School Subjects: English, Mathematics, Physics
Personal Skills: Mechanical/manipulative Technical/scientific
Work Environment: Primarily indoors; Primarily one location
Minimum Education Level: Associate’s degree
Salary Range: $26,620 to $42,130 to $75,000+
Certification or Licensing: Voluntary
Outlook: About as fast as the average
Microelectronics technicians work in research laboratories assisting the engineering staff to develop & construct prototype & custom-designed micro chips. Microchips, often called simply chips, are tiny but extremely complex electronic devices that control the operations of many kinds of communications equipment, consumer products, industrial controls, aerospace guidance systems, & medical electronics. The process of manufacturing chips is often called fabrication. About 233,000 people work as electrical & electronics engineering technicians.
The science of electronics is only about 100 years old. Yet electronics has had an enormous impact on the way people live. ‘Without electronics, things like television, computers, X-ray machines, & radar would not be possible. Today, nearly every area of industry, manufacturing, entertainment, health care, & communications uses electronics to improve the quality of people’s lives. This article you are reading, for example, was created by people using electronic equipment, from the writing of each article to the design, layout, & production of the book itself.
The earliest electronic systems depended on electron vacuum tubes to conduct current. But these devices were too bulky & too slow for many of their desired tasks. In the early 1950s, the introduction of microelectronics—that is, the design & production of integrated circuits & products using integrated circuits—allowed engineers & scientists to design faster & smaller electronic devices. Initially developed for military equipment & space technology, integrated circuits have made possible such everyday products as personal computers, microwave ovens, & DVD players & are found in nearly every electronic product that people use today.
Integrated circuits are miniaturized electronic systems. Integrated circuits include many interconnected electronic components such as transistors, capacitors, & resistors, produced on or in a single thin slice of a semiconductor material. Semiconductors are so named because they are substances with electrical properties somewhere between those of conductors & insulators. The semiconductor used most frequently in microchips is silicon, so microchips are also some times called silicon chips. Often smaller than a fingernail, chips may contain multiple layers of complex circuitry stacked on top of each other. The word integrated refers to the way the circuitry is blended into the chip during the fabrication process.
The reliance on electronic technology has created a need for skilled personnel to design, construct, test, & repair electronic components & products. The growing uses of microelectronics have created a corresponding demand for technicians specially trained to assist in the design & development of new applications of electronic technology.
Microelectronics technicians typically assist in the development of prototypes of electronic components & products. They work closely with electronics engineers, who design the components, build & test them, & prepare the component or product for large-scale manufacture. Such components usually require the integrated operation of several or many different types of chips.
Microelectronics technicians generally work from a schematic received from the design engineer. The schematic contains a list of the parts needed to construct the component & the layout that the technician will follow. The technician will gather the parts & pre pare the materials to be used. Following the schematic, the technician constructs the component & then uses a variety of sophisticated, highly sensitive equipment to test the component’s performance. One such test measures the component’s burn-in time. During this test the component is kept in continuous operation for a long period of time, & the component & its various features are subjected to a variety of tests to be certain the component will stand up to extended use.
If the component fails to function according to its required specifications, the microelectronics technician must be able to troubleshoot the design, locating where the component has failed, & replace one part for a new or different part. Test results are reported to the engineering staff, & the technician may be required to help in evaluating the results & preparing reports based on these evaluations. In many situations, the microelectronics technician will work closely with the engineer to solve any problems arising in the component’s operation & design.
After the testing period, the microelectronics technician is often responsible for assisting in the technical writing of the component’s specifications. These specifications are used for integrating the component into new or redesigned products or for developing the process for the component’s large-scale manufacture. The microelectronics technician helps to develop the production system for the component & will also write reports on the component’s functions, uses, & performance.
“You really need to have good communication skills,” says Kyle Turner, a microelectronics technician at White Oak Semi-Conductor in Sandstone, Virginia. “Not only do you have to let others know what you mean & explain yourself, you often have to train new employees in the specifics of product.”
Microelectronics technicians perform many of the same functions of electronics technicians, but generally work only in the development laboratory. More experienced technicians may assume greater responsibilities. They work closely with the engineering staff to develop layout & assembly procedures & to use their own knowledge of microelectronics to suggest changes in circuitry or installation. Often they are depended upon to simplify the assembly or maintenance requirements. After making any changes, they test the performance of the component, analyze the results, & suggest & perform further modifications to the component’s design. Technicians may fabricate new parts using various machine tools, supervise the installation of the new component, or become involved in training & supervising other technical personnel.
Some microelectronics technicians specialize in the fabrication & testing of semiconductors & integrated circuits. These technicians are usually called semiconductor development technicians. They are involved in the development of prototype chips, following the direction of engineering staff, & perform the various steps required for making & testing new integrated circuits.
The advanced technology involved in microelectronics means that post-high school education or training is a requirement for entering the field. You should consider enrolling in a two-year training pro gram at a community college or vocational training facility & expect to earn a certificate or an associate’s degree. Like most microelectronics technicians, Kyle Turner completed a two-year degree in electronics as well as an extensive on-the-job training program.
High school students interested in microelectronics can begin their preparation by taking courses such as algebra & geometry. If you have taken science courses, especially chemistry & physics, you will have a better chance to enter an apprenticeship program & you will be more prepared for postsecondary educational programs.
“Math skills are really important,” says Turner. “You have to be able to take accurate measurements & make good calculations.”
Knowledge of proper grammar & spelling is necessary for writing reports, & you should also develop your reading comprehension. Taking industrial classes, such as metalworking, wood shop, auto shop, & machine shop, & similar courses in plastics, electronics, & construction techniques will be helpful. Another area of study is computer science, & you would do well to seek experience in computer technology.
