Telephonist or Switchboard Operator

Telephone operators operate communication systems such as telephone, switchboard, intercom, two-way radio or public address systems, relaying incoming and inter-office calls to the correct parties. Calls are transferred and connections for outgoing calls are made.

They answer incoming calls, greeting callers, providing information, transferring calls or taking messages as necessary, and relay or deliver written or verbal messages.  They answer simple questions about the clients' businesses, using reference files, place telephone calls as instructed.  They may be required to page individuals to inform them of telephone calls, using paging or interoffice communication equipment.

Records of calls placed and charges incurred may be kept, and messages stamped with time and date to file them appropriately.

Other duties may include monitoring alarm systems to ensure that secure conditions are maintained, contacting security staff members when necessary, using radio-telephones of mobiles and routing emergency calls appropriately, for example, to police or fire departments.  They may be required to perform clerical duties, such as proofreading, accepting orders, completing forms for sales orders, scheduling appointments and sorting mail.

Information is supplied and charges determined for long-distance calls. Telephone operators may arrange conference calls for businesses. In smaller organizations, general clerical duties including typing and filing, may be part of the work.

Personal Requirements

  • at least 16 years old
  • enjoy working with the public
  • pleasant and courteous
  • enjoy routine work tasks
  • able to work well under pressure
  • good ability to concentrate
  • insight, a good memory, self-control and tact
  • clear and pleasant speaking voice
  • good hearing and manual dexterity
  • proficient in official languages

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Grade 10 Certificate.
Employers prefer a National Senior Certificate.

What to Study

Telephonists receive training under actual working conditions. The basic training period with full pay varies from 4 to 8 weeks or longer according to the candidate’s ability to learn. Telephonists usually need some experience on small switchboards before being employed by companies with large switchboards.

Telkom offers a finishing course for the telephonist who is already employed and has been operating a switchboard for at least 3 to 6 months. To be appointed as a telephonist, courses in speech, office practices and business methods will be helpfu


  • Telkom
  • government departments
  • municipalities
  • banks and building societies
  • all types of businesses and organisations
  • hospitals
  • hotels
  • educational institutions
  • large department stores

Getting Started

  • try to obtain vacation or part-time work as a telephonist on a small switchboard
  • arrange to speak to telephonists about this type of career and ask permission to observe them

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

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