What are Turnarounds?

What are turnarounds?

Have you heard about people talking about turnarounds, but don’t understand what they are talking about? First let’s talk about what a turnaround is. Turnarounds are a term used for when a whole plant (or large part of it) is shut down for maintenance activities. So things can not be repaired, modified, or replaced while the unit/plant is running (unit or plant means the same thing), so the whole unit or a section of it must be shut down to preform the maintenance needed. Chemical reactions that take place within the unit requires a catalyst, and that catalyst has a certain lifespan. Changing reactor catalyst is a common reason that turnarounds are scheduled. Another reason is the plugging of heat exchangers. The chemical reactions needed to convert one substance to another produces by-products that plug (aka foul) those heat exchangers and they must be taken out of service for cleaning. Another common issue is the lack of isolation valves needed to perform maintenance on a certain piece of equipment, so a entire section or plant must be taken down to remove/reduce the risk for maintenance workers.

So now you have an idea of what a turnaround is, let’s talk about how it affects Process Operators. Turnarounds are when Process Operators make their big money. That money is made from working everyday (depending on company fatigue policies). Turnarounds can last anywhere from a couple weeks to several months. Operators must first, safely shut down the process unit. Next they will begin unit isolations, and cleaning of process equipment that will be maintained. When the turnaround kicks off, Process Operators will issue work permits for maintenance to be done, and ensure equipment is safe for the maintenance crews to work. When equipment is turned in as complete, Process Operators, will inspect equipment for serviceability, remove the tag out tags, and return equipment to normal alignments. Finally, the Process Operators will restart the process units.



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Process Operator Job Titles

What’s the deal with all of these Process Operator Job Titles:

Are you confused about some of the Process Operator job titles mentioned in job listings? Job titles like Process Operator, Plant Operator, Process technician, Chemical Process Operator, Refinery Operator, Operations Technician, Light Hydrocarbon #9 Operator, and Unit Operator are all terms that describe a basic position, Process Operator.


  A Process Operator is essentially a person who operates a chemical production process. A refinery and/or chemical plant is really just a super sized industrial chemistry set, and people have to operate it. Operating, is referring to starting/stopping the process and keeping it running. To operate a chemical process requires some typical equipment such as distillation towers, storage tanks, pumps, compressors, valves, and heat exchangers.    At their core job, all Process Operators have the same job function, which is to operate the process units.


There are differences between a Refinery Operator job and Chemical Plant Operator job mainly relating to the size of the equipment, complexity of the processes, and real estate their units take up for equipment. Most refineries are older than equivalent chemical plant so the refineries tend to not have as many structural levels as where chemical plants tend to have many levels. Another difference is that refineries are really just one BIG process meaning it starts on one end and goes all the way through to coming out the back where a single chemical plant unit usually produces its own finished product. Refineries have much larger volumes of flow due to being one big process, so generally the piping and equipment is much larger that a chemical plant unit on the same size of real estate.


Please comment on this article if I can add anymore information to clarify.  I hope this article cleared up some confusion. BTO


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Process Operator Resume

Are you applying for jobs, and not hearing back? Are you working on a Process Operator resume? Do you need advice on your Process Operator resume? Well this article will have some good information, and tips for you.

Don’t have the time to write your own resume, or would rather a professional create one for you? We now offer a resume writing service. Click on the link here –

Resume Writing Service


Want more information to create your own resume? Then read on below.

Lets begin with the format itself. Your resume should only be one page. You could be 50 years old, and of worked many jobs, and have vast experience, but a 3 page resume may do you more harm than good. First reason is it’s too long for someone reviewing many resumes. The second reason is that it’s many more words, and chances to talk your self out of an interview. The third reason is that it contains unimportant information, if you had that many previous jobs, or that many other positions, it doesn’t look good either. The final reason is you may portray your age too much. In times past, companies only wanted to hire young Process Operators, so that they may gain many years of experience before retirement. In todays diverse world, companies must hire in a diverse age range, but I wouldn’t try to advertise that you are a life experienced person.  

     There are many different formats for your one page resume. The format I go with has my information including name, address, phone number, and email at the top. Under that is 3 highlight points that best summarize what I have to offer, or want to highlight about myself. College degree, relevant experience, veterans status, and key accomplishments are things I would recommend highlighting. For the main body, list the companies you’ve worked for with the positions you’ve held in chorological order (newest to oldest).

