A switchboard operator is a telecommunications professional who manages a telephone switchboard. Historically, working on a switchboard required a great deal of mechanical knowledge, as operators had to manually process calls. Today, many switchboards are highly computerized, with the operator focusing on answering calls and routing them to the correct destination rather than having to deal with the physical wiring.
Switchboards are used to handle phone calls in a variety of environments. Most emergency response phone numbers route to a switchboard, where an operator will determine where the call should be sent. They are also used in large companies, hotels, and other settings where a large number of incoming phone calls need to be processed, and in situations where companies want to make it difficult for members of the public to contact people in the company directly. Movie producers, for example, like their calls routed through a switchboard so that they can decide whom they want to talk to and when.
In addition to handling external phone calls, a switchboard operator also deals with internal communications. When an analyst on the 40th floor picks up the phone to dial a banker on the 50th floor, the call may be routed through a company switchboard, and the analyst may interact with an operator along the way. Paging systems may also be handled this way, as in the case of a hospital that takes calls from the outside, manages internal communications, and uses overhead paging to alert personnel to important issues.
In some cases, an operator is solely responsible for the phones. He or she may work in an isolated setting in the depths of a building, with the location of the working environment being determined by the building's wiring. Others double as receptionists and greeters, meeting people when they enter a building and pointing them in the right direction in addition to handling phone calls.
Training for switchboard operators is often handled on the job, although students can take programs at technical schools to learn how to operate a switchboard. A good sense of hearing is required for work in this field, as are good communications skills, including crisp enunciation and verbal precision. Most people who operate a switchboard also need to be able to operate computers with confidence and to adjust to a variety of computer programs so that they can be flexible in their work.