Cool careers in process plant operations


    Do you have an interest in machinery and a good technical skill set? You might want to consider a career in process plant operations. This valuable sector is the backbone of the production industry. It keeps all our industrial operations running smoothly. 

    We spoke to process plant operations lecturer, Asim Saeed, from South Metropolitan TAFE’s Munster campus, about pursuing a career in this important field. 

    What are process plant operations?

    Process plant operations refers to the operation of systems and machinery in industrial production facilities. Put simply, it is the base of production. It is a vital part of industries such as manufacturing, and oil and gas. 

    The meaning of process plant operations can vary slightly depending on the industry. For example; in the oil and gas industry. Here, process plant operations refer to the control and maintenance of the machinery and systems that produce chemicals, oil, gas and petroleum. In the manufacturing industry, it refers to the operation and maintenance of the machinery and systems that produce goods. 

    Asim notes the importance of process plant operations in our everyday lives. “A process plant operator or technologist is behind most of the activities that you perform daily.” he says. “These include filling up your petrol tank, lighting a gas stove, opening a plastic wrapper, drinking from a plastic bottle, writing on paper, washing your clothes with detergent, taking a bath with shampoo and nice smelling soap, and lighting a candle.” 

    Industry structure

    Process plant operations are part of many different industries. Employees in this area may work in the chemical, hydrocarbons, manufacturing or refining industries. 

    Asim says that process plant operations are a crucial part of a range of the following sectors.

    • Cosmetics
    • Plastics
    • Polyesters
    • Fertilisers
    • Fine chemicals
    • Heavy chemicals
    • Petrochemicals
    • Polymer manufacturing
    • Hydrocarbon extraction
    • Hydrocarbon transmission
    • Hydrocarbon processing and refining
    • Minerals processing and refining
    • Metals smelting and processing

    This means that a career in process plant operations may look very different, depending on what industry you end up working in. 

    Career outcomes

    At one time, a career in process plant operations may have meant working with heavy machinery and dangerous chemicals. But these days, you’re just as likely to be working with machines as with the computer and automation systems that operate them. 

    Process plant operations is made up of a variety of roles. Asim says that previous students have often found work in diverse careers: offshore installation managers, superintendents, advanced engineering tradespersons, project analysts and project coordinators.

    This career path provides a good opportunity to move into several managerial roles as your career progresses. This usually leads to significant career growth and higher than average salaries. In Australia, a plant superintendent makes an average salary of AUD$181,176 per year. An offshore installation manager can earn over AUD$340,000 per year. 

    While many process plant operations workers find jobs in metropolitan areas, it’s not uncommon for work to take place in more remote areas of Australia and overseas. In Western Australia (WA), many workers do fly-in fly-out (FIFO) work and offshore work on oil rigs. You may also be required to undertake shift work or even night shift work in some workplaces. 

    Getting qualified

    You can find process plant operations courses at TAFE International Western Australia (TIWA), and you have the option of studying a PMA60116 Advanced Diploma of Process Plant Technology with South Metropolitan TAFE.

    Asim says the course gives students the necessary skill set to pursue a career in process plant operations. 

    “Students learn how to work safely in an operational environment, process and record information, apply statistics, determine energy and mass transfer loads, analyse equipment performance and plan plant shutdown and modifications.” he says. 

    Asim also explains that students who undertake this course will benefit from South Metropolitan TAFE’s specially designed facilities, saying that “Students will study in a state of the art engineering building that has its own operating plant, control room and technical engineering workshops.” 

    If you’re interested in pursuing a career in process plant operations, Asim wholeheartedly encourages you to give it a go.

    “There are endless careers available for process plant technology graduates with the right attitude and desire to learn and excel in life.”

    If you’re interested in finding out more, you can contact TIWA for advice(opens in a new tab) on how to navigate your study and career journey.

    Last updated on December 1, 2022