According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are 70,300 chemical technicians currently employed. Approximately 18 percent work in testing laboratories, and 8 percent work in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing.
Almost all chemical laboratories employ chemical technicians to assist their chemists or chemical engineers with research as well as routine laboratory work. Therefore, chemical technicians can find employment wherever chemistry is involved: in industrial laboratories, in government agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, and at colleges and universities. They can work in almost any field of chemical activity, such as industrial manufacturing of all kinds, pharmaceuticals, food, and production of chemicals.
Graduates of chemical technology programs often find jobs during the last term of their two-year programs. Some companies work with local community colleges and technical schools to maintain a supply of trained chemical technicians. Recruiters often visit most colleges where chemical technology programs are offered.
Internships and co-op work are highly regarded by employers, and participation in such programs is a good way to enhance your resume. Many two- and four-year schools have co-op programs in which full-time students work for a local company in exchange for college credit. Students in these programs develop a good knowledge of the employment possibilities and frequently stay with their co-op employers.
More and more companies are using contract workers to perform technicians' jobs, and this is another way to enter the field. There are local agencies that place technicians with companies for special projects or temporary assignments that last anywhere from a month to a year or more. Many of these contract workers are later hired on a full-time basis.
Competent chemical technicians can expect to have long-term career paths. Top research and development positions are open to technically trained people, whether they start out with an associate's degree in chemical technology, a bachelor's degree in chemistry, or just a lot of valuable experience with no degree. There are also opportunities for advancement in the areas of technology development and technology management, providing comparable pay for these separate but equal paths. Some companies have the same career path for all technicians, regardless of education level. Other companies have different career ladders for technicians and chemists but will promote qualified technicians to chemists and move them up that path.
Some companies may require additional formal schooling for promotion, and the associate's degree can be a stepping-stone toward a bachelor's degree in chemistry. Many companies encourage their technicians to continue their education, and most reimburse tuition costs. Those who pursue additional education can become chemists or chemical engineers. Continuing education in the form of seminars, workshops, and in-company presentations is also important for advancement. Chemical technicians who want to advance must keep up with current developments in the field by reading trade and technical journals and publications.
Tips for Entry
The American Chemical Society’s Web site (https://www.acs.org) is an excellent resource for job seekers. It provides job listings, tips on interviewing and resumes, and information on internships and its mentorship program for members.
Read industry publications to learn more about the field. The American Chemical Society (ACS) offers a comprehensive list of its publications at http://pubs.acs.org.
A strong background in math and science is helpful in this field; take classes in these areas.
Read the ACS Resource Guide for Applied Chemical Professionals (http://www.acs.org/content/dam/acsorg/careers/whatchemistsdo/chemtech/brochure-on-technician-resources-in-acs.pdf)