While the majority of these technicians receive their training through on-the-job, entry-level positions, ongoing developments in instrumentation and control technology have created a need for post-secondary education. Many technical schools and community colleges now offer associate's degree or certificate programs for those wanting to pursue these positions, and some schools also offer bachelor's degree programs. Potential students should have an interest in learning about hydraulic systems, drafting, and process measurement and control theories. Relevant internship and certification programs are available to qualified candidates. Many programs are available online.
Applicants to a 2-year associate's degree program should have a high school diploma or GED. Since instrumentation technicians spend most of their time monitoring and adjusting complex systems, prospective students should have a background in mathematics and computers. Some programs require students to take algebra or pre-calculus, as well as introductory computer courses, before enrolling. Students may be able to take a placement exam to waive these requirements. Many 4- year bachelor's degree programs in instrumentation require prospective students to hold an A.A.S. in instrumentation or a related field before they are admitted. The prospective applicant is advised to check carefully with the program to ensure her or his associate's degree fulfills the school's prerequisite requirements.
Associate's Degree in Instrumentation
Associate's degree programs may have a particular focus, such as electrical systems, petroleum technology or controls. Most programs, regardless of specialty, emphasize physics and mathematics. In addition, some programs may also cover design theory and techniques. Field-relevant computer applications and programs are an essential part of this degree training. Most of these programs confer an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) in Instrumentation or Instrumentation Technology on their graduates.
Courses teach students topics that range from widely applicable basics in electronics to a more focused understanding of surface mining instrumentation. Some subjects include:
- Pneumatic and hydraulic systems
- Programmable logic control systems
- Measurement and flow calibration
- Field bus process controls
- Specific field drafting techniques
Bachelor's Degree in Instrumentation Technology or Instrumentation Engineering
Schools may confer a Bachelor of Applied Science (B.A.S.) or a Bachelor of Applied Technology (B.A.T.) in Instrumentation Technology or Instrumentation Engineering to their graduates. These bachelor's degree programs typically build upon the skills and knowledge acquired in associate's degree programs. Most include a larger number of upper-division courses than associate's degree programs do, and these upper-division courses provide students with an opportunity to gain a more detailed understanding of control processes and instrumentation practices. Some programs may also include some management training in their bachelor's degree curriculum. These programs may also be available through evening study, allowing students to take classes around their work schedules.
Bachelor's degree instrumentation programs cover similar topics that associate's degree programs do; however, the students in bachelor's degree programs take a more detailed look at common instrumentation practices and procedures. Bachelor's degree students may also spend more time in laboratory situations, learning hands-on skills. Course titles may include:
- Temperature measurements and controls
- Applications of process control devices
- Measurement systems analysis
- Digital systems
- Process measurement and control theory
- Process measurement and control laboratory
Popular Career Options
A variety of employment options are available to prospective instrumentation technicians, and the titles may vary from industry to industry. Instrumentation technicians may find work in oil refineries, power processing plants, metal smelting facilities and biopharmaceutical manufacturing companies. Skills learned in this field may also apply to aerospace engineering and medical instrumentation fields. Job titles may include:
- Plant technician
- Electrical & automation technician
- Reactor technician
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), electrical and electronic engineering technicians are expected to experience little to on change in employment between 2018 and 2028 (www.bls.gov). Those with associate's degrees were expected to have an edge in the job market. Mean salaries for electrical and electronic engineering technicians were reported at $65,050 annually as of May 2018.
Apart from on-the-job training, other training options are available to instrumentation technicians. The Industrial Instrumentation & Controls Technology Alliance (IICTA) allows students to access internship programs. Another method of advanced training is through certification programs offered by equipment manufacturers. These programs tend to be highly specialized and apply directly to a single equipment model or a specific line.
Those interested in learning to design new control systems and instrumentation methods might consider a master's degree in control systems engineering or applied and engineering physics. Admission to these programs may be competitive, and students are advised to speak with admissions counselors to ensure their previous educational experience meets the school's requirements.
Associate's and bachelor's degree programs in instrumentation are available for students who are interested in working as instrumentation technicians. On-the-job training, as well as internships and certificate programs, are available to graduates for additional education.