Substation operators, also known as switchmen, are in charge of the monitoring of the machinery that distributes electricity to residential, business and industrial areas. They operate in electrical substations monitoring equipment that increases or decreases voltage. They have to check the electric substations throughout the country to check charts, oil levels in equipment, temperature changes, load conditions, oil leaks, and any irregularities. In addition, switchmen have to operate switchboard levers to control the flow of electricity in and out of the substations. They are working closely with power generation operators and transmission engineers in order to anticipate and solve the change in power needs. If the power requirements change, substation operators have to start or stop distributing lines and switch them between the circuits.
These workers work at the micro-level of power generation and distribution. Switchmen are also the operators in charge of taking immediate emergency switching when power plant operators anticipate an issue in the power distribution. Often, they also can take decisions related to power distribution or warning power plants about potential issues regarding power dispatch.
How to become a substation operator or switchman? Potential candidates to work in this field must at least possess a high school diploma. But most recruiter will favor candidates who obtained a college degree and had prior experience or training in mechanical or electrical sales jobs. You have to know that by starting a substation operator or switchman, which is the entry-level, you may be promoted as a power generation operator or dispatcher. Successful candidates are expected to have excellent skills in mathematics, science skills and computer science, and also a good physical condition since most work is done outside in substations.
In the U.S., there were about 47,000 power generation operators or plant technicians including substation operators in 2004. Most of them were employed in electric power generation, transmission, and distribution companies or in local government authorities. However the job prospects for substation operators are quiet negative in the near future with a declining overall the employment rate through 2014. This situation can be mostly explained by the slow pace of construction of new plants and deregulation of the sector.