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How to Become an Environmental Science Technician

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Becoming an environmental technician can be an excellent way to help our planet while earning money and advancing your career.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that this field will grow at an average rate of 11 percent per year. Forecasts predict it will experience 3,600 new jobs between 2020 and 2030. As the world grows ever more aware of environmental issues, more people are looking into ways they can help.

Therefore, aspiring environmental technicians have a promising future in a field that needs their help. However, before you set out to become an environmental science technician, you must understand what this entails and consider if it’s the right career for you.

What is an Environmental Technician?

In short, environmental technicians assist scientists with their research by performing experiments and collecting data.

Environmental technicians work in various fields, including:

  • Meteorology
  • Pollution control
  • Natural resource management
  • Forestry
  • Weather monitoring at airports, etc.

In addition to working alongside other scientists in the field, environmental technicians perform various duties both indoors and outdoors.

Indoor lab work includes sampling water or air quality for analysis. Outdoor duties include measuring ozone levels or studying how wind patterns affect climate. Generally speaking, good technicians perform their jobs well by being thorough and accurately reporting data.
Individuals in this line of work typically perform the following tasks:

  • Maintain lab equipment
  • Collect samples
  • Conduct tests to ensure that the air is free from contaminants
  • Analyze chemicals used in manufacturing processes to ensure they do not pollute the environment
  • Test soil samples to monitor pollution

Many employers look for experience when hiring technicians. Hence, it is important to understand lab techniques if you are eyeing a career in this field.

Others prefer that technicians work without supervision, which requires self-motivation and accountability.

What Do Environmental Technicians Do?

Environmental technicians play a vital role in protecting our environment. They work on water quality, solid waste management, ecological monitoring, and laboratory analysis of soil and other materials.

Technicians also monitor the levels of pollutants in the air or water that may be dangerous to humans or animals. Below is an in-depth outlook into what they do.

Environmental Technicians Inspect Establishments and Facilities

After an investigation by environmental technicians, scientists will determine if they should shut down an area or facility due to health hazards. They also ensure that food and water are free from contamination. These technicians also ensure proper medical waste disposal.

Environmental Technicians Lead Technical Teams

It is common for environmental technicians to work in a team setting to solve different environmental problems. Because of this, they must lead a group towards a solution that will benefit everyone in their surroundings.

Having a leadership role in a team helps technicians gain managerial skills, which could help them advance further when they apply for future jobs.

Environmental Technicians Conduct Field Sampling

Technicians must be careful while handling whatever substance they are testing in the field using the appropriate sampling method. They have to take accurate readings and measurements of the area and document all data in a logbook for further investigation.

While in the field, technicians also survey and record the landscape through map-making or geographic information systems (GIS).

Environmental Technicians Conduct Laboratory Analyses

In this process, technicians study water samples from different bodies of water to determine if there are pollutants present.

They compare these lab results with other similar studies regarding environmental regulations and standards to understand how clean each body of water should be.

Environmental Technicians Give Technical Presentations and Write Research Reports

After completing an assignment or laboratory analysis, technicians develop a formal report or presentation detailing their process and results.

They also present this data to fellow environmental scientists. This prompts discussion of the available solutions for each problem in a group setting.

How to Become an Environmental Science Technician — Step-by-Step Guide

With a bit of understanding of what environmental science technicians do, it’ll be easier to answer the question of “how to become an environmental science technician.” This job helps protect the environment and thus holds great importance. You can have an impact on the health and wellbeing of our planet.

Step 1. Get an Associate’s Degree in a Science-Related Field

The scientific knowledge gained in college can help you excel. Yet it isn’t enough to land a job. Earning an associate's degree is essential to becoming an environmental science technician. This degree provides the necessary training to serve as the foundation of your job.

Several courses you can choose from include biology, environmental sciences, chemistry, and geology. Additional courses may also depend on your preference, but taking as many science classes as possible would be great.

Step 2. Enroll in Laboratory Classes

Environmental science technicians perform sampling tests. Laboratory classes will help prepare beginners to work under the guidance of more experienced technicians or scientists.

Therefore, finding the best lab program is an important step. It can help candidates gain the necessary experience and skills.

Step 3. Complete an Internship

Starting and completing an internship is the third step of becoming an environmental science technician. At this point, candidates must have a degree in environmental science or a related field with at least 15 hours of coursework.

During the internship phase, candidates must make themselves invaluable to their team and prove that they can work well with others.

Completing an internship means having the skills and knowledge to become an influential member of any environmental science-related team while developing a professional resume.

Step 4. Get Licensed

Even though licensure isn’t always necessary, it’s a great way to develop an existing or future technician career. If your state requires it, you’ll need to pass an exam that tests your knowledge of the field.

