Careers and Jobs in Chemistry: Laboratory Testing Technicians

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FAST FACTS

  • School Subjects: Chemistry, Physics
  • Personal Skills: Following instructions, Technical/scientific
  • Work Environment: Primarily indoors; Primarily one location
  • Minimum Education Level: High school diploma
  • Salary Range: $21,830 to $32,840 to $50,250+
  • Certification or Licensing: Voluntary (certification) Required by certain states (licensing)
  • Outlook: About as fast as the average
  • DOT: 019, 022, 078
  • GOE: 02.05.01, 02.05.02
  • NOC: 2211
  • O*NET-SOC: 19-4021.00, 19-4031.00, 19-4041.00, 29-2012.00

OVERVIEW

Laboratory testing technicians con duct tests on countless substances and products. Their laboratory duties include measuring and evaluating materials and running quality control tests. They work in a variety of unrelated fields, such as medicine, metallurgy, manufacturing, geology, and meteorology. Therefore, students interested in a career as a laboratory testing technician should look for job titles such as metallurgical, medical, or pharmaceutical technicians.

HISTORY

The occupation of laboratory testing technicians goes back almost to prehistoric times when humans first learned to convert earth-derived materials into tools, weapons, and medicines. Similarly, the early alchemists who experimented with various combinations of elements set the stage for the careers of the modern day laboratory testing technician.

The career of laboratory testing technician really began with the onset of the industrial revolution. As production increased and technology became a large part of the new manufacturing processes, more and more laboratory technicians were hired to test products to make sure they met performance standards. They were often required to help design new products.

THE JOB

Laboratory testing technicians usually assist scientists in conducting tests on many substances and products. They are trained to use the required tools and instruments. Those who serve as quality control technicians test products to see that they are safe to use and meet performance specifications. Most of these technicians either work for testing laboratories or in research and development centers. They may test toys for safety by looking for small, separable parts, sharp edges, and fragility. Or they may test electric toasters for correct wiring, tendency to smoke or spark, and for proper grounding. In short, laboratory testing technicians in quality control are responsible for certifying that a product or material will perform according to specifications.

Not only do technicians test new products for safety and durability but they also perform failure analyses to determine the cause of the problem and how it can be prevented. Technicians also evaluate incoming materials, such as metals, ceramics, and chemicals, before they are used to verify that their suppliers have shipped the specified products. Materials technicians prepare specimens, set up equipment, run heating and cooling tests, and record test results. These tests are designed to determine how a certain alloy functions in a variety of test conditions. Not only do these technicians work with the test materials, they also assess the equipment used to perform the tests. For example, a technician may run tests to determine the proper temperature set tings for a furnace. Some technicians may oversee the work of others to see if they are doing their assignments correctly.

Those who work in the medical field are called medical technicians, medical laboratory technicians, or clinical technicians. They work in hospitals, universities, doctors’ offices, and research laboratories. They set up equipment and perform tests on body fluids, tissues, and cells; perform blood counts; and identify parasites and bacteria. Medical technicians also work in veterinary and pharmaceutical laboratories.

Some geological technicians test shale, sand, and other earthen materials to find the petroleum and/or mineral content. Tests are run on core samples during oil well drilling to determine what’s present in the well bore. Technicians who specialize in testing ores and minerals for metal content are called assayers.

Regardless of the specific nature of the tests conducted by technicians, they must always keep detailed records of every step. Laboratory technicians often do a great deal of writing and must make charts, graphs, and other displays to illustrate results. They may be called on to interpret test results, to draw overall conclusions, and to make recommendations. Occasionally, laboratory testing technicians are asked to appear as witnesses in court to explain why a product failed and who may be at fault.

REQUIREMENTS

High School

If working as a laboratory testing technician sounds interesting to you, you can prepare for this work by taking at least two years of mathematics and a year each of chemistry and physics in high school. You should also consider taking shop classes to become accustomed to working with tools and to develop manual dexterity. Classes in English and writing will provide you with good experience doing research and writing reports. Take computer classes so that you become familiar with using this tool. If you know of a specific area that you want to specialize in, such as geology or medicine, you will benefit by taking relevant courses, such as earth science or biology.

Postsecondary Training

A high school diploma is the minimum requirement for finding work as a laboratory testing technician. However, a two-year associate’s degree in engineering or medical technology or metallurgy—depending on the field you want to specialize in—is highly recommended. Many community colleges or technical schools offer two-year degree programs in a specific technology. Completing the associate’s degree will greatly enhance your resume, help you in finding full-time positions, and allow you to advance rapidly in your field. Some technicians, such as medical technicians, may also receive appropriate training through the armed forces or through hospital certification programs.

Certification or Licensing

Depending on what type of laboratory technician you want to be, you may need certification or licensing. For example, certification for those who work as medical technicians is voluntary. However, it is highly recommended and some employers may even require it. Organizations offering certification include the American Medical Technologists, the American Association of Bioanalysts, and the Board of Registry of the American Society for Clinical Pathology, and the National Credentialing Agency for Laboratory Personnel. In addition, a number of states require that laboratory workers be licensed. Check with your state’s occupational licensing board to find out specific requirements for your area. In addition, make sure any program or community college you are considering attending will provide the courses and experience you need for licensing.


A laboratory technician tests samples for evidence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, more commonly known as Mad Cow Disease.

