What it takes to be a successful chemical process operator

Updated 6 June 2023

Chemical process operators manage the daily operations of a chemical plant, which often involve monitoring the production of chemical products to ensure safe and efficient output. If you have a good understanding of mechanical and chemical processes, this career may be ideal for you. Learning what it takes to secure this role can help you decide if it's a career path to pursue. In this article, we explain what this type of operator does, discuss how to become one, explore their required skills and look at their work environment.

What does a chemical process operator do?

A chemical process operator mainly controls and monitors pieces of machinery that produce chemical products, such as cosmetics, paints and cleaning fluids. Though the role may differ depending on the employer and industry, these are some of the typical duties:

  • processing, mixing and packaging chemicals

  • setting up chemical equipment

  • cleaning and maintaining machinery

  • recording observations to assess quality or monitor other production data

  • unloading and moving materials

  • following safe procedures for material handling and production

  • reporting to a team leader or supervisor on the production progress

  • stock-taking and control

  • administrative duties, such as signing payslips and keeping records

  • assisting in improving product and process quality

  • collaborating with other team members to complete the production process effectively

  • monitoring chemicals used in production

Related: What is a chemical engineer? (With qualifications and jobs)

Find chemical process operator jobs

How to become a chemical operator

Here are some steps you can follow to enter this career field:

1. Earn a diploma

The first step to becoming a successful operator for chemical processes is to gain a diploma in a course related to chemical processing, such as a level 2 diploma in process technology. Ensure that it includes maths, practical work and other science subjects. When selecting a course, check the entry requirements, such as your required GCSE subjects and grades. You could also consider other certifications, such as a forklift truck certificate or a level 1 certificate in applied science, to gain more mechanical and chemical skills.

2. Get a degree

Though not always necessary, obtaining a degree can help differentiate you from other candidates applying for the same job. It also equips you with more knowledge and skills to operate a chemical plant. Some of the degrees to consider include chemical engineering and industrial engineering. Most take three to four years to complete, and you can choose one that incorporates an internship to help you gain work experience before you graduate.

3. Gain work experience

This helps you to familiarise yourself with an operator's roles and work environment. It also allows you to gain practical skills, such as driving a forklift truck. You can get an apprenticeship in a manufacturing or industrial setting, which allows you to shadow and work alongside experienced colleagues and engineers. It's also possible to gain work experience while in school during the summer term or a placement at university. After completing your studies, you may also find an entry-level position to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to apply for a chemical processing role.

4. Apply for a job

Once you've gained experience, consider applying for a role as a chemical process operator. Check various job sites to find vacant positions related to this role, or apply directly to manufacturing companies in your area. Writing a quality CV and cover letter can help you secure your ideal position. Ensure you tailor both these documents to every job you apply for to highlight the key roles and skills your potential employer requires. It's also helpful to practise answering common questions for process operator roles.

Related: 40 chemical engineer interview questions (With answers)

5. Continue learning

While at work, consider furthering your education in chemical processing. You can enrol in short courses for specific skills you want to gain or pursue a graduate degree in chemical engineering. Gaining more skills helps you remain up to date with industry developments and may also improve your chances of getting a more senior position. Attend forums and events related to chemical processing to help you interact with others in your field and learn about emerging trends in your industry.

Related: How to become an industrial chemist (A step-by-step guide)

Necessary skills to be a successful chemical plant operator

Here are some key skills to help you succeed in this role:


As a process operator, staying organised at work helps you stick to a tight schedule when moving and packaging inventory for shipments. This skill set can also help you complete tasks on time, making it easy for other team members in a production channel to carry out their roles promptly. Being organised may also help you find time to complete administrative jobs, such as preparing notes and filing, and to achieve a better work–life balance.

Analytical thinking

Process operators require strong analytical skills to help them solve problems that arise during production or in the chemical plant. Chemical process operators often require developing or determining the most efficient way to achieve their goals while minimising time, cost and inputs. It can be helpful to learn how to interpret and analyse data, as this supports you in making sound decisions.

Attention to detail

When mixing and loading materials within chemical plants, close attention to detail is necessary to ensure you use the correct chemical ratios. You may also need these skills when performing maintenance inspections of equipment and machinery, such as forklifts. Being present and attentive can help you notice even the most minor errors or faults, allowing you to find a solution quickly.


As a process operator, you often handle stock when moving it from one area to another. By understanding and adhering to company procedures and by working methodically you can make the stocking process more efficient. Gain these skills through experience or by enrolling in a specialist course.

Forklift maintenance

In this role, you often use forklifts to load and unload chemical products. The ability to maintain these vehicles and other equipment can ensure that you complete all your tasks on time and avoid repair costs due to a forklift malfunctioning or breaking down. Effective forklift maintenance includes keeping it clean, checking the tyre pressure regularly and inspecting it carefully before operating to ensure it's in good condition.

Related: 11 machine operator skills (Plus definition and examples)


Working in the manufacturing industry often requires working alongside various team members to improve product and process quality. Excellent communication skills help you relay information efficiently, ensuring everyone in your team understands their role. This is especially important when operating heavy equipment, which can cause accidents if you don't communicate effectively. Listening to your team members also helps you work more productively together to meet deadlines.

Related: Communication in project management (Definition and types)

Safety compliance

Knowledge of safety rules in an industrial setting is essential to help you accomplish your tasks efficiently and safely. Understanding correct procedures for operating heavy machinery, such as forklifts, is especially important to ensure safety for employees. Learn about safety compliance by attending regular training or by taking a safety certification course.


These individuals typically have strong numeracy and maths skills, as they often deal with large volumes of data. Numeracy skills help you gather and process this data efficiently, which is why maths is one of the key entry requirements for courses in chemical processing. You can gain these skills by enrolling for A-levels in maths or taking short courses.

What is the work environment for chemical operators?

These operators spend most of their time between factories and offices, generally within the chemical, wastewater, power generation, food and beverage and nuclear sectors. They may spend time loading and unloading products and packaging and monitoring equipment in a factory. In an office, they work on analysing data and preparing reports for their supervisors. Collaboration with others, such as chemical and process engineers, is also part of their role. Working as a process operator can be physically challenging, as you spend most of your time on your feet working around heavy machinery.

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