Chemical Technician/Technologist

Chemical technicians/technologists perform chemical sampling and analysis and are involved in a variety of projects, for example, analytical testing, quality control protocols, and product research and development. They often work as members of multidisciplinary teams with chemists, chemical engineers, and other related professions. Chemical technicians/technologists can specialize in a number of disciplines, including environmental testing, mining and exploration, pharmaceuticals, and hazard waste, and opportunities for technicians/technologists can be very diverse depending on the industry and their education.

At a Glance

Imagine you are sitting at your lab bench pipetting a clear solution into a small Erlenmeyer flask. You are a chemical technician/technologist and you are preparing to analyze this solution to determine if there are potentially toxic compounds present at concentrations high enough to make people sick. This sample has been taken from the drinking fountain of one of the country's largest gold mines, where several workers have fallen ill and been hospitalized over the last week. Occupational hygienists at the mine have taken air and water samples and sent them to your lab for analysis. Now your lab is busy trying to determine if the employees' air or water is the cause of their illnesses. As a chemical technician/technologist, you work as part of a team with other technicians, technologists, and supervising chemists.

Your team has been assigned to analyze the water sample, so you have been busy prepping equipment, solutions, and reagents for the battery of tests your team will run. You start by testing the water for the presence of cyanide, the highly toxic chemical the mine uses as part of the process of extracting gold from ore. Despite all safety precautions, there is always a chance this poison could have contaminated the drinking water. Following the cyanide test, your team will also test for high levels of chlorine, iron, and manganese as possible culprits, along with bacterial agents such as E. coli or coliform contamination. The mine's employees and owners are hoping your lab can isolate the cause of the illnesses so it can be cleaned up and dealt with and the mine can return to operation.

Job Duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as a chemical technician/technologist:

  • Collect air, water, and soil samples, including stack testing for emissions and pollutants.
  • Operate and maintain laboratory equipment.
  • Set up equipment and apparatuses for experiments and analyses.
  • Perform chemical tests following laboratory procedures, including process control, quality control, and research.
  • Test materials for quality, performance, and composition.
  • Record, validate, and interpret results of tests and analyses.
  • Record actions taken for tests and analyses.
  • Present results and prepare reports.

Work Environment

Chemical technicians/technologists work in a variety of locations, including:

In the lab:

  • Preparing test solutions and processing samples
  • Testing samples and conducting experiments
  • Developing test methodology
  • Calibrating and maintaining instruments

In the office:

  • Recording analytical results
  • Doing paperwork and analyzing data for reporting
  • Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, government departments, colleagues, and other scientists
  • Maintaining inventory and ordering new stock

In the field:

  • Collecting samples for analysis, including quality-assurance samples of raw materials and finished products

Where to Work

There are a number of places chemical technicians/technologists can find employment. They include:

  • Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments
  • Colleges, universities, and research institutes
  • Biotechnology firms
  • Waste management firms
  • Environmental consulting firms
  • Chemical processing plants
  • Forensic labs
  • Firms in other industries, for example, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, food production, and health care

Education and Skills

If you are a high school student considering a career as a chemical technician/technologist, you should have strong marks or an interest in:

  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Computer Science

In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as a chemical technician/technologist is a college technical diploma. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as a chemical technician/technologist, the following programs are most applicable:

  • Chemistry
  • Environmental Technology
  • Environmental Science
  • Chemical Engineering

Certification is not mandatory for chemical technicians/technologists, though many practitioners choose to become certified technicians or technologists through their provincial associations. Requirements for certification vary among provinces.

Education and Skills

Taina Reidl

"It’s a funny story,” says Taina Redl. She was working at a pharmacy in Saskatoon when she got a call about a job opening with the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC). The chemical technology graduate had let a former teacher know she was looking for work in the field. "This former instructor called the SRC and said ‘I’ve got somebody who’s got a lot of education’…and they hired me within a day.” Since then, Taina has been enjoying the challenges of her job as a Chemical Technologist in the inorganic chemistry department. "I like doing technical work…and my job is very much hands-on.”

As a "floater” in the lab, Taina is not assigned to a specific "bench” or job duty. Instead, she must be fluent in all the tests the lab conducts. She is also able to operate any of the lab’s sophisticated equipment. Adding to her responsibilities are the test deadlines, which are usually two weeks but in some cases 48 hours. "I like the fast-paced environment…because your day just flies by…you come into work and next thing you know, your day is done.”

Despite all the positive aspects of her job, Taina says that one drawback within the industry is the professional glass ceiling. "If you want to make the leap from technologist to manager in this industry, you really need to get more education. You need a degree.” She believes this is the result of a gross misconception within the industry—that technologists with a diploma have less experience and knowledge than their counterparts with a degree. "Chemical technologists [with a diploma] leave school with a good combination of education and hands-on training.” Taina believes this combination is overlooked by many within the chemical technology industry when it comes to hiring and promoting employees. She credits her own professional success in the chemical technology industry to this combination of learning.

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