Because of the variety of companies that employ chemical technicians and the wide range of responsibilities they may be required to perform, most training is on the job. Some companies offer training and certification programs for job candidates.
However, most employers prefer candidates who have some post-secondary education; typically a two-year degree from a vocational or technical school.
What education will I need?
A strong focus on math and science should begin in high school, with courses in chemistry, physics, geometry, algebra and pre-calculus. A statistics course will help aspiring chemical technicians learn the fundamentals of data modeling and representation, and they will also benefit from taking technology courses. Because communication skills are vital to success in this role, be sure to take English classes that focus on developing writing skills. If your school offers courses in public speaking or a debate club, consider taking advantage of these to build strong verbal communication skills.
Consider taking the SAT or ACT tests. If you decide to pursue a bachelor’s degree either immediately after high school or later in your career, you will need to submit your scores from these tests as part of your application.
When choosing a post-secondary course of study, things to consider include:
- Do you want to work for a company that offers a certification program for chemical technicians? You can apply for acceptance and work toward an associate degree at night if your goal is to work for a specific company and to get into the workplace as quickly as possible.
- Do you want to earn an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree? While an associate’s degree is typical of most candidates, some employers prefer to hire those with four-year degrees.
- Do you want to earn an associate’s degree with the intention of completing a bachelor’s degree later? Many chemical technicians decide to pursue a bachelor’s degree after they’ve been employed for some time and have chosen a specialty. If this is your plan, you should make sure you earn an associate’s degree from an accredited institution so that your credits will apply toward your bachelor’s degree.
Chemical technicians with a high school diploma and no college degree may be hired as interns or apprentices, completing a course of training under an experienced technician’s supervision. Formal training programs typically combine classroom instruction and practical experience.
If you choose to earn an associate’s degree in science or technology, you should begin by comparing the programs offered by local schools. Some of the ways you can do this include:
- Request the list of courses offered for your major from each school and compare the variety of courses offered, the materials covered and the requirements to earn a degree.
- Find out whether the credits you earn from each school will apply toward a later bachelor’s degree
- Request the school provide you with statistics on graduation rates and employment patterns for its students.
- Ask to tour the campus facilities, particularly the laboratory. Inspect the condition and amount of equipment; if you can, sit in on a class to see whether students must share equipment and if the equipment they use operates well.
- Speak with current students and alumni to find out how favorably they view the program, how it has benefited their careers and whether they recommend it to prospective students.
- Contact chemical engineers at local companies and request an informational interview. During the interview, ask how they view graduates of each program and which schools they prefer new hires to have attended.
Whichever program you choose will likely focus mainly on laboratory processes and methodologies. Some offer students the option of specializing in specific areas or industries.
If you decide to pursue a bachelor’s degree, your major is likely to be chemistry. Several publishers print annual guides to four-year colleges ranking them by major among other criteria. Use these to build a list of colleges with high ratings for science majors that also fit your needs in terms of budget, location, course requirements, etc. Follow the same steps—comparing course listings, visiting schools, meeting with current and former students—to narrow your list to a few prospects.
Expect to take continuing education courses and specialized training throughout your career to master new technologies and processes as they come into use.
How can I advance in my career?
To advance your career, you will need both experience and education. Management roles in laboratories are usually held by chemists or chemical engineers. An experienced chemical technician who has completed additional studies in business or process management may be promoted into a senior technician or technical advisor role.
Earning additional degrees such as a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or doctoral degree can qualify a chemical technician as a chemist or chemical engineer. This is the most common career means chemical technicians choose to advance in their careers.
If you are interested in learning more about how becoming a chemical technician, please visit our chemical technician portal.
If you are interested in learning more about other fantastic and rewarding careers that do not require a traditional four-year college degree, please visit the Ditch College career portal.