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Refinery and Upgrader Process Operator

Refinery and upgrader process operators are responsible for the day-to-day operations of oil refineries and upgraders.

Also Known As

Bitumen Extraction Plant Operator, Bitumen Upgrading Plant Operator, Oil Refinery Process Operator, Upgrader Process Operator

NOC Codes

In Canada, the federal government groups and organizes occupations based on a National Occupational Classification (NOC) system. This alis occupation may not reflect the entire NOC group it is part of. Data for the NOC group can apply across multiple occupations.

The NOC system is updated every 5 years to reflect changes in the labour market. Government forms and labour market data may group and refer to an occupation differently, depending on the system used. Here is how this occupation has been classified over time:

  • 2006 NOC: Petroleum, Gas and Chemical Process Operators (9232) 
  • 2006 NOC-S: Petroleum, Gas and Chemical Process Operators (J112) 
  • 2011 NOC: Petroleum, gas and chemical process operators (9232) 
  • 2016 NOC: Central control and process operators, petroleum, gas and chemical processing (9232) 
  • 2021 NOC: Central control and process operators, petroleum, gas and chemical processing (93101) 
Interests & Abilities

In Alberta, this occupation is part of 1 or more 2006 National Occupational Classification (NOC) groups. If there are multiple related NOC groups, select a NOC heading to learn about each one.

Petroleum, Gas and Chemical Process Operators

2006 NOC: 9232

Interest Codes

Interest Codes for This NOC Group

Interest in controlling process start-up, shut-down and troubleshooting; and in operating electronic or computerized control panels from a central control room; and in shutting down, isolating and preparing process units or production equipment for maintenance


Interest in analyzing information to develop operator procedures for normal operations, start-up and shut-down of units; and in participating in safety audits and programs, and in providing emergency response when required


Interest in speaking with team members and trainees to authorize or co-sign maintenance work orders; in ensuring adherence to safety and environmental regulations; may work in a team with shared supervisory responsibilities and participate in training other workers

Your Interest Codes

To identify or change your interest codes, complete the Interests Exercise in CAREERinsite.

Reading Interest Codes
A Quick Guide

The interest code helps you figure out if you’d like to work in a particular occupation. 

It’s based on the Canadian Work Preference Inventory (CWPI), which measures 5 occupational interests: Directive, Innovative, Methodical, Objective, and Social.

Each set of 3 interest codes for this NOC group is listed in order of importance.

A code in capital letters means it’s a strong fit for the occupation.

A code in all lowercase letters means the fit is weaker.

Learn About Interests


Typical ability expectations for this NOC group
Your abilities

To fill in or change the values for your abilities, complete the Abilities Exercise in CAREERinsite.

Mental Abilities

General Learning Ability

Verbal Ability

Numerical Ability

Visual Abilities

Spatial Perception

Form Perception

Clerical Perception

Physical Abilities

Motor Coordination

Finger Dexterity

Manual Dexterity

Understanding Abilities

A Quick Guide

You are born with abilities that help you process certain types of information and turn it into action. These abilities influence which skills you can learn more easily.

The abilities or aptitudes shown for this NOC group come from the General Aptitude Test Battery (GATB). The GATB measures 9 aptitudes. It groups them into 3 categories: mental, visual, and physical.

The abilities scores range from 1 to 5, with 5 being stronger.

Learn About Abilities

Updated Mar 31, 2019

Oil or oil sands (bitumen) that comes directly out of the ground must go through several processes before it can be used to meet energy and raw material manufacturing needs. In the field, raw oil (or oilsand) is treated to prepare it for movement down major pipelines. At upgraders, it is treated through distillation, coking, fractionation, hydrotreating, amine sweetening, or sulphur recovery processes. It must be treated to the point that it can be used by a refinery.

At refineries, it goes through several more distillation processes. Processes, such as cracking, blending, and reforming, separate the refined oil into usable products. These include gasoline, kerosene, diesel fuel, light and heavy fuel oils, jet fuel, greases, lubricating oil, waxes, and asphalt.

