Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Green Job Series: Careers in Biofuels [Fifth Installment]

The biofuels industry employs a wide range of workers in a variety of occupations. This installment of The Daily Leap's green job series profiles plant operations occupations in the biofuels industry.

Plant Operations Occupations

Managers and technicians at processing plants convert feedstock into fuel through various technologies. They perform a wide variety of tasks, from blending chemicals to operating industrial equipment to testing fuel quality. Workers must follow a number of standard operating procedures and abide by all safety protocols. Staff may keep records or logs during each shift, noting any plant activities and reporting any problems to supervisory staff.

Job Duties

Plant managers, also known as industrial production managers, run daily operations at the plant. Managers coordinate and plan the activities needed to create biofuels. They supervise employees in completing their tasks and provide feedback on employees' job performances. They ensure compliance with all federal, state, and local laws and safety requirements. Managers must be able to solve problems quickly, adjust procedures when issues arise, and maintain detailed records on processing plant production.

Plant operators, also known as fuel makers, are chemical equipment operators and tenders. They operate or tend equipment that controls chemical changes or reactions in the processing of industrial or consumer products.

In addition to operating industrial equipment, plant operators may also inspect tanks, clean pumps and other equipment, and dispose of waste products. Some plant workers may conduct quality control checks, testing samples from a batch of fuel. Others may be involved in shipping and receiving materials at the plant. They must follow all safety procedures, including reporting any problems to supervisory staff.

Industrial machinery mechanics test, maintain, and repair plant equipment and other industrial machinery, such as conveying systems, production machinery, and packaging equipment. When malfunctions occur, they need to disable a piece of equipment, locate and fix the broken piece, and reassemble the machine.


Plant manager positions often require a bachelor's degree in a related science, engineering, or business administration. Many manager positions require between 1 and 5 years of work experience, while others may require up to 10 years of related experience. In addition, some employers want their managers to have previous experience as a supervisor. Most production managers must complete company-specific training. Many managers opt to earn various certifications to show a higher level of competency in their field.

Most plant operators need to have a high school diploma, and many employers prefer workers with a degree from a college or vocational school. Many employers value strong math and science skills and related work experience. Moderate on-the-job training is necessary because of the complex equipment and specific safety procedures of each company.

Industrial machinery mechanics generally need at least a high school diploma, though many employers prefer to hire candidates who have completed postsecondary training in industrial technology. Mechanics who have not taken postsecondary courses may need a year or more of on-the-job training to learn the necessary mechanical and technical skills.

Most plant employees work in shifts, as plants operate around the clock. They usually must wear safety equipment, such as gloves or goggles. Work in a plant can be physically demanding because workers may have to lift heavy objects and control large machinery. Individuals working in a plant must complete training to learn all of a company's standard operating and safety procedures.


BLS currently does not have wage data specific to the biofuels industry. However, BLS does have wage data for the basic chemical manufacturing industry group; the following table shows wages for selected production occupations in that industry group for May 2011. The wages shown are median annual wages for the United States as a whole; wages vary by employer and location.

Occupation Median annual wage
Industrial production managers $99,770
Chemical equipment operators and tenders $49,060
Industrial machinery mechanics $54,380

For more detailed information on plant operations occupations in the biofuels industry, click the Occupational Outlook Handbook link.

Next week’s biofuels industry installment: Sales Occupations

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