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Instrument Technician Skills: Everything You Need to Know to Progress in Your Career

  • Publish Date: Posted 7 months ago
  • Author: Kelly O'Neill

​Feeling stuck in your current role? Not sure which instrument technician skills you should refine? You're not alone. Staying relevant in an ever-evolving industry is more difficult than ever as expectations, requirements, and labor laws continue to change.

If you're ready to enhance your instrument tech skills and propel your career forward, you're in the right place. We specialize in recognizing your potential and connecting you with the opportunities you deserve ​

We’ve asked our team of recruiting experts for their insight into the hard and soft skills that all instrument techs need for success, including their daily responsibilities and resources for further development.

What is an Instrument Technician?

So, you want to be an instrument technician? Or maybe you already are an instrument tech and you’re here hoping to be a better one. Either way, let’s start from the beginning and answer “what is an instrument technician?” What are they responsible for? Where do they work? Why are they so crucial to an organization’s safety and success?

Let’s paint a picture for you: Imagine the power generation field as an orchestra (swapping technical instruments out for musical instruments here but bear with us. We promise it’s worth it). In this scenario, an instrument technician is the master tuner, ensuring each individual instrument performs at its best. That violin screeching in the background? They immediately respond, troubleshoot, and document their process so the next time a violin sounds more like a cat than an instrument, they know exactly what to do. This not only improves the overall performance of the entire ensemble, but also ensures the safety of everyone in the vicinity (nobody needs to cover their ears anymore).

An instrument technician is a specialized role that focuses on the installation, maintenance, and troubleshooting of various instruments and control systems in industrial settings. In the energy-producing sector, your expertise is essential for maintaining peak performance and reliable power generation.

Step into the World of Instrument Techs ​

Instrument technicians have a wide range of responsibilities that go beyond mere installation and maintenance. Tasked with more than just the setup and upkeep of devices, these professionals stand as the critical first responders to the intricate challenges that arise within a power plant's ecosystem.

Per Sé Group recruiter, Suzi Richerson notes "instrument technicians in the power generation, renewable energy, and oil and gas industries play a critical role in ensuring the smooth operation, safety, and efficiency of equipment and systems." ​

While no two days are the same in an instrument tech role, their daily tasks are a blend of proactive problem-solving, precision, and safety. Over the last 30 plus years, our team has found that the following proficiencies make the difference between an ordinary instrument tech and a great one.

Installation and Calibration: Technicians are responsible for installing new instruments and ensuring they are calibrated correctly for optimal performance.

Maintenance and Troubleshooting: Regular checks, servicing, and troubleshooting of instruments are essential tasks. Technicians must be adept at identifying issues and resolving them promptly to prevent operational disruptions. You're on the front lines, servicing the heart of the plant, and when an issue arises, you're the go-to troubleshooter. Your swift, skilled response keeps the wheels of industry turning and the lights on.

System Monitoring: With a watchful eye on complex control systems like DCS and PLCs, you're the guardian of the grid. Your role is pivotal in monitoring these systems, catching the slightest hiccup before it becomes a full-blown system snafu.

Documentation: Detailed records of all activities, from installation to troubleshooting, must be kept for compliance and future reference. This includes marking up drawings for as-built revisions and documenting work in test forms and condition reports. Consider this your legacy. ​

Hard Skills: The Technical Essentials

You probably didn't just wake up one day and decide, "Hey, I want to calibrate transmitters and troubleshoot DCS systems." Or maybe you did. Either way, you're here, and you've got a role that's as complex as it is crucial. Mastering the “hard skills” and the “must-haves” is the surest way to progress your career and provide value to your organization.

What are hard skills? They’re the tangible, teachable proficiencies you can measure and test, the ones you list on your resume, and the skills that get your foot in the door. But once you're in, they're what keep the plant running and the energy flowing.

Calibration and Troubleshooting

Calibration is the lifeblood of your work. It ensures accurate readings and unwavering consistency. Your entire operation depends on it. And when it comes to troubleshooting, you're the go-to expert who dives right into the challenge, identifies the issue, and finds a solution to keep everything running smoothly, no matter the pressure.

Looking to improve your instrument tech calibration skills? Check out the resources below.

Skill Development Resources:

  • Calibration Workshops: Many organizations offer hands-on training in calibration techniques. These workshops provide practical experience that can be invaluable in the field. There are also several reputable online resources you may explore to beef up your instrument technician skills. Sites like the International Society of Automation produce high-quality calibration training resources.

