Workers usually acquire their skills through a formal apprenticeship
program or through on-the-job training supplemented by courses
at a trade or technical school.
Most States and cities have licensing requirements.
Employment is expected to show little or no growth through
the year 2014.
Applicants may face competition for jobs; opportunities will
be best for workers with training in computerized controls and
Nature of the Work
Heating, air-conditioning, refrigeration, and ventilation systems
keep large buildings and other commercial facilities comfortable
all year long. Industrial plants often have facilities to provide
electrical power, steam, or other services. Stationary engineers
and boiler operators operate and maintain these systems, which
include boilers, air-conditioning and refrigeration equipment,
diesel engines, turbines, generators, pumps, condensers, and compressors.
The equipment that stationary engineers and boiler operators control
is similar to equipment operated by locomotive or marine engineers,
except that it is not in a moving vehicle.
Stationary engineers and boiler operators start up, regulate,
repair, and shut down equipment. They ensure that the equipment
operates safely, economically, and within established limits by
monitoring meters, gauges, and computerized controls. Stationary
engineers and boiler operators control equipment manually and,
if necessary, make adjustments. They also record relevant events
and facts concerning the operation and maintenance of the equipment.
With regard to steam boilers, for example, they observe, control,
and record the steam pressure, temperature, water level, chemistry,
power output, fuel consumption, and emissions from the vessel.
They watch and listen to machinery and routinely check safety
devices, identifying and correcting any trouble that develops.
They use hand and power tools to perform repairs and maintenance
ranging from a complete overhaul to replacing defective valves,
gaskets, or bearings. Servicing, troubleshooting, repairing, and
monitoring modern systems all require the use of sophisticated
electrical and electronic test equipment.
Stationary engineers typically use computers to operate the mechanical,
electrical, and fire safety systems of new buildings and plants.
Engineers monitor, adjust, and diagnose these systems from a central
location, using a computer linked into the buildings’ communications
Routine maintenance, such as lubricating moving parts, replacing
filters, and removing soot and corrosion that can reduce the boiler’s
operating efficiency, is a regular part of the work of stationary
engineers and boiler operators. They test the water in the boiler
and add chemicals to prevent corrosion and harmful deposits. In
most facilities, stationary engineers are responsible for the
maintenance and balancing of air systems, as well as hydronic
systems that heat or cool buildings by circulating fluid (such
as water or water vapor) in a closed system of pipes. They also
may check the air quality of the ventilation system and make adjustments
to keep the operation of the boiler within mandated guidelines.
In a large building or industrial plant, a stationary engineer
may be in charge of all mechanical systems in the building. Engineers
may supervise the work of assistant stationary engineers, turbine
operators, boiler tenders, and air-conditioning and refrigeration
operators and mechanics. Most stationary engineers perform other
maintenance duties, such as carpentry, plumbing, locksmithing,
and electrical repairs. In a small building or industrial plant,
there may be only one stationary engineer.
Stationary engineers and boiler operators generally have steady,
year-round employment. The average workweek is 40 hours. In facilities
that operate around the clock, engineers and operators usually
work one of three daily 8-hour shifts on a rotating basis. Weekend
and holiday work often is required.
Engine rooms, power plants, boiler rooms, mechanical rooms, and
electrical rooms usually are clean and well lighted. Even under
the most favorable conditions, however, some stationary engineers
and boiler operators are exposed to high temperatures, dust, dirt,
and high noise levels from the equipment. General maintenance
duties also may require contact with oil, grease, or smoke. Workers
spend much of the time on their feet. They also may have to crawl
inside boilers and work in crouching or kneeling positions to
inspect, clean, or repair equipment.
Stationary engineers and boiler operators work around hazardous
machinery, such as low- and high-pressure boilers and electrical
equipment. They must follow procedures to guard against burns,
electric shock, noise, danger from moving parts, and exposure
to hazardous materials, such as asbestos or certain chemicals.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Stationary engineers and boiler operators usually acquire their
skills through a formal apprenticeship program or through on-the-job
training supplemented by courses at a trade or technical school.
In addition, valuable experience can be obtained in the Navy or
the merchant marine, because marine engineering plants are similar
to many stationary power and heating plants. Most employers prefer
to hire persons with at least a high school diploma or the equivalent.
However, continuing education—such as college courses—is becoming
increasingly important, in part because of the growing complexity
of the equipment with which engineers and operators now work.
Mechanical aptitude, manual dexterity, and good physical condition
also are important.
