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Energy and Chemical Plant Operator

Kaiwhakahaere Rawa Pūngao, Rawa Matū

Alternative titles for this job

Energy and chemical plant operators monitor, control, and adjust equipment at gas plants, oil wells, and power stations to make sure they are functioning safely and efficiently.


New energy and chemical plant operators usually earn

$50K-$70K per year

Energy and chemical plant operators with five or more years' experience usually earn

$80K-$100K per year

Source: Extractive Industries Training Organisation (EXITO) (MITO).

Job opportunities

Chances of getting a job as an energy and chemical plant operator are good for people with experience due to a shortage of workers.


Pay for energy and chemical plant operators varies depending on experience, responsibilities and whether they work onshore or offshore.

  • New energy and chemical plant operators usually start on between $50,000 and $70,000 a year.
  • With five or more years' experience they can earn between $80,000 and $100,000.
  • Those working offshore or in supervisory roles can earn more than $100,000.

Source: Extractive Industries Training Organisation (EXITO) (MITO).

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)

What you will do

Energy and chemical plant operators may do some or all of the following:

  • monitor equipment that processes chemicals, natural gas, petroleum products, or electricity
  • make adjustments to equipment to ensure it's functioning safely and efficiently
  • take samples of water and chemicals used in the production processes
  • record equipment pressure and temperature readings
  • arrange maintenance and repairs of equipment.

Skills and knowledge

Energy and chemical plant operators need to have:

  • knowledge of production processes for gas, oil or electricity
  • an understanding of safety regulations and procedures
  • knowledge of mechanics and machines.

Working conditions

Energy and chemical plant operators:

  • usually work 12-hour shifts that may include a combination of day and night shifts, and often get an equal number of days off for each shift they work
  • usually work outdoors at energy sites such as gas plants, oil rigs and power stations, unless they are panel operators who work solely indoors in control rooms and offices
  • work in most weather conditions, and often in noisy and potentially hazardous locations.

What's the job really like?

Rhys Harvey

Rhys Harvey

Operator Technician

What was it like starting out in the job?

"Well, on my first day at the Kapuni gas plant, I thought I'd never be able to do the job. It was just miles and miles of pipes, and vessels, and noises. But they give you a mentor to help train you, and the company has paid me to get qualifications. I've done National Certificates in Energy and Chemical Plant Processing up to Level 4."

What does the job involve?

"My job is to control the pressures, temperatures, flows and levels at different stages of the process. In the control room I'm watching different computer screens that show the pipes and other equipment."

What do you like about the job?

"I like the shift work. We do 12-hour days for six days and then get six days off, which is good. There's a variety of work. You're not stuck in an office, or outside all the time - it's a bit of both.

"And I like the responsibility. Pohokura, the plant where I'm working, produces 40 percent of New Zealand's gas, so there's a high level of responsibility to keep the gas flowing. And it's good pay."

Entry requirements

There are no specific entry requirements to work as an energy and chemical plant operator, though some employers prefer you to have completed a national certificate in energy and chemical plant operations. Qualifications are available through the industry training organisations MITO and Competenz.

If you don't have industry experience you can take a pre-employment Certificate in Energy Process Operations (Level 3) at the Western Institute of Technology. This prepares you to get an entry-level job in an energy or chemical plant.

Energy and chemical plant operators gain many skills on the job, and most companies offer formal in-house training on their systems, processes, and safety procedures.

Secondary education

It is recommended you have at least NCEA Level 1 English, and Level 2 maths, science, computing or subjects related to mechanical engineering, or electronic engineering.

Personal requirements

Energy and chemical plant operators need to be:

  • patient, efficient and practical
  • accurate, with an eye for detail
  • able to work well in a team or alone
  • safety-conscious
  • able to follow instructions and make good judgments
  • good at analysis and problem-solving
  • good communicators.

Useful experience

Useful experience for energy and chemical plant operators includes:

  • work with motors, pumps, machinery or heavy equipment
  • work in a factory or manufacturing plant
  • welding and metalwork.

Find out more about training

(04) 494 0005 - mito.org.nz - www.mito.org.nz

What are the chances of getting a job?

Oil and gas industry needs more operators

Opportunities exist in the oil and gas industry because of:

  • high retirement rates – about half the existing operators will reach retirement age between 2011 and 2020
  • strong international demand for operators means New Zealand companies are competing globally for staff.

According to the Census, 1,326 energy and chemical plant operators worked in New Zealand in 2018.

Pre-employment course helps increase chances of getting work and training

Without industry experience it can be hard to secure a training position as an energy and chemical plant operator. The Western Institute of Technology in Taranaki offers a one year pre-employment course for people wanting to work in the industry. It accepts 16 students a year and most graduates get job offers after graduating.

Employers of energy and chemical plant operators

Energy and chemical plant operators work for:

  • oil exploration and refining companies
  • gas production companies
  • electricity generators such as hydro and geothermal stations
  • chemical, fertiliser, or pulp and paper manufacturers.

Most of these companies are large and employ hundreds of staff.


  • Beardsley, C, 'Report on the National Survey of the NZ Petrochemical Industry', June 2008, (www.exito.org.nz).
  • Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, ‘2003-2012 Occupation Data’ (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2012.
  • Petroleum Skills Association, Operators Job Information, accessed July 2011, (www.petroskills.co.nz).
  • Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.
  • Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki, 'Course and Career Information', accessed May 2013, (www.witt.ac.nz).

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

Progression and specialisations

With experience and on-the-job training, energy and chemical plant operators may move into supervisory or managerial positions. They can also progress to become panel operators.

Panel Operator
Panel operators work mainly in rooms where they monitor and control a plant's production and equipment as shown on banks of computer screens.
Young woman turning power plant steering wheel

Energy and chemical plant operators monitor and control power station and gas plant equipment

Last updated 23 September 2020