     For each company that you worked for, try to include 5 bullet points. Those points should be relevant to the Process Operator job that you are applying for. For instance, if you were a truck driver. Talk about how you worked safely working towards the goals of safely, and efficiently getting the product to the customer. If you were a scaffold builder, talk about how you followed procedures to efficiently erect scaffolds with keeping in mind that others safety depended on you doing your job correctly. You could talk about how you paid attention to the hazards around you, and helped inform others of potential issues to keep everyone safe. Did you notice key words I used? Safety, efficient, customer, procedures, team work, and attention to your job and surrounds. Keep those words in mind, but don’t over use them either.  At the very bottom of your resume you can list your special training, or higher education. If you have fire experience, rescue training, medical training, or college degree that you did not list as a highlight at the top of your resume, you can list it down here. Do not list them twice. Proof read your resume. It can be hard to catch your own grammatical errors, so read it a lot and make sure it flows smoothly. Have someone else proof read it for you too.   I hope that is a good overview of a resume. If you are applying for jobs, and not hearing back, I can help. Let’s fix your Process Operator Resume, and get you the JOB!

Our new book “Process Operator Resume Guide” is now available for purchase for $9.99. The book goes much further in detail than I am able to in this article. The book will guide you though how to correctly format your Process Operator Resume by explaining how the document should be arranged, and the parts of it. The book explains how to properly construct sentences to describe your experience, skills, and education in a way that appeals to employers of Process Operators.

Process Operator Resume

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PTEC “Process Technology Degree”

What is PTEC or P-tech?

PTEC is an abbreviation for process technology. This is a degree path to getting a Process Operator job. In this degree curriculum, you will gain the basic, and conceptual knowledge needed to become a Process Operator. Some areas of the country today are moving toward requiring this degree for applicants to be considered for a job. Shell and Dow both draw applicants directly from PTEC student pools.

So what is this degree about? Like I said earlier, this degree gives you the basic conceptual understanding needed to become a Process Operator. Meaning you will learn college level English. Yes you do need to know how to write, speak, and use grammar correctly. Your first use of it will be putting your resume together, then going on your first Process Operator interview. Once you get your first Process Operator job, you will be communicating with you bosses a lot through email. You need to know how to write correctly. Take your time, and proof read what you have to say, because words in writing last forever, and you do not want to make your bosses think you less intelligent than you really are. You will learn some math, a college level algebra. Will you need this daily in your role as a Process Operator? No, but you will possibly be asked very basic algebra questions on the test for you to get hired. Next you will learn a college level chemistry course. Pay attention here, this is what your units will do doing. A process unit is nothing but a large industrial chemistry set. Again on the basic concepts will actually apply, but you should always do your best when given the opportunity to learn. Lastly, you will learn about process. This is the meat and potatoes about what your job will involve. They will teach you how distillation works, the types of pumps, valves, and compressors that are out there. PTEC will give you the tools to build your process knowledge. If, and only if you pay attention, ask questions, and truly trying to understand what is going on, and how everything works together will you gain that process knowledge.

Do I need a PTEC degree to get a Process Operator job? Like I said earlier, it depends on there area you live, and the companies you want to apply to.

Will getting a PTEC degree guarantee me getting a Process Operator job? The quick answer is NO, there are no guarantees in life. If anyone tells you differently, run the other direction. 

Will getting a PTEC degree HELP me get a Process Operator job? As long as you maintain a good GPA, YES it will help you. It will help you by potentially getting you exposure to companies that hire Process Operators through career fairs, internships, or job postings. It will definitely look good on your resume as well.

I am a PTEC student, should I take a Process Technology internship? Absolutely! That is the fastest way for you to get a job offer from a company. It’s a good idea in general, because you will get to work at that site, and for the company that would be hiring you. You will also get a taste of what working shift work is all about. You will also get to see what its like to be a new Process Operator at a new job. Being a new Operator can be a hard and daunting task.


The 2 best pieces of advice I will you if you have reached this page, and are interested in PTEC.

  1. Do not enroll in a for profit school’s PTEC program. They likely do not have the connections to put you in touch with companies that hire Process Operators. No large petrochemical plant deals with shady for profit schools. I am not going to say any schools name, but I will tell you how to tell what a for profit school is. Are they charging you for the whole degree up front? Is the degree cost well over 10k? Is it a state owned institution? Ask those questions to determine if the school is legit. The degree is only good as the schools name that offers it.
  2. Having a PTEC degree does not instantly make you a good Process Operator. All experienced Operators cringe when they here they are getting a new hire with a PTEC degree. Why you ask? PTEC graduates have a bad reputation for coming into their first Process Operator job thinking that they know more that they really do, and don’t like to be told other wise. That is a huge mistake! You will be alienated from the rest of the Operators, and no one will bend over back wards to try and help you. Having a PTEC degree can be a great thing. Go to your first job, and humble yourself. Ask the experienced Process Operators to teach you how to apply the knowledge, and skills you may have learned. Gain an understanding of how your equipment and process operates.



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So you have heard about Process Operators belonging to unions and you want to know more about how unions work?

Lets get a quick disclaimer out of the way. I am now in supervision, but at one time I was a dues paying a unions member. So with that said, I am neither pro-union, nor am I anti-union. I will tell you about what I perceive as facts, and nothing else.

A union is a contract between the operators at a site, and the company that owns the site. That contract can spell out everything from how overtime is awarded, your pay and progression, and to the benefits you will recieve. Depending on the site you get hired to work in, it may be a union-shop or not. Just because a company has a union at one site does not mean they do at another site. A union-shop, just refers to the fact that a whole site’s operators are in a union. You may be asking yourself if you have to join a union to work at a union site. The answer depends on the laws of the state that you live in. Most states, including mine are right to work states. That basically means you have the right to work there, regardless if you choose to belong to the union or not. After your probationary period, the union has to represent you even if you are not a dues paying member. Representing you can mean having a union representative with you during questioning regarding an investigation, or it could mean fighting to get your job back if you are terminated without just cause. Will you get the same quality of representation as a dues paying member if you choose not to join the union? No, they have no incentive to help you other than a compulsory obligation.

Why join the union? One reason could be for job protection. You will have a better quality of representation from the union if a issue with your job would arise, Another reason could be a moral obligation. Other dues paying members fought hard to get the wording in the contract that grants you the benefits and protections you have as a Process Operator at that site. Lastly, and one I’ve seen often is peer pressure, or union leadership pressure. Stronger union members will work hard to pressure the new and unsure Operators to sign up for the union. Back in the day, older Operators would not talk to new Operators who did not pay dues let alone help train them. Non paying members would literally be outcasts in their own units. That is not really the case today. It isn’t acceptable for Operators to refuse to train Operators, or even to not provide them with accurate information.

Why not to join the union? Well first off is money, as a good operator you do not perceive to receive anything from the money that you pay the union because you stay out of trouble and do your job correctly. Another reason is frustration with the union itself. Unions tend not to be very well oiled machines, and minus all of the political advertising, you really don’t hear much from yours till contract time. At that time you don’t hear enough information, and not in a timely manner. Lastly, some Process Operators think that by not going the union that may make them look more favorable to management, and help them to be shown favoritism, or promotion above their peers. This reasoning is dead wrong. The company does not really care if YOU personally are union or not. Now thats not to say they would not like to see the unions numbers dwindle down till it collapses, but the don’t actively push for it.

The USW is the one of the largest unions in the United States, and the largest union representing Process Operators. Your site would be called a local, and it would belong to the USW. You can read about the USW by clicking the link below.

Go to the USW



What does a Process Operator Do

Looking for a Process Operator Job Description?

Lets talk about what the general Process Operator job description would be. So what does a Process Operator really do? First thing is that an Operator knows, this is probably the most important thing. A Process Operator knows his/her units. They learn all of the unit flows, front to back. They learn the equipment descriptions; this tells the Operator the specifications of the equipment. They learn the process descriptions. This tells the Operator what the process is, how it is supposed to operate, and the chemistry going on in the equipment. They know process in general, I went into great detain about this in another post. They know what to do when something goes wrong. 

A Process Operator makes surveillance rounds on their units. They generally make at least 3 rounds a shift. These rounds consist of monitoring how equipment, such as, checking temperatures, pressures, levels, valve positions, and looking for leaks. As they are making their rounds they are also looking, and listening for abnormalities in the way equipment is running. An Experienced Process Operator can be walking through their unit, and tell something is not right by sound alone. For instance, compressors and pumps generally operate at a constant state, and give off a constant sound. After being around a while, if you have been paying attention, you will notice if a piece of equipment has a different sound.

Still want to know more about the Process Operator job description? A Process Operator samples the process. Samples of the process must be caught on a routine basis, and analysis run by a lab to determine the composition and properties of the sample. This is done to ensure the process is running correctly, and make necessary adjustments to keep the process within specification. Sampling must also be done with there is a unit upset. Engineers will ask for samples for various tests they are running, or projects they are working on.

A Process Operator operates the units. A operator can be an outside operator or an inside operator. An outside operator makes rounds and catches samples as we discussed above, but they also start and stop pumps and compressors. An outside operator changes line ups by moving valve positions. They make safety checks, ensuring the proper operations of safety systems, safety showers, and eye wash stations. An outside operator check that safety critical valves are sealed in their proper positions. The outside operator controls maintenance activities. They accomplish this by preparing equipment for maintenance, ensuring said equipment is clean and free of process, and preform lock out/tag out procedures to ensure equipment remains safe during maintenance. They issue the permits for maintenance to begin. A permit is a contract between the Process Operator and the mechanic or maintenance person that describes the work to be done, the means it will be done, the equipment it will be done on or to, what tools they will be allowed to use, and protective safety equipment that will be worn or used.

A Process Operator can also be an inside operator. An inside Process Operator operates the Distributive Control System, the board, or console. The board as I refer to it, is what is controls the units process. The board tells the control valves the positions they need to be in to maintain the level, temperature, pressure, or whatever else they are monitoring. The DCS is a very large and complex computer system. The way it normally works for most companies is that you begin you career as an outside operator. You will work the outside job, and spend several years mastering it. During that time, you should be picking up a little bit about who the DCS operates, and feeling you way around how the board operator interfaces with it.

We hope this article clarifies the Process Operator Job Description for you.

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Process Operator Job Qualifications

Process Operator Job Qualifications –  What do you need to get your first job?

The very basic requirements for Process Operator job qualifications would be a high school diploma or GED, no serious criminal record, and a work history of a couple years. That’s it, but those are the very basic qualifications, and depending on the region you live, and the company you want to work for, hiring requirements will differ. Lets talk about some other things that would factor into you getting the job.

Veteran– Companies like to hire veterans. There could be some tax incentive for them, but veterans tend to be disciplined, and reliable, qualities that go a long way in this job.

College Degree– Having a college degree in any field helps. Having a college degree shows companies that you can learn, and be trained. It also shows a level of commitment to finishing a long, and difficult task. Sure some fields may look better than others on resumes, but consider that in how you present it, and use it to your advantage. Just don’t assume because you have a degree in chemistry, or physics that you will automaticlly have an edge over other applicants.

PTEC– Companies do like, and prefer PTEC graduates. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your guaranteed a job if you get your degree. If you have the opportunity for an internship in a PTEC program, DO IT. Thats the fastest way for you to get a job, or at worst case decide you are in the wrong field. I am going to go into more depth about PTEC in another article.

Family and friends– It depends, some companies do a good job of hiring family and friends, and some show no preference at all. It really depends on the company, and that friend or family member trying to help you. My best piece of advice in this situation it to seek assistance from that friend or family member, but still aggressively pursue other jobs.

Previous work experience– The best previous work experience, other than being an Operator, is something industrial or mechanically related. Your new job will involve both, so companies like people that have some basic concepts of their type of work. Fear not, if you flip burgers, or sell cars I have seen both become Process Operators, and succeed in doing it. It all goes back to how you relate what you do now on your resume, and how you do in the interview.

Previous contractor employment- Say you’ve been a scaffold builder at a refinery, and you are now trying to get a Process Operator job there. You may or may not know anyone there that could put in a good word for you, but don’t put much stock in that regardless. Just try to relate how what you do at their site relates to an Process Operator job; this will be of utmost importance when writing your resume or in an interview.

Previous Process Operator Experience– This could be the single most helpful thing in getting you the job, or the worst. Take time when writing your resume and carefully list all of your job duties and accomplishments. Remember, you are leaving your old Operator job because you are looking for more opportunities, that is what companies want to hear. At all cost do not complain about your previous job at another company. Who wants to hire someone that all ready has a bad attitude. Take any negatives, and think of how to twist them into a positive, or just don’t mention them at all.


If you have any more questions about Process Operator Job Qualifications, please contact me.


Process Operator Job Qualifications

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What Makes a Great Process Operator

What is a Great Process Operator?

To be a great Process Operator means that person is a subject matter expert in their units, they have a better than average understanding of process in general, they are dependable, they react instinctively, and have excellent trouble shooting skills. I will go more in depth on each of those attributes below.

Unit subject matter expert- In todays industry a Process Operator has to operate multiple units. In my roles, it has been between 4 to 6 depending on complexity. Some of those units might be identical, but they all won’t be. All of that real estate contains a lot of equipment such as pumps, control valves, compressors, flow meters, furnaces, refrigeration units, and specialty skids, just to name a little bit of what they are responsible for. All units have their problem areas, and knowing how to handle them is one of the first thing a new operator will have to master. Some things just take experience and time to see. For instance, during a turnaround you will find isolation valves you didn’t know existed, you will learn your unit better by isolating it, cleaning it, and getting to see inside of it. Some types of units have turnarounds yearly, while others may not be shut down for 10 years or more. All of that to say this, to be a unit subject matter expert, you know the unit flows front and back, you know all pieces of equipment and can accurately describe the process occurring in each one, you know what to do in an emergency, and most importantly you know process in general.

A great Process Operator KNOWS processWhat is process? Process is basic chemistry and how a production unit uses it to produce a product. If you increase the pressure of a liquid you increase the boiling point. If a distillation tower sump is getting too hot, the draw should be increased because heavies have condensed in the sump. When preparing a section of piping you cannot clean from the bottom up and expect to get all the liquid out of it. An increase of the process temperature in a pump will lead to cavitation due to the liquid in the pump flashing.  A drop in suction pressure on a pump could mean that the suction strainer is plugging. Those were just a few examples of the basic type of conceptual chemistry an operator needs to possess. See, none of this is rocket science. The key to mastering process is to ask a lot of questions about your equipment, whats going on inside of it, and what happens when something starts to go wrong. As you learn, you will develop a mindset where you can look at your equipment and almost see whats going on inside of it. Once you master your unit, you will be able to apply that to other units Not making you an expert there, but allowing you to figure out whats going on much faster than the average Operator.

DependableAs a Process Operator your unit has needs 24/7/365 as I previously discussed in another post. First, your unit has to be manned. Relieve other Operators ONTIME, or early. As much time as we spend at work we want to get home on time. Don’t call in sick unnecessarily, once again, another Operator will have to cover your shift, and it could likely make them work 18 hours. A great Process Operator is know to be where they are supposed to on time. Answer your radio calls. Don’t be that guy that forgets to turn on his/her radio, always has a dead battery, or doing what they should be and not able to respond to a call.

React instinctivelyFor a Process Operator to react instinctively they have to know their units, and know process, as we talked about earlier. Another thing is they either have of been there a long time, or have studied their procedures to know what to do when things go wrong. Any Operator can answer a normal call, be a great Process Operator means answering the calls that don’t come often, and being able to handle the situation with success. You can learn from experience, which will likely take you years, or you can study, read your procedures, walk them out, and ask more experienced Process Operator scenarios and pick their brains.

Excellent troubleshooting skillsThis term gets thrown around quite a bit. What is trouble shooting? Problem solving and using the process of elimination to narrow down the problem. Don’t freak out, eliminate the problem variable by variable. I’m telling you, I’m see many sets of big eyes when something goes wrong. Some people freak out and don’t know how to react, some people can’t stop looking at the big picture. Just pause, every event I’ve ever been involved in did not have to have an immediate reaction. Take a minute, look at the big picture, identify potential causes and start attacking them one by one. Even if its your first day on the job, I promise using a process of elimination in trouble shooting will make you a better operator.


Lastly a great process operator is safe.  As all companies like to say,  SAFETY is #1. Just as the company says, we all want to go home safe everyday. I have to agree that that is true. I’m sure if you ask anyone that was ever hurt, they would tell you that they did not set out to hurt themselves intentionally. So why do people get hurt? There are two main reasons.

  1. Carelessness- Pay attention to what you are doing. Always ask yourself, how could I get hurt doing this task? Stop, take a second, and think through what you are doing. Nothing has to be done at that exact instant. Protect yourself, if you are not positive of the conditions with whatever equipment you are working with, get sure before continuing.
  2. Hurrying- There is no rush. Believe me, it’s true. Think about what you are about to do, and get clarification if needed. Problem solving is using the process of elimination. Is this going to hurt me when I do this, is this valve supposed to be open or closed? Please just step back, and ask yourself if you are confident that you understand what you are about to do.


Great Process Operator

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How much money does a Process Operator make?

Process Operator Pay?

A Process operator pay starts out between 65k and 85k per year. Now, this depends greatly on region, and the actual company, but if it is a real Process Operator job then this should be close. Now, this is speaking of base pay starting off, but if you hustle you can easily make another 10k to 30k. How could this be you ask?

Operator pay comes in 2 forms. Your base hourly pay for 84 hours in a 2 week period, and overtime. Some companies even offer bonuses, but they are a very small minority. We talked about base pay so now lets discuss overtime.

You make overtime usually in 4 different ways.

  1. Vacation/Sick fill in- When other Operators are sick, or on vacation, overtime will be needed to fill their jobs.
  2. Training- When you are training, you could be working overtime, or if someone else is training, you will be working overtime to cover their normal job.
  3. Turnarounds/Unit maintenance- When there is unit maintenance, or turnarounds you will either be filling a position on that event, or covering a unit not affected by the outage.
  4. Special assignments- If you, or someone is working a special assignment, such as procedure updates, HAZOPS, filling in for supervisors, or administrative work, this creates overtime as well.

I hope you have a better understanding now about how Process Operators make large sums of money, and how they seem to never be home when they do. Some of this money is voluntary and some is not. If you haven’t heard this yet, hear it now. Process Operators have forced/ drafted overtime. This is a condition of employment. Sometimes, no one volunteers to cover the overtime and Process Operators are drafted/forced to cover it. How the decision of who covers the overtime depends on where you work, and the policies there.

So yearly pay is cool, but you want to know how much that is an hour? Initially when you hire on as a trainee. You starting hourly pay will be in the low $20’s an hour. You will end up after you are fully trained and qualified in to low to  mid $30’s if you are working for a large company. The way you go from bottom Process Operator pay to top Process Operator pay will be different company to company. One key indicator will be if the company that you will be working for is a union site or not. Union sites have a contract that spell out exactly how and when you get to top pay. The fastest top of pay I’ve seen was 6 months with the longest progression being 4 years.

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What is a chemical plant

What is a Chemical Plant?

A chemical plant takes raw materials from refineries, and turns them into more usable chemicals for industrial facilities, or finished products for consumers. The types of equipment you would operate in a chemical plant to a refinery are pretty much the same. A pump is a pump, compressor a compressor, column a column, and etc..

Chemical Plants can run at much higher pressures and temperatures than a refinery. They also tend to have smaller piping and take up less real estate than a comparable refinery unit. A chemical plant also tends to be built up much higher, meaning the unit could have more stair levels.

Think about it like this, a drilling rig extracts the crude oil from the Earth. A refinery breaks the crude oil into different components with the heavier components being finished products such as motor fuels. A chemical plant take the lightest and most volatile components and turns them into manufacturing chemicals products used to make consumer products, such as plastics and foams.

As a Process operator, working in a chemical plant can potentially be more dangerous than working in a refinery. The process needed to manufacture chemicals often involves much higher temperatures, and pressures which makes our job potentially more hazardous.

Which is better, chemical plant or refinery. The answer is it depends. Your first priority is to get any Process Operator job. Apply anywhere and everywhere. Once you get your Operator job, work for 2 years before deciding if you want to try to move to a potentially better job or company. I think the single most deciding factor is the management at your job. Are you bosses understanding, do they value their Operators, do they care what you have to say, do they address manning the best they can, and do they invest in their units. Those are just a few questions that come to mind. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.


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