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Chemical Production Operator

Kaiwhakamahi Whakaputa Matū

Alternative titles for this job

Chemical production operators perform a variety of tasks involved in producing toiletries or pharmaceutical products, including ointments, creams, aerosols, tablets, capsules, bandages and vaccines.


Chemical production operators usually earn

$23-$28 per hour

Source: Competenz and NZ Pharmaceuticals, 2018.

Job opportunities

Chances of getting work as a chemical production operator are poor because the industry is small and turnover is low.


Pay for chemical production operators varies depending on experience and employer.

  • Trainee and apprentice chemical production operators usually earn minimum wage.
  • Chemical production operators with up to four years' experience usually earn up to $25 an hour.
  • Experienced chemical production operators with five or more years' experience, or who work as team leaders, can earn up to $28 an hour.

Source: Competenz, 2018; and New Zealand Pharmaceuticals, 2018. 

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)

What you will do

Chemical production operators may do some or all of the following:

  • weigh, measure and mix ingredients for ointments, creams, tablets and liquid medication
  • control the temperature and operation of machines
  • apply coatings to some products for flavour, colour or protection
  • operate and sterilise machines
  • keep records, complete batch documentation and do paperwork.

Skills and knowledge

Chemical production operators need to have knowledge of:

  • the product they are producing
  • quality control and the code of good manufacturing practice
  • how to operate specialist machines
  • safety procedures and hygiene regulations.

Working conditions

Chemical production operators:

  • usually work regular business hours
  • work in factories
  • often work with hazardous products and must wear safety clothing.

What's the job really like?

Craig Evans

Craig Evans

Chemical Production Operator

How did you become a chemical production operator?

"I had a bit of a strange pathway into working at the chemical plant. I started as an apprentice in the canteen at the plant in 1991, and ended up becoming a chef. I worked there for about eight or nine years.

"But when the canteen moved to being operated by a contractor I decided to stay with the company, Oji, instead of with the contractor. I started in the paper plant and then after a short while moved into the chemical plant. I think I've been there 20 years now!"

What do you enjoy most about the job?

"It's never a dull moment in the chemical plant – things are evolving all the time. The technologies are constantly changing and it can be challenging keeping up with them."

What advice would you give someone interested in becoming a chemical production operator?

"You need to be able to work hard, and think a little bit outside the box.

"You’ve also got to be willing to never stop learning. I’ve been here 20 years and there's not a day when I don't learn something."

Entry requirements

There are no specific requirements to become a chemical production operator as most skills are learned on the job. However, because you may work with controlled substances, you must not have any criminal convictions.

Chemical production operators can work towards a New Zealand Certificate in Manufacturing (Level 2) on the job.

Secondary education

There are no specific secondary education requirements to become a chemical production operator. However, maths, chemistry, processing technologies and English are useful.

Personal requirements

Chemical production operators need to be:

  • accurate, with an eye for detail
  • careful and safety-conscious
  • practical and reliable
  • able to work well in a team and unsupervised
  • able to follow instructions
  • good at basic maths and science.

Useful experience

Useful experience for chemical production operators includes factory or laboratory work.

Find out more about training

0800 526 1800 - -

What are the chances of getting a job?

Limited opportunities for chemical production operators

Chances of getting work as a chemical production operator are poor due to:

  • the small size of the pharmaceutical industry
  • stable demand from employers
  • people usually staying in the role for a long time – about 10 to 15 vacancies come up each year.

Your chances are best in Auckland and Christchurch, as most of the factories where chemical production operators work are based in these cities. New Zealand Pharmaceuticals in Palmerston North is also a major employer of chemical production operators.  

According to the Census, 588 chemical production operators worked in New Zealand in 2018.

About 100 employers of chemical production operators in New Zealand

Chemical production operators work for pharmaceutical manufacturers, and there are about 100 of these in New Zealand. They manufacture pharmaceutical products for national and international markets.

Products manufactured in New Zealand include:

  • cosmetics and health-related products (nutraceuticals)
  • veterinary products
  • biotechnical products (products for the health sector, which can be for human and animal consumption).


  • Bank of New Zealand, BusinessNZ, 'BNZ – BusinessNZ Performance of Manufacturing Index', July 2018, (
  • New Zealand Pharmaceuticals, interview, July 2018.
  • Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.
  • Vandy, M, sector manager, Competenz, interview, July 2018.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

Progression and specialisations

Chemical production operators may progress into supervisory or team leader roles. With experience they can move into managerial roles such as production manager.

They may also specialise in working with a particular product, such as prescription medicine, or a stage of the production process such as controlling the operation of a particular machine.

Chemical production operator oversees a production line in a factory

Chemical production operators control the temperature and operation of machines

Last updated 27 November 2023