Stationary Engineers


Education and Training Requirements

High School

A high school diploma or its equivalent is required to become an apprentice stationary engineer. Courses in computer science, mathematics, physics, chemistry, shop, and mechanical drawing are good introductions to the field, along with vocational training in machinery operation.

Postsecondary Training

Stationary engineers learn the skills they need by completing an apprenticeship or through informal, on-the-job training, often in combination with course work at a vocational or technical school. Because of the similarities between marine and stationary power plants, training in marine engineering during service in the U.S. Navy or Merchant Marines can be an excellent background for this field. However, even with such experience, additional training and study are necessary to become a stationary engineer.

Apprenticeships are administered by local committees that represent both company management and the union to which many stationary engineers belong, the International Union of Operating Engineers. Apprenticeships usually last four years. In the practical-experience part of their training, apprentices learn how to operate, maintain, and repair stationary equipment such as blowers, generators, compressors, motors, and refrigeration machinery. They become familiar with precision measurement devices; hand and machine tools; and hoists, blocks, and other equipment used in lifting heavy machines. In the classroom, apprentices study subjects such as practical chemistry and physics, applied mathematics, computers, blueprint reading, electricity and electronics, and instrumentation.

People who learn their skills on the job work under the supervision of experienced stationary engineers. They may start as boiler tenders or helpers, doing simple tasks that require no special skills, and learn gradually through practical experience. They eventually move on to more complicated tasks such as repairing cracks or ruptured tubes for high-pressure boilers. The process may go more quickly if they take courses at a vocational or technical school in subjects such as computerized controls and instrumentation.

Other Education or Training

Stationary engineers should continue to take short courses to keep their knowledge current, even after they are well trained and experienced in their field. Employers often pay for this kind of additional training. When new equipment is installed in a building, representatives of the equipment manufacturer may present special training programs. Additionally, the National Association of Power Engineers offers online courses such as “Boiler Operation,” “Advanced Boiler Operation,” and “Turbine Operation."

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

The National Association of Power Engineers offers voluntary certification in basic boiler operation, advanced boiler operation, and A/C refrigeration operation to those who pass an examination and meet other requirements.

Most states and cities require licensing for stationary engineers to operate equipment. There are several classes of license, depending on the kind of equipment and its steam pressure or horsepower. A first-class license qualifies workers to operate any equipment, regardless of size or capacity. Stationary engineers in charge of large equipment complexes and those who supervise other workers need this kind of license. Other classes of licenses limit the capacities or types of equipment that the license holders may operate without supervision.

The requirements for obtaining these licenses vary from place to place. In general, applicants must meet certain training and experience requirements for the class of license, pass a written examination, and be at least 18 years old and a resident of the city or state for a specified period of time. When licensed stationary engineers move to another city or state, they may have to meet different licensing requirements and take another examination.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Experience as an apprentice, helper, or boiler tender is required to enter the field. The training period may last several years. For example, apprenticeship programs that are sponsored by the International Union of Operating Engineers last four years and include 8,000 hours of on-the-job training and require 600 hours of technical instruction.

Stationary engineers possess mechanical aptitude and manual dexterity, and are in good physical condition. They like keeping track of details and understand the importance of following schedules and routines. A prospective stationary engineer should be able to work independently, without direct supervision. Other important traits include a good work ethic, a willingness to continue to learn throughout one's career, and strong organizational and time-management skills.