Education and Training: High school plus two years of training
Salary: Median—$18.35 per hour
Employment Outlook: Fair
Definition and Nature of the Work
Chemical technicians assist chemists and chemical engineers who develop, produce, and use chemical products, equipment, and related items. Most chemical technicians work for private companies, especially those that make chemicals, drugs, rubber, and steel. Chemical technicians also work for government agencies, universities, and hospitals. Because the chemical industry is so broad, technicians often specialize in one particular area, such as food processing or the production of drugs.
Most chemical technicians work in research and development. They work in experimental laboratories and are usually supervised by chemists. Many research and development chemical technicians conduct a variety of routine to complex laboratory procedures. For example, they may collect and analyze samples of air and water to monitor pollutants in them. They may also produce compounds using complex chemical processes.
Other chemical technicians are process control technicians. These chemical technicians work in manufacturing or other industrial plants, developing new products or new methods. They also look for ways to improve existing products or methods. Chemical technicians assist chemists by setting up and performing tests on these products and methods. Then they record the results. They measure batches according to formulas and set machine controls for temperature and flow. Depending on their employer, technicians may test products ranging from oil additives to breakfast cereals. They may do tests to find out what elements are present in a sample of steel, for instance. Or they may test how well a new kind of soap cleans in samples of water that range from very soft to very hard.
Chemical technicians help engineers make final product designs, install equipment, and train workers on the production line. Sometimes technicians act as supervisors on a production line. Or they may work in quality control, where they test raw materials, methods, and finished products to make sure that they meet the standards set for them. Other chemical technicians work in technical sales or as customer service representatives. Some are technical writers.
Chemical technicians use a wide variety of equipment in their work. Sometimes they use the traditional laboratory equipment, such as test tubes, beakers, and Bunsen burners. In production they may deal with pipelines, tanks, valves, and pumps that handle large amounts of materials. They also use computers and other complex electronic equipment. They are often responsible for keeping this equipment in good working condition.
Education and Training Requirements
Some companies give on-the-job training courses to high school graduates who have a good background in science and mathematics. Upon completion of these courses, employees may receive an associate of arts degree. They begin as trainees or assistants and advance to technician's jobs as they gain experience. Other companies prefer to hire chemical technicians who have attended a college or technical institute for two or more years. Courses in mathematics, chemistry, computer skills, and chemical engineering are useful. Some schools have two-year programs in chemical technology or process technology. Other schools offer related programs such as science technology, laboratory technology, or chemical engineering technology. Many companies pay part or all of the tuition for courses that technicians take to improve their job skills.
Getting the Job
If you attend a college or technical institute offering courses in chemistry, your instructors and school placement office may be good sources for job leads. The state employment service or union office may be able to help you find a job with a company that will apprentice you to be a technician. Local chapters of the American Chemical Society may also keep job listings. You can apply directly to places that hire chemical technicians. These companies often list job openings in newspaper classifieds or job banks on the Internet.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Technicians who show that they can accept responsibility and work without supervision are often given promotions. They can become supervisors of other workers. Technicians who take additional courses increase their chances for advancement. Some get bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degrees and become chemists or chemical engineers.
Job growth for chemical technicians is projected to be slower than average through 2014 as overall employment in the chemical industry is expected to slow. Job opportunities for chemical technicians will be best in the pharmaceutical industry.
Most chemical technicians work in clean, well-lighted, and well-ventilated laboratories. Workers are protected from dangerous fumes and chemicals. Sometimes they must spend hours on their feet or seated in front of a laboratory bench. Many laboratories are operational seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. The beginning technician is usually assigned shift work. Experienced technicians work day shifts but may come in at odd hours to complete an experiment, inspect equipment, or solve a production problem. Sometimes they may be assigned night or weekend shifts, especially if they are working on a production line. Some technicians belong to unions.
Chemical technicians usually work in small teams with other technicians, chemists, or engineers. They must be able to work well with these people as well as with the production workers that they may be supervising. They must be able to follow directions exactly and need to pay close attention to safety. Their work requires a great deal of patience.
Where to Go for More Information
American Chemical Society
1155 Sixteenth St. NW
Washington, DC 20036
American Chemistry Council
1300 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22209-2307
Earnings and Benefits
Earnings vary depending on education, experience, location, and kind of job. Chemical technicians earn salaries that are about equal to those earned by other kinds of science and engineering technicians. In 2004 chemical technicians earned a median hourly income of $18.35. Benefits generally include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans.