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A Day in the Life of a Power Plant Manager

Most plant managers supervise the production of one specific good: Electricity. Power plants operate twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, turbines churning out megawatt after megawatt of powerful, invisible current. Plant managers soon learn that the technical aspects of the job notwithstanding--managing power loads, controlling production and inventory, and handling the continuous maintenance chores--the heart of managing a power plant is managing people. Plant managers who embrace both these aspects of the job are the most successful at this career. PPMs can work during the day or night, and many come to know their plants as well as they know their own homes. They must be on top of everything, so many make rounds themselves, greeting workers on their shift and personally inspecting any problem areas. This hands-on managing is one of the reasons that PPMs have such a high level of satisfaction; they get intellectual stimulation, social interaction, and physical activity. Some PPMs added that the sterile environment and rotating shifts make personal connections very important. A power plant manager must know the basic rules of electrical safety. The first rule of the profession is: "When in doubt, shut it down." Whole country grids are under the watch of PPMs. Supplying too little or too much electricity could have grave consequences, like medical equipment ceasing to function or main power trunks burning out (these can take days to fix). A power plant is maintained and operated by hundreds of workers, and the manager coordinates all activities. One told us, "You're like a cruise director, telling people where they need to go and who they have to meet up with." Successful power plant managers are good at distributing their human resources, combining seriousness and a dedicated work effort with a personal approach that fosters quality work and loyalty. They are able to think before they act, to act when they need to, and to inspire others to follow them on ordinary days and in times of crisis.

Paying Your Dues

Employers look for candidates with a college degree in any major that demonstrates quantitative skill and attention to detail as well as courses in mathematics, physics, electrical engineering, or computer science. Some PPMs begin as technicians and work up to supervisory and managerial positions; this can mean extra shifts and long days for beginners in the profession. Those who want to work in nuclear power plants have to satisfy additional requirements, both academic and professional. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) administers tests each year that license professionals to operate these special power plants. Many employers look for candidates who have experience in the Navy nuclear submarine program. Although not a requirement, those in any part of the profession (nuclear or otherwise) often find it helpful to join a professional union, such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Present and Future

Power plant managers became a necessary part of the workforce with the growth of the use of electricity in the early 1900s. Cities, which used to be lit by gas lamps, found they could provide safe, consistent streetlamp light by harnessing this electrical power. Once cities began to be wired for electricity, the demand for the product spread rapidly and power became part of nearly every household in America after the middle of the century. Power, understood as a great benefit, was also recognized as a potential danger. The power industry continues to be one of the most heavily regulated industries in the country. The future of power plant managers is tied to the expansion of power facilities in the U.S. Currently, there are no production plans for extensive power plants on the slate of any state government construction programs. Demand for electricity is on the rise, but instead of building new plants, existing facilities are being refitted to handle the increased capacity, and power is being purchased from other sources.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Two-year managers are usually technicians. Many are in technical managerial positions, but few have reached the level of PPM. Most are involved in meetings and coordination with the PPM and learn more technical skills in their free time. Many said the lessons they learned as technicians helped them become more sensitive and capable managers. Hours are reasonable; satisfaction is average.

FIVE YEARS OUT

Those in the profession five years know whether they are on a PPM track or not. Many have moved from technical positions to administrative positions in order to familiarize themselves with the other requirements of the job. Those in nuclear facilities regularly pass their licensing exams; a single failing grade can ruin the best candidate's chances for a PPM position. Promotions at this point are driven by availability of openings, as the number of qualified candidates exceeds the number of available PPM positions.

TEN YEARS OUT

Many are now PPMs, although some have had to relocate in order to pursue opportunities. Many power facilities are designed in a very standard fashion (and strict regulations encourage that) so mobility doesn't require an extraordinary amount of re-education. The biggest problem that PPMs face in new plants is earning the loyalty, trust and respect of their fellow workers. Ex-PPMs usually have a strong following, and stepping into someone else's well-respected shoes requires skill and perseverance.