Instrumentation Technician Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of an instrumentation technician career? Get real job descriptions, training requirements and salary info to see if becoming an instrumentation technician is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of an Instrumentation Technician Career

Instrumentation technicians repair and maintain automated equipment used in manufacturing, mining and other industries. Read on to see some of the pros and cons of being an instrumentation technician to determine if it seems like the right career choice for you.

Pros of a Career as an Instrumentation Technician
No formal education requirements*
Apprenticeships may be available**
Professional certifications exist to demonstrate competency and knowledge*
Variety in daily tasks (new or unpredictable equipment malfunctions)*

Cons of a Career as an Instrumentation Technician
May work irregular hours or even be on call to service equipment in need of repair*
High-pressure time constraints to fix malfunctioning machinery as quickly as possible*
Job may involve being on feet for extended periods or working in uncomfortable positions**
Work with potentially dangerous equipment***
Employers increasingly desiring the qualification of an associate degree*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Chippewa Valley Technical College, ***State of Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Instrumentation technicians, also called automation technicians or control technicians, work with systems and equipment designed to perform tasks automatically. They often work in manufacturing or other industrial plants that utilize machinery with electrical, mechanical and programmable systems and components. Instrumentation technicians perform preventative and regular maintenance to sustain machinery operation and are in charge of diagnosing and repairing equipment if something goes wrong.

These technicians tend to spend a lot of their work day on their feet inspecting machines and addressing problems when they occur. Since equipment breakdowns can generate costly delays in the manufacturing process, instrumentation technicians work under the pressure of time constraints to troubleshoot and fix equipment as quickly as possible. Since some manufacturing plants operate 24 hours a day, automation technicians often work long or irregular hours, and they may even be required to work on call. Since the job is performed around large machinery and moving equipment, the work environment does pose some risk - instrumentation technicians may utilize safety equipment such as hard hats, protective glasses and safety belts while they're working.

Salary Info

The income for this occupation can vary considerably depending on location and experience. According to PayScale.com, instrumentation technicians in the 10th-90th percentile earned approximately $44,000 to $90,000 annually in 2015.

What Are the Requirements?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that being an instrumentation technician doesn't have any official higher education requirements, though some employers seek technicians who have postsecondary education in automation or instrumentation technology. Associate degree and certificate programs in instrumentation technology cover coursework in electrical systems, programmable logic controllers, mathematics and process measurement. Whether or not you have a certificate or degree, you'll need to have some understanding or expertise in these areas to perform this job successfully.

According to the BLS, some additional skills you'll need to work as an instrumentation technician include:

  • Mathematical aptitude
  • Troubleshooting capabilities
  • Understanding of computers and computer systems
  • Manual dexterity (must be able to hold certain components with one hand while moving tools around with the other)
  • Ability to work under pressure

What Employers Are Looking For

Instrumentation techs should also have effective communication skills, as they sometimes need to convey to other staff what the problem is and how to fix it. In addition, they may write reports about equipment malfunctions and the steps taken to repair them. Here are a few job postings found in April 2012 to give you an idea of what some employers were looking for:

  • A production technology company in Oklahoma searched for a candidate with both hardware and software familiarity to service electronic and other equipment. The job included interacting with customers as well as sometimes working as part of a team. An associate degree or comparable work experience was required.
  • A North Carolina chemical plant sought a hire to install, calibrate and maintain systems according to recognized company standards. A licensed electrician was preferred, and the position required a high school diploma and some knowledge about hazardous waste procedures.
  • A Massachusetts-based textile manufacturer was looking for a candidate with good communication skills and the capacity to lead a team independently. The job required a high school diploma and a willingness to work weekends. HVAC systems experience was desired.
  • A mining company in New Mexico advertised for a candidate to work in an underground environment maintaining, installing and calibrating instrumentation. The position called for travel to different facilities and the ability to be on call. At least five years of related experience was required.

How to Make Your Skills Stand Out

Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships encompass a combination of classroom learning and professional training, which you will receive while working in the field alongside more experienced instrumentation technicians. Apprenticeships also pay wages during the training process, allowing you to generate an income at the same time you gain professional knowledge and experience. This kind of training can be of great value to employers who are seeking candidates with previous experience.

Certification

Different professional organizations offer certifications in areas such as control systems and electronics technology that can indicate your competency to potential employers. In addition to demonstrating your expertise, certifications indicate that you've been versed in the latest technology in a fast-changing field - something you'll also want to keep up with on your own to ensure your competitiveness in the candidate pool.

Other Careers to Consider

If being an instrumentation technician doesn't seem like quite the right job for you, there are a number of similar options you might want to consider. For example, you might choose to work as an electrician. Electricians install and repair lighting systems for homes and businesses using a variety of tools and procedures. Most electricians undergo an apprenticeship or acquire an associate degree in electronics. According to the BLS, employment of electricians is expected to increase by 23% from 2010 to 2020.

You could also consider becoming a heating, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC-R) mechanic. These mechanics work with electrical and other systems that relate to maintaining and improving air quality in buildings. The BLS indicates that the majority of HVAC-R mechanics earned between $26,000 and $70,000 annually in 2011, and the occupation has a projected job growth of 34% from 2010 to 2020.

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Purdue University

  • Master of Science in Engineering Technology

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Universal Technical Institute

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Lincoln Tech

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Northcentral University

  • PhD in Business Admin - Management of Engineering and Technology
  • Doctor of Business Admin - Management of Engineering and Technology
  • MSTIM - Engineering Magagement
  • MBA - Management of Engineering and Technology

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University of Delaware

  • Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering

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Penn Foster Career School

  • Career Diploma: Electronics Technician

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Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
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