This will give you access to more jobs and promotions within the field. Any individual that works with hazardous materials should have the required licenses.

Step 5. Pursue a Position in the Field

The next step is to pursue a position in your field. Competition for entry-level positions can be challenging.

It is an excellent idea to gain experience in an internship or part-time position while still a student. This will help prepare you for future jobs and give you some practical skills to add to your resume when applying for full-time employment. Through working in the field, you will also make connections that could lead to a job.

When looking for a position, consider direct employment with companies that serve clients who could benefit from environmental science technology services.

Potential employers could include:

  • Landscaping firms
  • Waste management operations
  • Government entities
  • Manufacturing plants
  • Environmental consulting agencies

10 Important Skills for Environmental Science Technicians

An environmental science technician is an integral part of the growing green industry. Technicians have to know how to work well with tools. They also must know math as they will be calculating area and volume.

An environmental science technician also collects rates for various functions such as water flow, gas emissions, and disposal. To work as an environmental science technician, you’ll need the following skills:

Analytical Skills

As an environmental science technician, one of your primary skills is analyzing data collected from different sites. You will use data logs and the scientific method to collect the data needed for graphing, analysis, and trends.

Technical Skills

You will use several technical devices as an environmental science technician. You can use data loggers, computers, and scanners to maximize productivity. These devices provide more accurate data which better serves your clients.

Perseverance

To work in environmental science, you need to know that you have what it takes to succeed even when facing difficulties along the way. As an environmental science technician, you will find challenges in your work. Perseverance assures that you will succeed.

Good Communication Skills

Environmental science technicians must communicate well with clients and coworkers. You will need strong written and verbal communication skills to share results and explain methods and processes to professional colleagues and the public.

Math and Data Analysis Skills

Mathematics is an essential part of environmental science. Technicians need to calculate area, volume, and other parameters that use math. Applications include pollution rates and measurements of chemical reactions.

For this job, it’s helpful to understand geometry and know how to use a calculator and computer for data analysis.

Observation Skills

A critical part of being an environmental science technician is collecting data. To achieve that, you’ll need excellent observation skills. You must accurately identify what you record in your results. Otherwise, you might collect the wrong data.

For example, suppose you are measuring water flow in a stream. In that case, you need to know the difference between the variables. An example includes knowing how to differentiate between water flow and streambed erosion.

Scientific Skills

An essential part of being an environmental science technician is good scientific knowledge. Knowing the scientific method will make it easier to collect data more accurately.

For example, suppose you are recording the temperature of a stream. In that case, you want to measure it at multiple points. Such sampling provides an average temperature for the water flowing through the area.

Leadership Skills

It’s important to develop leadership abilities and offer your coworkers solutions to help them be more productive and happier at work. A good leader makes for a better work environment for all.

Attention to Detail

As an environmental science technician, one of the most important parts is making sure you do things accurately. You do not want to make mistakes on data because it could give you inaccurate results. You need to pay attention to details to collect the best data possible.

Understanding of Science Ethics

As an environmental science technician, one of your primary responsibilities is ensuring that your work does no harm. This means understanding ethical standards for working with the public.

You need to explain why you are collecting data and how it will benefit your clients, and how these results might affect them in the future.

Necessary Education and Degree Paths for Environmental Science Technicians

Education requirements for environmental science technicians vary depending on your chosen subfield and the type of organization you work for.

Students typically take the following subjects:

  • Biology
  • Botany
  • Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • Mathematics
  • Geology
  • Geography

Many schools offer associate degrees to help interested students find entry-level work as technicians or as the first step to further education. We’ve curated the education requirements for environmental science technicians with that in mind.

Associate’s Degree in Environmental Science

The most important aspect of an environmental science degree for many technicians is hands-on training. For this reason, Associate’s degree programs are growing in number and popularity.
A two-year program typically covers biotechnology, chemistry, hydrology, meteorology, and biology. Classes also might include:

  • Environmental law
  • Remote sensing techniques
  • Global climate change studies

State and federal government agencies often need employees with relevant work experience and technical knowledge. However, many professional associations offer entry-level positions to students who have earned a two-year degree.

Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Science or Related Field

Students who want access to more research opportunities and potentially higher wages should consider earning a bachelor’s degree. This four-year degree focuses on the biological, chemical, and physical sciences.

For this reason, people who earn a bachelor’s degree in environmental science or related fieldwork as technicians for government or private institutions.

Graduates of bachelor-level programs can apply their education and join graduate study programs for career advancement. Students might also qualify for competitive research fellowships with federal agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Solid grades and leadership skills can land you a fellowship.

Master’s Degree in Environmental Science or Related Field

An advanced degree offers an accelerated path to upper management and more career options than those available with a bachelor’s degree alone. Students can choose from two types of master’s degrees: Master of Science (MS) or Master of Arts (MA).