Other Requirements

Laboratory technicians should be detail oriented and enjoy figuring out how things work. They should like problem solving and trouble shooting. For example, if you enjoy disassembling and reassembling your bicycle or tinkering with your car stereo, you will probably enjoy being a laboratory testing technician. Laboratory technicians must have the patience to repeat a test many times, perhaps even on the same material. They must be able to follow directions carefully but also should be independent and motivated to work on their own until their assigned tasks are completed.

EXPLORING

Due to the precision and training required in the field, it is unlikely that as a high school student you will be able to find a part-time or summer job as a laboratory testing technician. However, you can explore the career by contacting local technical colleges and arranging to speak with a professor in the school’s technician program. Ask about the required classes, the opportunities avail able in your area, and any other questions you have. Through this connection you may also be able to contact a graduate of the program and arrange for an informational interview with him or her. Although you probably won’t be able to get work as a laboratory testing technician at this point, some research companies and plants do offer summer jobs to high school students to work in their offices or mail rooms. While these jobs do not offer hands- on technical experience, they do allow you to experience the work environment.

EMPLOYERS

Laboratory technicians are employed in almost every type of manufacturing industry that employs chemists or chemical engineers. They are needed wherever testing is carried on, whether it is for developing new products or improving current manufacturing procedures or for quality control purposes. They are employed by such companies as Baxter, Heinz, Shell, and Eastman Kodak. They also can find positions in research institutions and in government laboratories, such as those run by the federal Departments of Health, Agriculture, and Commerce. They may assist biochemists, metallurgists, meteorologists, geologists, or other scientific personnel in large and small laboratories located all over the country.

STARTING OUT

Technical schools often help place graduating technicians. Many laboratories contact these schools directly looking for student employees or interns. Students can also contact local manufacturing companies and laboratories to find out about job openings in their area. Technicians often begin as trainees who are supervised by more experienced workers. As they gain experience, technicians take on more responsibilities and are allowed to work more independently.

ADVANCEMENT

Skilled laboratory technicians may be promoted to manager or super visor of a division in their company. For example, a quality-control technician who has become an expert in testing computer monitors may be put in charge of others who perform this task. This supervisor may assign project duties and organize how and when results will be recorded and analyzed, and may also help other technicians solve problems they encounter when running tests. Experienced technicians may form their own testing laboratories or return to school to become engineers, physicists, or geologists.

EARNINGS

Earnings for laboratory testing technicians vary based on the type of work they do, their education and experience, and even the size of the laboratory and its location. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that in 2006 the median annual earnings of medical and clinical laboratory technicians were $32,840. Salaries ranged from less than $21,830 to $50,250 or more annually. Geological and petroleum technicians had median earnings of $46,160 in 2006.

Salaries increase as technicians gain experience and as they take on supervisory responsibility. Most companies that employ laboratory testing technicians offer medical benefits, sick leave, and vacation time. However, these benefits will depend on the individual employer.

WORK ENVIRONMENT

Laboratory testing technicians typically work a 40-hour week. During especially busy times or in special circumstances, they may be required to work overtime. Most technicians work in clean, well lighted laboratories where attention is paid to neatness and organization. Some laboratory testing technicians have their own offices, while others work in large single-room laboratories.

Some technicians may be required to go outside their laboratories to collect samples of materials for testing at locations that can be hot, cold, wet, muddy, or uncomfortable.

OUTLOOK

Overall, employment for laboratory workers is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2014. Environmental concerns and dwindling natural resources are causing many manufacturers to look for better ways to develop ores, minerals, and other substances from the earth. Laboratory technicians will be needed to test new production procedures as well as proto types of new products.

Some specialties may face growth that is slightly slower than the average; for example, those who work with Stone, clay, glass, fabricated metal products, and transportation equipment may experience this slow growth.

Faster-than-average employment growth is expected for medical and clinical technicians. Employment possibilities at testing laboratories will be affected by advances in technology. New testing procedures that are developed will lead to an increase in the testing that is done. However, increased automation will mean each technician can complete more work.

Technicians in any specialty who have strong educational back grounds, keep up with developing technologies, and demonstrate knowledge of testing equipment will have the best employment opportunities.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

This organization has information on certification for medical laboratory technicians.

American Association of Bio-analysts

906 Olive Street, Suite 1200

St. Louis, MO 63101-1434

Tel: 314-241-1445

Email: aab@aab.org

http://www.aab.org

The ACS provides career information and has information on new developments in the field.

American Chemical Society (ACS)

1155 16th Street, NW

Washington, DC 20036-4801

Tel: 800-227-5558

http://www.chemistry.org

Contact this organization for certification information.

American Medical Technologists

10700 West Higgins Road

Rosemont, IL 60018-3707

Tel: 847-823-5169

Email: mail@amtl.com

http://www.amtl.com

For information on certification specialties, contact:

American Society for Clinical Pathology

33 West Monroe, Suite 1600

Chicago, IL 60603-5308

Tel: 312-541-4999

Email: info@ascp.org

http://www.ascp.org

For information on certification, contact:

National Credentialing Agency for Laboratory Personnel

PO Box 15945-289

Lenexa, KS 66285

Tel: 913-895-4613

Email: nca-info@goamp.com

http://www.nca-info.org

This society offers student membership and provides industry news.

The Minerals, Metals, and Materials Society

184 Thorn Hill Road

Warrendale, PA 15086-7514

Tel: 800-759-4867

Email: tmsgeneral@tms.org

http://www.tms.org

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