Refinery and upgrader process operators’ job titles and duties vary from one refinery or upgrader to another. There are often different categories of process operators. Different refineries and upgraders have various combinations of categories.

Operators may be known by the process they are involved in, such as treater, blender, bitumen extractor, or upgrader operator. Or they may be known by the unit they work in, such as catalytic cracking unit operator or pumping unit operator. Their duties depend on the unit they work in, the area of the unit, the refinery’s level of automation, and the company they work for.

In general, refinery / upgrader process operators:

  • Conduct ongoing routine checks of equipment and processes
  • Prepare equipment and ensure it is safe for maintenance work
  • Respond to problems and emergency situations as they arise
  • Record readings manually or on a computer
  • Make adjustments on equipment and note possible problems
  • Take samples of oil, gas, or water
  • Conduct basic chemical tests
  • Ensure safe operations
  • Perform general housekeeping duties, such as wiping up oil spills and sweeping floors

Some refinery / upgrader process operators are control room operators. When working in the control room, operators:

  • Monitor process indicators
  • Ensure safety and environmental regulations are followed
  • Monitor alarms that provide information about the operation of each unit in their section
  • Make necessary changes and adjustments, such as adjusting flows, temperatures, pressures, or levels to ensure safe and efficient plant operation

Control room operators work with special types of technical equipment. In highly automated refineries and upgraders, they use distributed control systems.

Working Conditions
Updated Mar 31, 2019
  • Strength Required Lift up to 20 kg

Refineries and upgraders operate 24 hours a day, year-round. Refinery and upgrader operators most often work 8- or 12-hour shifts. Process operators spend about half of their time working in the control room. They spend the other half outdoors.

Operators conduct routine checks at all hours regardless of weather conditions. They lift heavy items. Where refinery or upgrader units are spread over a wide area, operators do a lot of walking.

Traits & Skills
Updated Mar 31, 2019

Refinery / upgrader process operators need:

  • Mental alertness and quick thinking
  • Agility and physical strength to lift 25 kilograms to shoulder height
  • Comfort with heights and small confined spaces (with and without self-contained breathing apparatus)
  • Problem-solving and communication skills
  • The ability to work with others in a team environment

They should enjoy controlling equipment, instruments, and machinery. They should like analyzing information to solve problems. They should be at ease working with others in a team.

Educational Requirements
Updated Mar 31, 2019
  • Minimum Education 1 year post-secondary

The minimum education requirement for refinery / upgrader process operators is a high school diploma, plus training in power engineering or process operations. Employers most often prefer applicants to have 3rd or 2nd Class power engineering certification. For some positions, employers prefer applicants with a 2-year diploma in chemical or power engineering technology. Course work or practical experience with machines or electrical equipment is an asset.

Prospective employers may require employees to obtain certificates in:

  • Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS)
  • Petroleum safety training
  • Hydrogen sulfide awareness
  • Transportation of dangerous goods
  • Confined space entry
  • First aid

Before enrolling in an education program, prospective operators should contact potential employers to discuss hiring practices and preferences.

Required Education

The following schools offer programs and courses that meet this occupation’s educational requirements. Other eligible programs and courses may be available.

Related Education

The following schools offer programs or courses that are related to this occupation but are not required to enter the field.

To expand or narrow your search for programs related to this occupation, visit Post-Secondary Programs.

Completing a program does not guarantee entrance into an occupation. Before enrolling in an education program, prospective students should look into various sources for education options and employment possibilities. For example, contact associations and employers in this field.

Certification Requirements
Updated Mar 31, 2019
  • Certification Not Regulated

There is currently no provincial legislation regulating this occupation in Alberta.

Employment & Advancement
Updated Mar 31, 2019

Newly hired refinery / upgrader process operators usually take in-house training courses. They learn on the job by working with other operators.

Experienced operators may advance to supervisory positions or move into related positions in:

  • Pulp mills
  • Water treatment plants
  • Petrochemical plants
  • Food and beverage plants
  • Hospitals
  • Fertilizer plants
  • Power generation facilities

Industry Concentration

This section shows the industries where the majority of people in this occupation work. The data is based on the 2016 Census.

In Alberta, this occupation is part of 1 or more 2016 National Occupational Classification (NOC) groups.

In the 9232: Central control and process operators, petroleum, gas and chemical processing occupational group, 77.9% of people work in:

Employment Outlook

Employment outlook is influenced by a wide variety of factors including:

  • Time of year (for seasonal jobs)
  • Location in Alberta
  • Employment turnover (when people leave existing positions)
  • Occupational growth (when new positions are created)
  • Size of the occupation
  • Trends and events that affect overall employment, especially in the industry or industries from the previous list

In Alberta, the 9232: Petroleum, gas and chemical process operators occupational group is expected to have a below-average annual growth of 1.3% from 2019 to 2023. In addition to job openings created by employment turnover, 78 new positions are forecasted to be created within this occupational group each year.

NOC groups often include several related occupations. Although there is labour market data for the larger NOC group, this occupation makes up only a part of that group. It means data for this occupation may be different than the data shown. For example, only some of the new positions to be created will be for this occupation. It also applies to other data for the NOC group such as number of people employed.

Source: 2019-2023 Alberta Regional Occupational Demand Outlook

Employment turnover is expected to increase as members of the baby boom generation retire over the next few years.

Related Alberta Job Postings
Wage & Salary
Updated Mar 31, 2019

In general, salaries for refinery / upgrader operators are at the lower end of the range shown below.

In Alberta, this occupation is part of 1 or more 2016 National Occupational Classification (NOC) groups. If there are multiple related NOC groups, select a NOC heading to learn about each one.

Central control and process operators, petroleum, gas and chemical processing

2016 NOC: 9232
Average Wage
Per Hour
Average Salary
Per Year
Average Hours
Per Week
Average Months on Payroll
Survey Methodology Survey Analysis

2021 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey

NOC 9232 Wage Profile

Unless otherwise noted, the data shown here is for all industries and all regions in Alberta.

All wage estimates are hourly except where otherwise indicated. Wages and salaries do not include overtime hours, tips, benefits, profit shares, bonuses (unrelated to production), and other forms of compensation.

To see the full survey data for this NOC group, visit the wage profile.

Other wage sources
To make an informed wage and salary decision, research other wage sources [pdf] to supplement this data.

C: Lower Reliability
Data Reliability Code Definition

Lower Reliability, represents a CV of between 15.01% and 33.00% and/or if fewer than 20 survey observations and/or if survey observations represent less than 33% of all estimated employment for the occupation.

Hourly Wage

For full-time and part-time employees
  • Low
  • High
  • Average
  • Median

Hourly Wage

For full-time and part-time employees
Wages* Low (5th percentile) High (95th percentile) Average Median
Starting $27.85 $62.02 $39.46 $37.00
Overall $35.13 $74.99 $50.78 $50.62
Top $44.85 $90.80 $59.57 $57.50

Swipe left and right to view all data. Scroll left and right to view all data.

* All wage estimates are hourly except where otherwise indicated. Wages and salaries do not include overtime hours, tips, benefits, profit shares, bonuses (unrelated to production) and other forms of compensation.

Pay brackets for hourly wages

  • Starting pay: average pay offered for entry-level positions
  • Overall pay: average pay across all employees in this occupation
  • Top pay: average pay offered to top-paid employees

Industry Information


Skills Shortage

Employers that Recruited in the Last 2 Years
Recruiting Employers that Experienced Hiring Difficulties
Employers with Unfilled Vacancies of over 4 Months
Vacancy Rate
Related Post-Secondary Field of Study
  • Trades, Industrial and Related Training
Other Sources of Information
Updated Mar 31, 2019

Careers in Oil and Gas (COG) website, Petroleum Labour Market Information (PetroLMI) Division of Energy Safety Canada:

Get information and referrals about career, education, and employment options from Alberta Supports.

Updated Mar 31, 2019. The information contained in this profile is current as of the dates shown. Salary, employment outlook, and educational program information may change without notice. It is advised that you confirm this information before making any career decisions.

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