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Be an Instrument Technician: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become an instrument technician. Learn about the job description, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in instrument technology. View article »

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  • 0:03 Become an Instrument…
  • 0:25 Career Requirements
  • 1:14 Step 1: Earn an…
  • 2:33 Step 2: Gain…
  • 3:12 Step 3: Get Certified
  • 4:43 Step 4: Continue Education

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Video Transcript

Become an Instrument Technician

Instrumentation can be broadly defined as any automated machine used to facilitate industries related to science and technology, such as engineering, medicine, or scientific laboratory research. Instrument technicians maintain and repair these devices, as well as ensure that they comply with industry standards. Technicians often are on call or work overtime.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Associate degree meets minimum requirements; bachelor's degree often needed for advancement
Degree Field Electrical technology, electronic engineering technology, or a comparable discipline
Certification Voluntary certification is available
Key Skills Reasoning, monitoring, problem-solving, and communication skills; ability to follow industry-specific guidelines and instructions; dexterity
Median Annual Salary (2016)* $51,343

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, *PayScale.com

Step 1: Earn an Associate Degree

The majority of technicians employed by electromechanical firms have some postsecondary education, such as an associate degree. Associate of Applied Science programs for instrument technology are available at community and technical colleges across the U.S.

Instrument technology degree programs provide students with an education in the setup, installation, calibration, maintenance, and repair of many kinds of automated equipment in the area covered by the major. They also learn about their inner workings via applied and theoretical courses in areas such as computer interface and networking, electrical currents, and motor controls. Courses teaching maintenance and troubleshooting skills are also often required; topics commonly covered in these areas including process control, blueprint reading, equipment assembly, and instrumentation calibration.

A student working towards a career as an instrument technician should decide if a certificate is right for his or her career. Many schools with basic associate degree programs in instrumentation also offer diploma or certificate programs in specific areas of the field, such as engineering or biomedicine. Students with specific career goals in mind can pursue such programs to supplement their generalized degree program studies.

Step 2: Gain Entry-Level Employment

After earning an associate degree or completing foundational college-level coursework in one of the mentioned academic areas, aspiring instrument technicians are ready to enter the workforce. Due to the technical nature of this field, newly hired technicians generally must complete fairly extensive training programs. The content of training programs varies greatly from one company and one type of technology to the next, but employees generally learn about the hiring company's exact equipment interface systems, maintenance communications, and operations procedures. Some programs also require new hires to perform supervised equipment maintenance and repairs.

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Step 3: Get Certified

Many sub-fields within the instrument technology industry have professional associations which offer continuing education, networking opportunities, and certification examinations. Some examples of relevant organizations include the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI). These organizations offer numerous voluntary certifications for biomedical, biometrics and electrical engineering instrument technicians. In order to earn certification, technicians must pass an in-depth written examination testing their expertise in their area of instrumentation technology.

The IEEE offers a Wireless Communication Engineering Technologies certification that requires applicants to take an exam testing seven content areas, including wireless access technologies, facilities infrastructure, and fundamental knowledge. Applicants must have a postsecondary degree and at least three years of professional experience. The AAMI offers certification in biomedical equipment, radiology equipment, and laboratory equipment.

In order to improve one's chances for success at earning a certification, individuals should prepare for the certification. Both the IEEE and the AAMI offer exam preparation materials on their websites. Applicants should take advantage of these materials to ensure an excellent score on the examination.

Step 4: Continue Education

Although aspiring instrument technicians generally need only an associate's degree for entry-level employment, additional education is often required for career advancement, certification renewal, or both. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that medical equipment technicians looking to ascend to senior-level positions must earn a bachelor's degree; available programs include biomedicine and medical technology. In addition to bachelor's degree programs, instrument technicians in any field may pursue non-degree continuing education courses through professional associations.

In summary, the requirements for working as an instrument technician include an associate degree in electrical technology or a related field and the willingness to earn a bachelor's degree or continuing education credits for advancement and certification.

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