Main content | back to top
Picture a refinery, a chemical plant, or an offshore or onshore oil rig. Pipes and valves are everywhere. There are turbines, boilers, distillation columns, and all kinds of other machinery. To most people, it’s total confusion. But to you, it makes total sense. Not only do you know what every piece of equipment is and how it is used, but you can troubleshoot and fix it, too.
Process operators/technicians spend much of each shift doing rounds and checking to make sure everything is running smoothly. While one person is in the computerized control room "running the board," another is outside checking the drill. If a problem comes up, they think fast to pinpoint and fix the trouble.
You can prepare yourself and jumpstart your career as a process technician with a two-year degree from a technical/community college. Process technicians are rewarded with excellent pay, benefits, and the opportunity for training as new technologies are brought on line.
Saving the Day!
A crucial pump malfunctions. Who steps in to solve the problem? A process operator/technician.
In the energy industry, process operators/technicians play key roles at refineries, chemical plants, onshore and offshore oil & gas exploration and production facilities, and pipelines. With their knowledge of the machinery and processes involved, process technicians keep these facilities operating smoothly. They help keep petroleum moving from its raw form to its many finished products. The job of process operator/technician combines physical hands-on work with quick thinking, computer and analytical skills, and teamwork.
When the pump goes out, the first to notice is the operator “running the board.” That’s inside lingo for the person in the control room monitoring the computer screens. Once that person notices a problem, he/she radios another process operator/technician outside in the field and asks them to check out the problem.
“Your attention has to be sharp,” says Shell process operator/technician Donna Cooks. “You have to be observant to what is going on and think ahead.”
Maybe the product moving through the pump has changed consistency, or the equipment may need to be repaired or replaced. Together, the operators/technicians adjust and troubleshoot until everything is running smoothly again.
Never a Dull Moment
Process operators/technicians in the petroleum industry do more than just troubleshoot equipment and operations. They also play a key role and are highly involved in the safety, and environmental aspects of business operations. For example, they collect samples of product moving through the system, and monitor safety issues at a facility. They also benefit from frequent training in new technologies and equipment coming into to their work environment.
Choose Your Location
In the U.S.,Shell, process operators/technicians can choose from diverse work locations ranging from offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, to production rigs and facilities in Colorado, to refineries and chemical plants in Texas, Louisiana, Washington, or California.
“I wanted to work with cutting-edge technology, and offshore was the place to be,” explains Charles Bowman, a process operator/technician who interned for Shell and now works offshore for the company.
Process technology is also typically shift work, since facilities operate on a twenty-four hour schedule; staff must be there at all times. And, for remote locations such as offshore platforms, employees helicopter to work twice a month, working for 14 days and then having a two week break every month! Many people like this type of shift schedule.
“The shifts flew by,” recalls Shell process technician Cindy Winch, who interned on an offshore rig, “and the view of the night sky amid the summer waves was a relaxing way to end the day.”
So, You Want to Be a Process Operator/Technician at Shell?
Troubleshooting turbines in Texas; regulating gauges in the Gulf; running reports in the Rockies—and doing a job that require critical thinking and physical work—does this sound appealing to you? If you are fascinated with how things work, and have an interest in math, science, or new technology, process operator/technician could be the career for you. Process operators/technicians must also be strong team players, since they solve problems that involve many people. They also find themselves in all sorts of challenging settings and outdoor environments.
Process technology has other appealing aspects. For example, you can launch your career after two years of college. Over 40 technical/community colleges around the country offer Associate Degrees in Process Technology. There are interning opportunities available and many students choose to spend their summer interning with Shell. “My internship helped me see things you don’t read about in the textbooks,” explained Scott Waggenspack, now a full-time Shell employee after completing his 2-year process technology degree.
Shell process operators/technicians in the U.S. operate from California to the Gulf and east coasts to the Rockies and Alaska. They are part of a company that operates in 140 countries and territories around the globe.