Computer Operator

The Job and What's Involved

A computer operator is responsible for ensuring an organisation's computer system and networks run smoothly and efficiently, and are properly backed up.

Computer operators prioritise operational problems and aim to solve them as efficiently and effectively as possible. System errors cause delays and problems, which can have a knock-on effect for customer services and financial budgets.

Computer operators may have to undertake some, if not all, of the following tasks:

  • Starting up and closing down computer systems.
  • Ensuring that tapes/discs are correctly loaded in order to back-up the system.
  • Scheduling and loading programs and data.
  • Ensuring a record or log of work is kept.
  • Maintaining programs and testing for faults and viruses.
  • Booking IT support calls and referring them to the appropriate level of support.
  • Taking calls and providing an out-of-hours help desk.
  • Inputting instructions into the system.
  • Overseeing and collating printouts.
  • Resetting printers.
  • Monitoring systems for equipment faults and errors, and referring problems to the relevant personnel.
  • Analysing performance and making recommendations to enhance reliability.
  • Testing new programs.
  • Keeping equipment clean and the computer area tidy.

They can either work on their own or as part of a team. Computer operators liaise with other members of the IT department and some work may involve communicating with customers.

A computer operator normally works between 37 and 40 hours a week. They generally work a shift pattern to ensure 24/7 support. Weekend and evening work may be required. Part time opportunities may be available.

They usually work in a computer room, which should be clean and air-conditioned.

The work is likely to involve carrying equipment, standing and sitting for long periods of time. The dress code is likely to be smart casual.

Starting salaries may range from £13,500 to £18,000.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The IT industry is a rapidly expanding global marketplace. There are currently over 1.2 million staff working in IT and telecoms in the UK. Computer operators are employed across all industry sectors, from finance and retail to IT consultancies, public organisations and local government. Overall, 123,000 people are employed in operations, and job opportunities exist with large and small businesses.

In order to improve costs and efficiency there has recently been a move towards IT companies providing remote managed services, overseeing the maintenance of computer systems on an organisation's behalf.

Vacancies are advertised on company and recruitment websites, in trade publications such as Computer Weekly and Computing, and in the local and national press.

Education and Training

There are no formal entry qualifications. Employers look for basic numeracy skills and good communications skills. Some may expect a minimum of four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), including English and maths. Experience in a customer service role may be an advantage.

There are a range of qualifications, which provide a good grounding in IT. These include:

BTEC National Diploma in Computer Studies or IT. Applicants typically need four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) or equivalent qualifications and courses normally last two years, full time.

SQA National Certificate in IT. Applicants normally require four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) and courses normally last two years, full time.

BTEC/SQA higher national diploma. Colleges normally ask for one A level/two H grades and four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or a BTEC/SQA national certificate/diploma in a relevant subject. Courses can be full time or part time and some colleges offer sandwich courses, with one year's work experience.

There is also an Apprenticeship in IT.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

As the IT industry continues to develop it is vital for computer operators to keep up to date with new technologies. Professional qualifications can be obtained from various professional bodies, including the British Computer Society (BCS). A number of private sector companies also offer training courses and computing qualifications.

The Help Desk Institute (HDI) offers a variety of qualifications for help desk professionals. These are aimed at both those with little or no ICT experience and those with more than 12 months' work experience in the industry.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A computer operator should:

  • Have good all-round computer skills.
  • Have good interpersonal and communication skills.
  • Be able to work on their own or in a team.
  • Be thorough and precise in their work.
  • Be able to multi-task and prioritise tasks.
  • Be able to use their initiative.
  • Be prepared to work unsociable hours.
  • Be prepared to follow the same processes and procedures for starting up and shutting down systems every day.

Your Long Term Prospects

A computer operator can progress to become senior operator, shift leader and then department manager. They may choose to stay in an operations hands-on role and develop their skills, move into people or team management, or look for an opportunity in technical support. Career structures vary from one organisation to another.

Computer operators can also become self-employed and work as contractors.

Get Further Information

The British Computer Society (BCS),
1st Floor, Block D, North Star House, North Star Avenue, Swindon SN2 1FA
Tel: 01793 417417
Website: www.bcs.org

e-skills UK,
1 Castle Lane, London SW1E 6DR
Tel: 020 7963 8920
Website: www.e-skills.com

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