The International Union of Operating Engineers sponsors apprenticeship
programs and is the principal union for stationary engineers and
boiler operators. In selecting apprentices, most local labor-management
apprenticeship committees prefer applicants with education or
training in mathematics, computers, mechanical drawing, machine
shop practice, physics, and chemistry. An apprenticeship usually
lasts 4 years and includes 8,000 hours of on-the-job training.
In addition, apprentices receive 600 hours of classroom instruction
in subjects such as boiler design and operation, elementary physics,
pneumatics, refrigeration, air-conditioning, electricity, and
Those who acquire their skills on the job usually start as boiler
tenders or helpers to experienced stationary engineers and boiler
operators. This practical experience may be supplemented by postsecondary
vocational training in computerized controls and instrumentation.
However, becoming an engineer or operator without completing a
formal apprenticeship program usually requires many years of work
Most large and some small employers encourage and pay for skill-improvement
training for their employees. Training almost always is provided
when new equipment is introduced or when regulations concerning
some aspect of the workers’ duties change.
Most States and cities have licensing requirements for stationary
engineers and boiler operators. Applicants usually must be at
least 18 years of age, reside for a specified period in the State
or locality in which they wish to work, meet experience requirements,
and pass a written examination. A stationary engineer or boiler
operator who moves from one State or city to another may have
to pass an examination for a new license due to regional differences
in licensing requirements.
There are several classes of stationary engineer licenses. Each
class specifies the type and size of equipment the engineer is
permitted to operate without supervision. A licensed first-class
stationary engineer is qualified to run a large facility, supervise
others, and operate equipment of all types and capacities. An
applicant for this license may be required to have a high school
education, apprenticeship or on-the-job training, and several
years of experience. Licenses below first class limit the types
or capacities of equipment the engineer may operate without supervision.
Stationary engineers and boiler operators advance by being placed
in charge of larger, more powerful, or more varied equipment.
Generally, engineers advance to these jobs as they obtain higher
class licenses. Some stationary engineers and boiler operators
advance to boiler inspectors, chief plant engineers, building
and plant superintendents, or building managers. A few obtain
jobs as examining engineers or technical instructors.
Stationary engineers and boiler operators held about 50,000 jobs
in 2004. Jobs were dispersed throughout a variety of industries.
The majority of jobs were in State and local government facilities;
hospitals; educational services; electric power generation, transmission,
and distribution facilities; and manufacturing firms, such as
pulp, paper, and paperboard mills. Other jobs were in architectural,
engineering, and related services and real estate firms. Some
were employed as contractors to a building or plant.
Stationary engineers and boiler operators worked throughout the
country, generally in the more heavily populated areas in which
large industrial and commercial establishments are located.
Applicants may face competition for jobs as stationary engineers
and boiler operators. Employment opportunities will be best for
those with apprenticeship training or vocational school courses
covering systems that are operated by computerized controls and
Employment of stationary engineers and boiler operators is expected
to grow more slowly than average for all occupations through the
year 2014. Continuing commercial and industrial development will
increase the amount of equipment to be operated and maintained.
However, automated systems and computerized controls are making
newly installed equipment more efficient, thus reducing the number
of jobs needed for its operation. Furthermore, relatively few
job openings will arise from the need to replace experienced workers
who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force. The
low replacement rate in this occupation reflects its relatively
Median annual earnings of stationary engineers and boiler operators
were $44,150 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between
$34,500 and $55,460. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,010,
and the highest 10 percent earned more than $66,570. Median annual
earnings of stationary engineers and boiler operators in May 2004
were $48,340 in local government and $43,710 in general medical
and surgical hospitals.
Workers who monitor and operate stationary machinery include
chemical plant and system operators; gas plant operators; petroleum
pump system operators, refinery operators, and gaugers; power
plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers; and water and
liquid waste treatment plant and system operators. Other workers
who maintain the equipment and machinery in a building or plant
are industrial machinery mechanics and maintenance workers, as
well as millwrights.
Sources of Additional Information
Information about apprenticeships, vocational training, and work
opportunities is available from State employment service offices,
locals of the International Union of Operating Engineers, vocational
schools, and State and local licensing agencies.
Specific questions about this occupation should be addressed
International Union of Operating Engineers, 1125 17th St.
NW., Washington, DC 20036. Internet: http://www.iuoe.org/
National Association of Power Engineers, Inc., 1 Springfield
St., Chicopee, MA 01013.
Building Owners and Managers Institute International, 1521
Ritchie Hwy., Arnold, MD 21012. Internet: http://www.bomi-edu.org/
OOH ONET Codes
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition