If you’re considering a career in engineering but prefer maintaining and operating complex systems rather than designing them, then becoming a stationary engineer could be a promising option for you. Stationary engineers play a crucial role in ensuring the smooth running of various facilities like hospitals, factories, or schools by operating, maintaining, and repairing heating, cooling, ventilation, and other mechanical systems.
What is a Stationary Engineer?
A stationary engineer, also known as a stationary operating engineer, boiler operator, or power engineer, is a technically skilled and certified professional who operates, maintains, and repairs various mechanical systems within a facility.
Stationary engineers play a crucial role in a wide range of facilities, including industrial plants, commercial buildings, hospitals, universities, government buildings, and more. Their responsibilities may include monitoring gauges and meters, adjusting controls, performing routine maintenance, responding to system or equipment malfunctions, and keeping detailed logs of their activities.
These mechanical systems often include heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC), and refrigeration equipment, boilers, generators, pumps, and other machinery. Stationary engineers ensure these systems are operating safely and efficiently. Thus they are usually required to complete a technical training or apprenticeship program and may also need licensing or certification, depending on the state and the specifics of their work.
Educational Path and Training
- High School Diploma: Your journey begins with a high school diploma or an equivalent certification. Courses in mathematics, physics, and technical drawing can provide a good foundation for this career.
- Technical or Vocational School: Many stationary engineers kick start their career by enrolling in a technical or vocational school where they learn the basics of boiler operations, heating and cooling systems, and safety regulations. Some might even pursue an associate degree in fields such as stationary engineering, HVAC, or another related field.
- Apprenticeship: To become a fully licensed stationary engineer, you often need to complete an apprenticeship that can last 4-5 years. During this time, you’ll gain on-the-job training under the supervision of an experienced stationary engineer, as well as classroom instruction. One of the largest organizations that offers apprenticeships in this field is The IUOE.
- Licensing: Most states require stationary engineers to be licensed. While the specifics vary by state, you usually need to pass an exam that covers topics like equipment operation, maintenance techniques, and safety procedures.
Wages and Job Growth
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2021, the median annual wage for stationary engineers and boiler operators was $63,500. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $39,050, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $100,660.
This career path is projected to grow 4 percent from 2021 to 2031, which is about average for all occupations. Hence, those who have completed an apprenticeship program and obtained a license will have the best job opportunities.
- Stability: The nature of the work done by stationary engineers is essential for a wide range of industries, ensuring stable employment.
- Variety of Work: You’ll encounter a range of challenges in various settings from hospitals, factories, schools to commercial buildings.
- Income: As previously stated, stationary engineers often earn a comfortable wage, especially those with experience and additional certifications.
- Physically Demanding: The job can be physically demanding as it involves bending, lifting heavy objects, and standing for long periods.
- Work Schedule: Some stationary engineers may have to work during weekends, nights, or holidays, especially if they’re responsible for facilities that operate around the clock.
- Risk of Injury: While safety measures are usually in place, there’s still a risk of injury when working with heavy machinery, high pressure systems, and other equipment.
Choosing a career as a stationary engineer offers a unique blend of technical challenges and practical problem-solving opportunities. While it does have its challenges, the financial stability and the crucial role played in various industries make it a rewarding career option. Always research thoroughly and make sure this career path aligns with your personal and professional goals before embarking on the journey. Good luck!