How to become a CCTV operator (with skills and FAQs)

Updated 4 April 2023

Closed-circuit television (CCTV) has become invaluable for spotting and preventing crime and accidents. A skilled operator makes monitoring effective. If you're observant and can concentrate for extended periods, a career in CCTV operations may interest you. In this article, we consider what a CCTV operator is, explore how to become one and assess the skills required, their daily duties, responsibilities, working conditions and likely employers.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

What is a CCTV operator?

A CCTV operator is a person who watches live footage from a control room to detect and prevent accidents, crimes and incidents such as traffic delays. Public transport, including buses, trains and stations, uses CCTV cameras to monitor traffic or activities in busy areas. They safeguard staff who work alone or without direct supervision. For instance, commercial cleaners often work at night when factories, shops and offices are closed. By monitoring the CCTV footage, the operator may call emergency services if there are any threats to the cleaners' health or safety.

Related: 9 cameraman courses to consider (plus qualifications)

Find CCTV operator jobs

How to become a CCTV operator

You can follow these steps to become an operator:

1. Consider the minimum educational requirements

There are no specific formal qualifications for this career. Appropriate subjects at secondary school include English, mathematics and information and communication technology. Experience in security roles, policing or armed services can be helpful in becoming an operator but is not a requirement.

2. Pass the necessary security checks

To work in the security industry, your employer has to ensure you can work with children and protected adults. To meet this requirement, passing a Protecting Vulnerable Groups, or PVG, check satisfactorily is necessary. Depending on the particular position, passing additional security checks may be necessary.

3. Obtain a licence

Some positions require a Security Industry Authority (SIA) licence or specialist CCTV-related SIA certification. To get this licence, you're required to be at least 18 years of age and undergo identity and criminal record verification. You may then receive an SIA-approved level 2 qualification in CCTV operations, focusing on public space surveillance. You might also earn additional qualifications, such as the Private Security Industry's Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework's level 6 qualification.

4. Find a job

Once you've got the relevant licences or qualifications, you can find a job as an operator. When you apply for a role, create a CV and cover letter based on the role's requirements. If you have no or little work experience, include details of relevant volunteer work you might have done.

Related: How to become a security guard in 8 steps (with skills)

Daily duties and responsibilities

This career can be high-pressured and challenging but also rewarding. As a CCTV monitor, you perform the following functions daily:

  • watch multiple screens in a control centre to monitor people in various locations

  • focus on identifying suspicious behaviour by examining people's body language and expressions

  • track suspect people as they move through the streets or within a building

  • move the cameras around using a remote control device, such as a mouse or joystick, to get a better image

  • react quickly by liaising with the police or security staff in the location and provide intelligence about the suspects, including details of their location, actions and appearance

  • ensure the safe storage, editing and labelling of recordings to locate them easily

  • collaborate with the police by providing them with recordings or copies when required

  • ensure the CCTV system functions effectively in recording and storing video footage

  • keep a log of incidents to provide to the police

Skills for this career

Operators may see upsetting scenes while watching footage. To overcome this and perform their duties satisfactorily, they require the following competencies:

  • the ability to remain calm at all times

  • discretion by discussing their observations only with their colleagues

  • observation proficiency

  • excellent attention to detail

  • the ability to think quickly and logically in identifying and responding to an emergency

  • effective communication skills when liaising and collaborating with other agencies

  • patience and perseverance

Working conditions

Operators typically work shifts since CCTV records 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The shifts are usually 12 hours long for four days, with the following four days off. Operators work in control rooms with multiple screens. They can work alone or in teams. When working alone, they keep in touch with their team members using the telephone and radio and sometimes travel between sites. The job is usually full time, with a few operators working freelance.

Related: How to become a camera operator, with tips and examples

Career progression

In small organisations, career progression may be challenging. So operators may seek roles at other organisations to progress their careers. In larger organisations, an employer may promote an operator to the role of a supervisor of other operators. They may also become a manager of a team of operators.

Potential employers

Operators can work for state organisations, including government departments, the police force, local councils, hospitals and universities. They can also work at private security companies, shopping centres, warehouses and other commercial organisations. Work is generally available in cities and towns throughout the country.

Related: Your guide to public sector jobs

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about this career

Here are a few FAQs about this career path:

What does the level 2 qualification in CCTV operations (public space surveillance) cover?

The qualification provides training on the role and duties of this operator class. It examines CCTV equipment and its functions and provides training on law, dealing with incidents and surveillance methods. The qualification also covers the emergency procedures an operator has to follow if there's an incident.

Related: 10 remote cyber security jobs (with duties and tips)

What careers relate to this field?

Some of the alternative careers you can pursue include:

Police officer

Police officers serve and protect the public. They may arrest and detain criminals. They also protect people's property and often mediate disputes.

Related: How to become a police officer in the UK

Private investigator

Private investigators work for clients and check facts or find information not readily obtainable. Their clients are typically experiencing personal issues, such as theft in their companies or divorce. Private investigators are self-employed and often have experience in law enforcement.

Related: How to become a detective in the UK

Criminal intelligence analyst

These analysts contribute to national security by analysing and interpreting data, helping to prevent serious crimes, including cybercrime and trafficking. They typically work with the armed forces and government intelligence agencies. CCTV operators may complete additional qualifications to work as criminal intelligence officers.

Related: What does a criminal intelligence analyst do? With salary

What do the operators look for when monitoring CCTV footage?

Operators look for cues that may prevent a crime or security breach. Examples of what they look for are:

  • a particular vehicle passing an entrance multiple times

  • an individual taking pictures of prohibited security areas

  • someone taking notes or sketching an item or building without permission

  • a person waiting somewhere for a long time without apparent reason

  • someone asking security personnel questions about security procedures and systems

  • the delivery of packages to a wrong address

  • an individual entering unauthorised areas, such as those with electrical systems

Related: 14 effective hotel security procedures and guidelines

What are the visual detection steps that the operators use?

Operators use these steps to analyse people's behaviour when they monitor CCTV footage:

  • Scan: check the footage to detect suspicious behaviour

  • Identify: determine if anything is missing or wrong with a scene

  • Focus: manipulate the camera to get a clearer picture

  • Evaluate: determine if a person's behaviour poses a safety or security threat

  • Decide: determine whether a threat is present and alert the authorities or continue to monitor the situation if no imminent threat is likely

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