Both MS and MA programs are research-focused. Graduates will likely conduct original research, write papers, and give presentations about environmental science topics. Again, students should look for schools with high rankings in the field.

Doctorate in Environmental Science or Related Field

If you’re interested in teaching at a university level, earning your Ph.D. degree may be your best option. With writing a dissertation on an advanced topic within their chosen subfield, Ph.D. students can expect a three to six-year course of study.

The Ph.D. program carries a significantly higher financial burden than the other degrees. However, this degree provides the highest level of training. A doctorate can offer more career opportunities and faculty research mentoring as part of your degree work. You could be ready for an academic or industrial research job based on your objectives!

Beneficial Degrees for Environmental Technicians

Aspiring candidates can work in environmental technology with just an associate’s degree. However, a bachelor’s or master’s degree in environmental science is necessary for advancement opportunities.

Students who hold a bachelor’s degree in environmental science become environmental technicians, water resource managers, government regulators, and more.

That said, the following degrees can benefit environmental technicians:

Associate’s Degree in Environmental Science Technology

Students who hold an associate’s degree in environmental science technology perform basic tasks such as:

  • Lab analysis
  • Data collection tasks
  • Monitor and regulate air quality
  • Identify hazardous pollutants
  • Perform water testing
  • Supervise cleanup efforts for spills

This degree is sufficient to work as an entry-level environmental technician.

Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Science

With a bachelor’s degree in environmental science, graduates may complete tasks such as:

  • Permitting and licensing of industrial plants
  • Supervise compliance with federal and state environmental regulations
  • Research trends in the natural resource industry
  • Work with legal teams to represent clients

Graduates with this degree may also function as business managers or sales representatives in the environmental sector.

Master’s Degree in Environmental Science

Graduates with a master’s degree in environmental science often:

  • Research innovative ways to improve pollution control and remediation strategies
  • Establish legal precedents for workers’ compensation from chemical exposure
  • Work as conservation technicians

This degree is primarily necessary for advancement opportunities.

Seven Best Certifications for Environmental Science Technicians

As the demand for environmental technicians continues to grow, a good certification can help advance your career. These eight certifications are worth the time and effort of experienced technicians and aspiring students looking to break into the field.

1. Certified Environmental Professional (CEP): Environmental Operations

The CEP credential assesses the complete knowledge of an environmental professional, focusing on tools that technicians can use to solve problems. Upon passing a written exam, which takes about 9 hours, you will receive this credential. However, you must also complete an ethics exam and comply with continuing education credits every four years to maintain your CEP status.

2. Advanced Certificate in Environmental Management (ACEM)

The Advanced Certificate in Environmental Management program furthers your understanding of environmental concerns and energy use. The energy sector has expanded to include additional environmental issues.

The primary purpose of this course is to provide environmental management skills. After completing the course, you will be able to demonstrate:

  • An understanding that people work within an environment
  • Knowledge of principles used in environmental management
  • A sense of how to effectively manage people, projects, and programs in the context of environmental issues

You will also be able to:

  • Identify and assess risks associated with operations and activities in an environmental context
  • Design appropriate strategies for minimizing such risks
  • Identify and apply a systematic approach to the assessment, planning, implementation, and evaluation of environmental projects
  • Create strategies for environmentally sustainable development

3. Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Natural Resources

This certificate program is for people who have already completed an undergraduate degree in fields across the natural sciences. It aims to build on previous education while providing hands-on experience.

4. Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP)

The GIS Certificate Institute (GISCI) is the organization that administers this certification and thousands of other similar programs. Many environmental businesses need to obtain this certificate because it demonstrates your competence in working with geographic information systems (GIS).

The exam requires a bachelor’s degree in one of several disciplines, including geography or geomatics (a combination of surveying and photogrammetry), along with relevant work experience.

People with an advanced degree and experience working as GIS technicians often pursue this certificate.

This achievement can advance your career by opening up new job opportunities. It can also increase your salary, improve your hiring prospects, or provide recognition for your current industry contributions.

5. Certified Environmental Systems Manager (CESM)

The CESM credential designates professionals who have mastered environmental systems management and engineering.

People with the CESM designation understand the relationships between all aspects of our environment: air, water, land, and geology. They know how environmental issues impact businesses and organizations on multiple levels. Professionals with this credential can also pursue a career as an environmental engineer.

Environmental scientists with CESM certification usually become leaders within their organizations, integrating environmental science with business decisions to increase efficiency and profitability.

6. Certified Stormwater Manager (CSM)

The Certified Stormwater Manager (CSM) program is a national credential that focuses on:

  • Stormwater pollution prevention
  • Responsible site development
  • Post-construction runoff management

The Stormwater Manager Certification aims to encourage excellence and dedication to public service by expanding stormwater management knowledge and practice for the benefit of the community, government agencies, and the profession.

