Process technicians perform and document the daily manufacturing operations in biomedical, biopharmaceutical and bioindustrial settings. These individuals operate process equipment “on-the-floor,” usually in a sterile or clean-room environment. The environment often has large stainless steel vats with many pipes and control equipment linked together. Because there are many different complex steps in biomedical research and biomanufacturing environments, a process technician must be detail-oriented, alert and thorough.
Sometimes called manufacturing associates or operators, process technicians need to be proficient with computer and electronic equipment and need to have an understanding of basic biotechnology processing. A process technician might be involved in mixing and measuring chemicals and reagents to synthesize cell cultures, make finished drugs (capsules, tablets, liquids or ointments) or perform purification or formulation of complex products. A process technician also might be involved in cleaning and sterilizing production equipment and glassware or in operating the equipment that packages and labels a finished product.
Process technicians wear personal protective gear, including sterile clothing and masks, to protect both themselves and the products. This position often is part of a 24-hour manufacturing shift schedule; the hours can include 12-hour shifts, three or four days a week. At many facilities, the process technicians may be required to alternate shifts, sometimes working the night shift.
Process technicians are required to follow specific safety guidelines and to work within Food and Drug Administration requirements. Though many of the tasks performed by process technicians are routine, this career carries a great deal of responsibility because of the potential for harm if the product is not made correctly — and because the product batches being created sometimes are valued in the millions of dollars.
Process technicians will find many opportunities at biomedical, biopharmaceutical and biomanufacturing organizations where products such as vaccines, medicines, enzymes and cell cultures are created. Opportunities at agricultural, energy and chemical companies also exist.
Process technician positions generally require a two-year Associate in Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree, and many community colleges have created degrees and certificates aimed specifically at readying individuals for process technician work. These degrees or certificates may be named biowork, biotechnology, bioprocess technology or industrial pharmaceutical technology. Another pathway to a career as a process technician is to obtain a four-year Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree from a college or university in biology, chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology or biopharmaceutical science.
The average starting salary for a process technician is approximately $30,000 per year, while more experienced technicians can expect to earn an average annual salary of approximately $45,000. Some process technicians can earn salaries that are significantly higher, based on increased education and experience. Salary information is current as of June 2008.
Recommended High School Courses
(From Career Pathways: Focus on Biotechnology, 2006, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction)
English I; Algebra I or Integrated Math I; Earth Science/Environmental Science; World History; Health/Physical Education; Elective; Elective; CTE Elective
English II; Geometry or Integrated Math II; Biology; Civics & Economics; Elective (Second Language recommended); Elective; Elective; CTE Elective
English III; Algebra II or Integrated Math III; Science Elective (Chemistry recommended); U.S. History; Elective (Second Language recommended); Advanced Science Elective; Elective; CTE Elective
English IV; Elective (Advanced Math recommended); Science Elective (Physics or Principles of Technology I & II recommended); Elective; Elective (Second Language recommended); Advanced Science Elective; Elective; CTE Elective
NOTE: Science course sequences may vary by school. All students are encouraged to take any available higher-level mathematics and science courses, beginning in middle school. Courses in business, computers and communications are valuable to develop necessary career skills. Students pursuing a College Tech Prep course of study need four related Career Technical Education (CTE) credits. Ask your counselor for your school’s guidelines.