Pros and Cons of Becoming a Geological Technician
Geological technicians are junior members of scientific teams that study natural resources. The job offers a higher-than-average salary and a mix of hands-on work outdoors and hi-tech science in the lab. Check out the pros and cons of being a geological technician to decide if it's right for you.
|Pros of a Geological Technician Career|
|Median salary of $54,810*|
|Most jobs require only an associate's degree*|
|Shifting between field and lab or office environments provides variety*|
|Work is multifaceted, including collecting samples, analyzing materials and data and reporting results*|
|Cons of a Geological Technician Career|
|Jobs are concentrated where mining, petroleum and other extractive industries are active, with nearly 50% of jobs in Texas alone*|
|Fieldwork can mean working outside in poor weather, remaining at a remote location for long stretches and odd hours*|
|Travel to remote sites is often required*|
|Job market is dependent on oil and natural gas prices*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Essential Career Info
Many geological technicians work for companies that find and exploit oil, natural gas and mineral deposits. Others are employed by government agencies and engineering firms to study water, soil and other resources. Geological technicians gather samples and data, analyze them and report their findings to supervising scientists and others. They also install and maintain the equipment used in the field and the lab.
Along with devices like seismographs, the work typically involves extensive use of computers. The software used includes standard office applications, such as Microsoft Excel, as well as more specialized applications for imaging, graphics and mapping. Geographic information systems (GIS) technology is commonly utilized as well. Technicians also use hand tools to take samples in the field. Because accurately recording and reporting data is essential, paperwork and presentations are part of the job.
You should enjoy working outdoors because fieldwork is a key component of a geological technician's job. Being in good physical shape is often important, enabling you to get in and out of remote sites while hauling equipment and samples. However, you'll also spend stretches of time sitting in an office or lab.
While the job offers diversity in the work setting, its geographical range is restricted by the natural resources involved. With its large share of oil and gas activity, Texas hosts nearly half of geographical and petroleum technicians. However, for those who want to see the world, oil, gas and mining may provide opportunities to work on projects overseas.
Salary Information and Job Outlook
In 2014, the median salary for geological and petroleum technicians was $54,810, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Technicians received top pay in the management of companies and enterprises industry, where the average salary was $74,680. Geographically, the highest wages were in Maryland and Colorado, where the mean salaries were $64,850 and $63,390, respectively. At the low end, the bottom 10% of technician salaries were less than $27,000 annually.
The job outlook for geological and petroleum technicians is above the national occupational outlook, according to the BLS. The predicted employment growth for 2012-2022 was 15%, which is 4% faster than the national average. Yet, growth is dependent on oil and natural gas prices, which affect companies' willingness to invest in exploration and extraction.
What Are the Requirements?
Education and Training
An associate's degree in applied science or a related area is the typical entry-level qualification, although some jobs require a bachelor's degree and a few employers might only request a high school diploma. There are many geology and geoscience departments nationwide that offer associate's and bachelor's degree programs, as well as technical schools that offer certificates and associate's degrees. Whichever program you choose, it should include coursework in chemistry, math, computer science, physics and geology.
Most jobs have senior technicians provide on-the-job training in the specific equipment and computer programs you will be using. Depending on your education and experience and the complexity of the technical requirements, the training period may last just a few months or as long as two years.
What Employers Are Looking for
When hiring technicians, employers look for strong computer skills. Many seek employees with knowledge of both general office software and specialized scientific applications. Employers also look for technicians who are able to work with minimal supervision, and also capable of working well in a team. Strong communication skills are frequently specified, too. Many employers request workers who hold a driver's license and are willing to travel. Following are real job postings found on Monster.com in April 2012.
- An oil company sought a geological technician to join its exploration group in Texas. Applicants must have an associate's degree in computer science or equivalent experience, as well as fluency with standard office software, such as Excel. Training would be provided in Geographix Explorer software. The company also indicated a desire for strong organization and communication skills.
- A hydrocarbon testing services firm searched for a field technician to perform natural gas measurements and take samples near Dallas, TX. The ability to lift up to 100 pounds, stand or walk extensively, work long hours and travel were all requested. Computer literacy and communication skills were also essential. Ideal candidates would also have a bachelor's degree and background in electronics.
- A natural resources conglomerate advertised for an environmental technician to work in an Arizona mining facility. Experience with environmental regulations, relevant environmental certifications and a valid driver's license were required. Experience in monitoring environmental aspects of mining and a bachelor's degree were preferred.
- A federal agency sought to hire a temporary workforce of physical science technicians to work in multiple locations throughout the country for about six months. Minimum qualifications included U.S. citizenship and the ability to pass a federal background check, as well as 6 months of work experience, a year of postsecondary study or a combination of the two. Work also involved travel and irregular hours.
How to Stand out in the Field
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, a science organization maintained by the federal government, experience in the field or in a lab could prove valuable when applying for entry-level positions. When assessing degree programs, consider the availability of internships or cooperative-education programs. You can also gain relevant experience through participation in government programs. The U.S. Geological Survey's Student Educational Employment Program is open to students over 16 who are in high school or enrolled at least half time at a college, university or trade school. Organizations such as the U.S. Department of Energy and GeoCorps America also offer internships and short-term work opportunities with federal agencies.
Develop Communication and Business Skills
As career advisors for the American Geosciences Institute have stressed, communications skills are essential to employers. Strong candidates typically have the ability to work as a part of a team, write reports and give presentations. Taking English or communication courses and participating in activities that involve public speaking could be useful in developing communication skills. Additionally, the organization indicates that it's important for employees to understand the business aspects of their organizations. Classes in finance, business or economics could assist geological technicians in developing this knowledge.
Consider Working Abroad
Global conglomerates in the energy and mining industries carry out exploration and extraction all over the world. According to the American Geoscience Institute, foreign language skills and a willingness to travel or live abroad could set you apart. Candidates who seem most likely to be comfortable and highly competent at overseas facilities may have better opportunities with larger companies.
Surveying and Mapping Technician
If working as a technician sounds appealing but postsecondary education doesn't, a surveying or mapping technician career could be a better choice. Surveying technicians take site measurements and process the data, while mapping technicians help cartographers create and update maps. The minimum qualification is normally a high school diploma, although some mapping technicians need additional technical training.
The employment growth predicted by the BLS for surveying and mapping technicians was 16% between 2010 and 2020, which is almost equivalent to the growth for geological technicians. However, they earned a median salary of $39,000, in 2011, which is significantly lower than what geological technicians typically earn.
Individuals interested in working in the extractive industries and who are willing to stay in school longer could consider a highly paid career as a petroleum engineer. Petroleum engineers design equipment and techniques for natural gas and oil drilling and for upgrading older wells. They also ensure that equipment and wells are properly installed and maintained.
A bachelor's degree or higher is required and work may involve long periods of traveling or working abroad, as well as long hours when at a rig. Yet their median salary of $122,000, in 2011, as calculated by the BLS, was more than double that of geological and petroleum technicians. The expected job growth for petroleum engineers was 17% for the decade following 2010, about the same as predicted for technicians. The outlook for petroleum engineering is also dependent on oil and gas prices.