Few employers will hire people for microelectronics technician positions who don't have advanced training. Although some low-skilled workers may advance into technician jobs, employers generally prefer to hire people with higher education. Technician & associate’s degree programs are available at many community colleges & at public & private vocational training centers & schools. Many technical schools are located where there is an active microelectronics industry. These schools often have programs tailored specifically for the needs of companies in their area. Community colleges offer a greater degree of flexibility in that they are able to keep up with the rapid advances & changes in technology & can redesign their courses & programs to meet the new requirements. You can expect to study in such areas as mathematics, including algebra, geometry, & calculus; physics; & electronics engineering technology. Many schools will require you to take courses in English composition, as well as fulfill other course requirements in the humanities & social sciences.
Other methods of entry are three- & four-year apprenticeship programs. These programs generally involve on-the-job training by the employer. You can locate apprenticeship opportunities through your high school guidance office, in listings in local newspapers, or by contacting local manufacturers.
Military service is also an excellent method for beginning an electronics career. The military is one of the largest users of electronics technology & offers training & educational programs to enlisted personnel in many areas of electronics.
Finally, the rapid advancements in microelectronics may make it desirable or even necessary for you to continue to take courses, receive training, & study various trade journals throughout your career.
Certification or Licensing
Certification is not mandatory in most areas of electronics (although technicians working with radio-transmitting devices are required to be licensed by the Federal Communications Commission), but voluntary certification may prove useful in locating work & in increasing your pay & responsibilities. The International Society of Certified Electronics Technicians (ISCET) offers certification testing to technicians with four years of experience or schooling, as well as associate-level testing of basic electronics for beginning technicians. ISCET also offers a variety of study & training materials to help you prepare for the certification tests.
Microelectronics technicians are involved in creating prototypes— that's , new & untested technology. This aspect of the field brings special responsibilities for carrying out assembly & testing procedures: these must be performed with a high degree of precision. When assembling a new component, for example, you must be able to follow the design engineer’s specifications & instructions exactly. Similar diligence & attention to detail are necessary when following the different procedures for testing the new components. An understanding of the underlying technology is important.
You can begin exploring this field by getting involved in science clubs & working on electronics projects at home. Any part-time experience repairing electronic equipment will give you exposure to the basics of electronics.
You can find many resources for electronics experiments & projects in your school or local library or on the Internet. Summer employment in any type of electronics will be useful. Talking with someone who works in the field may help you narrow your focus to one particular area of electronics.
Many electrical & electronics engineering technicians work in the computers, electronics, & communications fields. Because these fields are geographically concentrated in California, Texas, & Massachusetts, many electronics technician jobs are located in these areas. There are positions available elsewhere, but many technicians relocate to work in these concentrated areas. Some electronics technicians are self-employed, some work for large corporations, & others work in government-related jobs.
Most schools provide job placement services to students completing their degree program. Many offer on-the-job training as a part of the program. An internship or other real-life experience is desirable but not necessary. Many companies have extensive on-site training programs.
Newspapers & trade journals are full of openings for people working in electronics, & some companies recruit new hires directly on campus. Government employment offices are also good sources when looking for job leads.
Microelectronics technicians who choose to continue their education can expect to increase their responsibilities & be eligible to advance to supervisory & managerial positions.
Microelectronics technicians may also desire to enter other, more demanding areas of microelectronics, such as semiconductor development & engineering. Additional education may be necessary; engineers will be required to hold at least a four-year degree in electronics engineering.
Becoming a certified electronics technician with testing from the International Society of Certified Electronics Technicians may be part of the requirement for advancement in certain companies.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, median annual earnings of electrical & electronics engineering technicians were $42,130 in 2001. Salaries ranged from less than $26,620 to more than $61,020. Median annual earnings of technicians who worked in the electronic components & accessories industry were $35,500 in 2000. Those in managerial or supervisory positions earn higher salaries, ranging between $33,000 & $75,000 per year. Wage rates vary greatly, according to skill level, type of employer, & location. Most employers offer some fringe benefits, including paid holidays & vacations, sick leave, & life & health insurance.
Microelectronics technicians generally work a 40-hour week, although they may be assigned to different shifts or be required to work weekends & holidays. Overtime & holiday pay can usually be expected in such circumstances. The work setting is extremely clean, well lighted, & dust free.
Microelectronics technicians have many duties, & this requires them to be flexible yet focused as they perform their duties. They have to be exact & precise in their work no matter what they’re doing, whether building an electronic component, running the tests, or recording the data. The fact that each day is often very different from the one before it's an aspect of the job that many technicians find appealing.
“One of the best things about the job is that it’s always changing. We’re always trying to make a better product, reduce cycle time, make it smaller or cheaper,” says Kyle Turner. “You’re always learning because it changes like crazy.”
Employment in the electronics industry are expected to grow as fast as the average over the next several years, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. This is because of increasing competition with in the industry & the rapid technological advances that characterize the electronics industry. Electronics is a growing industry, & the use of electronic technology will become more & more important to every aspect of people’s lives. This in turn will create a demand for workers with the skills & training to sustain the industry’s growth. In addition, as more & more manufacturers adapt electronic technology to their products & manufacturing processes, the need for skilled personnel will also increase.
The increasing reliability & durability of electronic technology, however, will have some effect on the need for technicians. Similarly, increasing imports of microelectronics products, components, & technology may represent a decrease in production in this country, which will in turn decrease the numbers of microelectronics technicians needed here. Nevertheless, the government will continue to account for a large part of the demand for microelectronics components, technology, & personnel.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For information on certification & student sections, contact
International Society of Certified Electronics Technicians
3608 Pershing Avenue
Fort Worth, TX 76 107-4527