings. They work in many different settings, including factories, schools, hospitals, office buildings, and other facilities that run on boiler systems. The requirements to become a boiler operator vary considerably between regions, countries, and even employers. Most workers, however, hold vocational school certificates and receive extensive on-the-job training as an assistant or apprentice. With the appropriate training and education, an individual can take a written licensing exam to officially become a boiler operator.
The minimum requirement to become a boiler operator is a high school diploma, but most hopeful workers choose to participate in vocational school training. A six-month to two-year program in boiler operating or stationary engineering introduces an individual to the systems, terminology, and techniques he or she will use in an eventual career. Most programs include classroom studies as well as hands-on training. Among other topics, a student takes classes in safety, mechanics, electrical systems, and computer science.
Vocational training normally culminates in a certificate that can be very helpful in finding an entry-level position. In addition, many schools provide career placement services to help graduates identify and obtain jobs in the field. Since boiler operators in most regions are union members, speaking with representatives at a local chapter can be of great assistance in finding out where and how to apply for jobs. Unions are usually willing to offer membership and sponsor new workers so they can begin their careers.
Once hired, an individual typically enters a formal apprenticeship program to master the skills needed to become a boiler operator. He or she learns firsthand how to keep equipment running efficiently, follow maintenance checklists, and identify potential hazards before they become serious problems. Ongoing classroom studies are often offered to solidify a worker's understanding of local safety codes and protocols. An apprenticeship typically lasts for about four years, during which time a trainee is gradually given more responsibilities as he or she builds skills and knowledge.
Depending on the region and work setting, a worker may be able to become a boiler operator immediately following an apprenticeship. In most cases, however, a professional needs to pass a written licensing exam before he or she can work independently. Regional or national licensing tests are used to ensure that a boiler operator fully understands laws, safety measures, computer controls, and common tasks. With a license and union membership, a new professional usually enjoys ample opportunities for full-time employment.