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.
Do I Want to Be 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.
Typically, postsecondary training or an associate's degree related to the fields of electronic engineering or electrical technology is required for instrument technicians. Optional certifications are available. The following table contains the main qualifications to become an instrument technician, listed from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
|Degree Level||Associate's degree|
|Degree Field||Electrical technology, electronic engineering technology or a comparable discipline|
|Certification||Voluntary certification is available|
|Key Skills||Reasoning, monitoring skills, problem-solving, communication, dexterity|
|Technical Skills||Ability to follow industry-specific guidelines and instructions|
Step 1: Earn an Associate's Degree
According to the BLS, aspiring instrument technicians who want to work with medical equipment generally need an associate's degree to obtain entry-level employment. The majority of technicians employed by electromechanical firms have some postsecondary education. Therefore, earning an associate's degree is advisable for those looking to enter any area of instrumentation technology.
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.
Students learn to identify various types of automated equipment. 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.
- Decide if a certificate is right for you. Many schools with basic associate's 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: Obtain Entry-Level Employment
After earning an associate's degree or completing foundational college-level coursework in one of the above 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.
While the content of training programs varies greatly from one company and one type of technology to the next, employees generally learn about the hiring company's exact systems of equipment interface, maintenance communications and operations procedures. Some programs also require new hires to perform supervised equipment maintenance and repairs.
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 areas of expertise, 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.
- Prepare for 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 BLS 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.
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