The Certified Stormwater Manager is for employees in public and private sectors who manage stormwater programs for cities, counties, states, and federal areas. These professionals work in water management, drainage and flood control, and water quality.

7. Registered Environmental Manager (REM)

The term “Registered Environmental Manager” refers to a status that certifies that the REM has demonstrated a high level of expertise in environmental management. The program compares candidates against criteria that represent contemporary competence in their roles.

Work Environment for Environmental Technicians

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 34,000 environmental science and protection technicians held jobs in 2020.

Both fieldwork and lab work requires workers to spend time in office spaces with microscopes, computers, journals, books, reference material, and other tools dedicated to environmental sciences. After collecting data or analyzing it in the laboratory, technicians must apply their findings to create strategies to reduce the environmental impact of individuals, corporations, and government agencies.

Additionally, environmental technicians may need to identify sources of environmental contamination, monitor water quality, and evaluate how pesticides affect the environment.

Depending on the nature of the fieldwork, environmental technicians may travel to rural, suburban, or urban areas. They may also need to wear protective gear, such as goggles, gloves, or unique clothing for activities that might expose them to toxins. Technicians also may need to perform laboratory tests on animals and be around hazardous materials.

Work Schedules for Environmental Technicians

Environmental scientists or protection technicians typically work full-time, Monday through Friday. In the field, technicians encounter a wide range of weather. Most technicians also spend time in an office where they analyze data and write reports or prepare presentations.

Technicians may also have to travel to a client’s location or conduct fieldwork, both of which might necessitate technicians working longer or unusual hours.

How Much Do Environmental Science and Protection Technicians Earn?

In May 2020, the median annual salary for environmental science and protection technicians was $46,850.

The lowest-paid 10% of environmental science and protection technicians earned less than $29,280, whereas the highest-paid 10% earned more than $80,530.

This shows a career as an environmental science technician can be a path with a high wage-earning potential. There are many well-paying jobs in the field of science.

Can Environmental Technicians Advance?

Yes. Environmental technicians have advancement opportunities. However, they’ll need to take courses and work towards a degree.

One way to advance is to get an associate degree in environmental science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or STEM subjects. These degrees are available online or via distance learning programs from many community colleges.

Another option for advancement is to complete bachelor’s degree programs at universities. A 4-year degree opens up more opportunities than an associate degree alone. Such positions include college instructor, researcher, and high-level administrative positions.

Pros and Cons of Becoming an Environmental Technician

Pros

Environmental science technicians help keep our world clean and healthy.

In a world where environmental protection is becoming more critical, these talented individuals have meaningful careers ahead of them.

For this reason, the following are some of the benefits to consider:

  • Can earn a yearly salary of up to $40,000, with some making even more
  • Work with many different types of people on all sorts of projects
  • Have ambition and motivation rewarded by their employers, which provides an incentive to continue working hard
  • Can gain hands-on experience in their field of interest while still getting an education
  • Will be able to work anywhere with an environmental problem

This career can be rewarding for anyone who wants to put in time and effort into making the world around them better.

Cons

An Environmental Science Technician’s job is to monitor the environment and mitigate any negative impacts. They often use computers, high-tech gadgets, and GPS systems to do their job.

Their work is both fun and rewarding because they get to test new equipment that has just come out while also helping people at the same time. Although working as an Environmental Science Technician can be rewarding in many ways, there are challenges.

Some of them include:

  • You work outside in all weather conditions
  • Workdays might run long due to delays, hazards, or unexpected workloads
  • Training in some areas can be extensive

FAQs

How long does it take to become an environmental technician?

It takes about 2-3 years to earn an associate’s degree in environmental science. This qualifies you for an intermediate environmental technician position, leading to senior, lead, or supervisor positions over time with experience and further education.

What do environmental technicians do?

Environmental science technicians use their training and experience to:

  • Collect samples
  • Monitor water quality
  • Work with hazardous materials
  • Conduct lab experiments
  • Check equipment performance
  • Manage laboratories and facilities

Can I become an environmental technician online?

Yes. Several online programs cover material taught in an environmental technician associate’s degree program.

Conclusion

Environmental science technicians form the backbone of environmental protection.

They are responsible for ensuring that the work they conduct complies with government regulations. Suppose you consider a career in this fascinating field. In that case, you will need at least a two-year associate degree from an accredited college or university.

You can also earn a science-related degree through an online program. In fact, for some professions, such as environmental science technicians, online learning can be ideal.

At GetEducated, we review many of the most popular online degree programs from leading universities across America in the science field. As a result, you get research-backed reviews you can trust.

Our goal is to make the process of choosing the right career, college, or university easier for you by providing in-depth details about potential educational options.

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