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Science Technicians - What They Do


How to Advance (Advancement)
Technicians usually begin work as trainees in routine positions under the direct supervision of a scientist or a more experienced technician. As they gain experience, technicians take on more responsibility and carry out assignments under only general supervision, and some eventually become supervisors. Technicians who have a bachelor’s degree often are able to advance to scientist positions in their field after a few years of experience working as a technician or after earning a graduate degree.

Employment
Science technicians held about 270,800 jobs in 2008. About 30 percent of biological technicians worked in professional, scientific, or technical services firms; most other biological technicians worked in educational services, government, or pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing. Chemical technicians primarily worked in chemical manufacturing and professional, scientific, or technical services firms. Most environmental science and protection technicians worked for professional, scientific, and technical services firms and for State and local governments. About 75 percent of forest and conservation technicians held jobs in the Federal Government, mostly in the Forest Service. Around 34 percent of agricultural and food science technicians worked in educational institutions and 25 percent worked for food manufacturing companies. Forensic science technicians worked primarily for State and local governments. Approximately 56 percent of all geological and petroleum technicians worked in the mining and oil and gas industries, while 51 percent of nuclear technicians worked for utilities.

Job Outlook
Employment of science technicians is projected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations, although employment change will vary by specialty. Job opportunities are expected to be best for graduates of applied science technology programs who are well trained on equipment used in laboratories or production facilities.

Job Growth
Overall employment of science technicians is expected to grow by 12 percent during the 2008–18 decade, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The continued growth of scientific and medical research—particularly research related to biotechnology—will be the primary driver of employment growth, but the development and production of technical products should also stimulate demand for science technicians in many industries.

Employment of biological technicians should increase by 18 percent, faster than average, as the growing number of agricultural and medicinal products developed from the results of biotechnology research boosts demand for these workers. Also, an aging population and continued competition among pharmaceutical companies are expected to contribute to the need for innovative and improved drugs, further spurring demand. Most growth in employment will be in professional, scientific, and technical services and in educational services.

Job growth for chemical technicians is projected to decline by 1 percent, signifying little or no change. The chemical manufacturing industry, except pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing, is anticipated to experience a decline in overall employment as companies downsize and turn to outside contractors and overseas production. However, there will still be a need for chemical technicians, particularly in pharmaceutical research.

Employment of environmental science and protection technicians is expected to grow much faster than average, at a rate of 29 percent; these workers will be needed to help regulate waste products; to collect air, water, and soil samples for measuring levels of pollutants; to monitor compliance with environmental regulations; and to clean up contaminated sites. Most of this growth is expected to be in firms that assist other companies in environmental monitoring, management, and regulatory compliance.

Employment of forest and conservation technicians is expected to grow by 9 percent, about as fast as average. Opportunities at State and local governments within specialties such as urban forestry may provide some new jobs. In addition, an increased emphasis on specific conservation issues, such as environmental protection, preservation of water resources, and control of exotic and invasive pests, will spur demand.

Employment of agricultural and food science technicians is projected to grow by 9 percent, about as fast as average. Research in biotechnology and other areas of agricultural science will increase as it becomes more important to balance greater agricultural output with protection and preservation of soil, water, and the ecosystem. In addition, there will be increased research into the use of agricultural products as energy sources, also known as biofuels.

Jobs for forensic science technicians are expected to increase by 20 percent, which is much faster than average. Employment growth in State and local government should be driven by the increasing application of forensic science techniques, such as DNA analysis, to examine, solve, and prevent crime.

Employment growth of about 2 percent, representing little or no change, is expected for geological and petroleum technicians as oil companies continue to search for new resource deposits to meet world demand for petroleum products and natural gas. The outlook for these workers is strongly tied to the price of oil; historically, when prices are low, companies limit exploration and curtail hiring of technicians, but when prices are high, they expand exploration activities. In the long run, continued high oil prices will maintain demand for these workers.

Nuclear technicians should grow by 9 percent, about as fast as average, as more are needed to monitor the Nation's aging fleet of nuclear reactors and research future advances in nuclear power. Although no new nuclear power plants have been built for decades in the United States, energy demand has recently renewed interest in this form of electricity generation and may lead to future construction. Technicians also will be needed to work in defense-related areas, to develop nuclear medical technology, and to improve and enforce waste management and safety standards.

In addition to job openings created by growth, many openings should arise from the need to replace technicians who retire or leave the labor force for other reasons. Job opportunities are expected to be best for graduates of applied science technology programs who are well trained on equipment used in laboratories or production facilities. As the instrumentation and techniques used in industrial research, development, and production become increasingly more complex, employers will seek individuals with highly developed technical skills.

Earnings
Median hourly wages of science technicians in May 2008 were as follows:

Nuclear technicians $32.64
Geological and petroleum technicians $25.65
Forensic science technicians $23.97
Chemical technicians $20.25
Environmental science and protection technicians, including health $19.34
Biological technicians $18.46
Agricultural and food science technicians $16.34
Forest and conservation technicians $15.39

In March 2009, the average annual salary in the Federal Government was $39,538 for biological science technicians, $55,527 for physical science technicians, and $42,733 for forestry technicians.


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