Process Technicians Manufacture a Career The Buzz


After some tough years, job prospects in manufacturing are looking up. And the industry is crying out for process technicians to oversee and improve the process of making consumer goods.

You probably weren't aware of it, but on your way to school this morning, you saw 40 or 50 different items that would not exist without the help of a process technologist or technician.

Some of these items include carpets, candles, antihistamines, paint, contact lenses, tennis rackets, gasoline, tires, cars, your morning newspaper and clean drinking water.

Process technicians develop and maintain the production process. They're in charge of analyzing and fixing any problems that come up. They train staff, develop procedures, analyze outputs and talk to suppliers.

"Process technicians make certain that products and processes are safe to the community and safe to their fellow workers," says Merv Treigle. He is the assistant director for a process technology association.

It's a great deal of responsibility for what Treigle says used to be viewed by many as "a greasy, knuckle-busting job." But the stereotype, and the outlook for manufacturing jobs in general, is changing for the better.

The openings are there -- but there aren't enough people to fill them. Part of the problem is a widespread perception that manufacturing jobs are less than glamorous. That means the industry is facing a shortage of people who are qualified, or willing, to do the job.

"The baby boomers are retiring, and this is opening up positions in the process industries across the USA: food, metals, beverages, petroleum, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, electric power, chemicals, semiconductors, etc.," says Mark Demark. He is the chair of the process technology department at Alvin Community College in Texas.

"We have to back fill for retirees and add for growth."

"The future for new process operators is extremely bright," says Dave Young. He works with a company that makes a training simulator for careers in process industries.

"A large proportion of the current workforce is approaching retirement age, and within the next few years there could be a huge shortage of qualified process operators. Industry recognizes this, and that's one of the major reasons we have seen such a huge jump in interest for this type of training."

So how can you take advantage of the trend?

"Process technicians need to be able to communicate well, think well, have good problem-solving skills, an ability to understand processes, and they have to be reasonably grounded in the sciences and mathematics," says Treigle.

Most employers require workers to have taken a one- or two-year program in chemical plant operations, chemical engineering technology or power engineering technology, says Stan Bailey. He is a program coordinator in the energy department at a technical institute.

In addition, there are actual degree programs in process technology. They're available in at least 14 states.

"These days it is very hard to get into this profession without an associate's degree in process technology or several years of relevant experience -- many companies now require an associate degree for entry-level positions," says James Dautenhahn. He is the head of the technology department at McNeese State University in Louisiana.

Be prepared to work rotating shifts, says Treigle. "These processes run 365 days a year."

"The field is technical, mentally challenging and has a high degree of personal reward," says Demark. "The people that are good in this field can pick the area in the world where they want to work."

For those in the right sector who are willing to go where the high-paying jobs are, incomes can reach into six figures.

"Process technologists earn wages on par with engineers, meaning the career can have a dramatic effect on what they can provide for themselves and their families," says Dautenhahn.

"They are probably the most critical employees at chemical plants and refineries, since they make the product and have a direct effect every day on the company's performance."

Links

Center for the Advancement of Process Technology
Tons of background on process technology