  • Troubleshooting Guides: Books and online resources can provide additional insights into effective troubleshooting methods. Websites like InstrumentationTools.com offer a wealth of articles and guides on these topics.

Systems Knowledge ​

Understanding complex systems like Distributed Control Systems (DCS) and Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) is crucial. These systems are integral to the operation of power plants, and a small error can have significant consequences.

Distributed Control Systems are sophisticated software and hardware networks that manage and regulate complex industrial processes. They are the central nervous system of a plant's operations, designed to ensure everything runs smoothly, efficiently, and safely.

DCS systems are typically used in industries where processes are complex, operations are continuous or batch-oriented, and high reliability is critical. This includes power generation, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, and chemical manufacturing, among others. ​

Skill Development Resources:

  • Online Courses: Websites like Coursera and Udemy offer specialized courses on DCS and PLC systems. These courses often come with certification that can be a valuable addition to your resume.

  • Vendor Training: Companies that manufacture these systems often offer training programs. These programs provide in-depth knowledge and practical experience with the systems you'll be working with.

Documentation and Procedure Management

Documentation is not just a bureaucratic requirement; it's a crucial part of the job. Accurate records can help in troubleshooting and are essential for compliance with various regulations. It's the map that guides future technicians through the labyrinth of past operations, the breadcrumb trail of decisions, actions, and outcomes that have shaped the current state of the plant.

Without proper documentation, you’re reinventing the wheel every time an issue arises. Instead of taking an open-book exam, you’re left scrambling trying to figure out how to fix something you’ve already addressed before. This takes time and energy, two resources your organization likely can’t spare. Talk about frustrating.

Skill Development Resources:

  • Technical Writing Courses: These can help improve your documentation skills. Websites like LinkedIn Learning offer courses specifically focused on technical writing for engineers and technicians.

  • Templates and Software: Various tools and software can streamline the documentation process. Software like ProCalV5 is designed specifically for calibration management and documentation.

Soft Skills: The Underestimated Essentials

​Just as you didn't leap out of bed with a burning desire to decode the intricacies of a DCS, it's unlikely you envisioned the day you'd be the maestro of soft skills in the industrial symphony. Yet, here you are. Soft skills are the harmonics to the hard skills' melody (we’re really getting the most out of this orchestra analogy), the subtle yet powerful competencies that enable you to lead, communicate, and innovate in a field where collaboration equals success.

What exactly are soft skills? In most cases, they're the less tangible, often innate abilities that aren't quantified by certifications or degrees, yet they're the ones that make you stand out in the workplace. They're the skills that help you articulate the complex language of instrumentation to those not versed in it, and the empathy that allows you to understand and resolve the concerns of colleagues and clients alike. While hard skills might get you through the door, it's your soft skills that help you navigate the corridors of your career, building relationships, and fostering a productive, safe, and positive work environment.

While these skills are considered by some “unteachable,” don’t let that discourage you! Our team has found tremendous success when it comes to brushing up on soft skills. Plenty of resources like LinkedIn Learning, professional development books, and sites like Udemy all provide fantastic opportunities to improve the necessary instrument technician skills below.

Problem-Solving

When something goes wrong, the instrument technician is often the first person called to diagnose and fix the problem. This requires a keen analytical mind and a methodical approach to problem-solving. Refining your critical thinking skills and wearing your detective’s hat makes all the difference in your role as an effective instrument technician. It's a skill honed through experience, a blend of learned technique and innate talent.

Communication

One of the most crucial instrument technician skills you ought to focus on throughout your career is clear communication. Your clear and concise communication is the key to ensuring compliance and averting costly misunderstandings. In essence, your words are as vital as your actions

Adaptability

In the power generation and energy industries, change is the only constant. With new technologies and regulations coming into play regularly, adaptability is key to staying relevant in this ever-changing environment. ​

Attention to Detail

A minor oversight can have significant consequences in the high-stakes world of power generation. Attention to detail is, therefore, a critical soft skill for any instrument technician.

Skill Up: Training and Certifications

If you’re looking to progress your career, keeping your training and certifications current is like keeping your tools sharp – it's non-negotiable.

When you're up to date with your certifications, you're sending a clear signal: you're a professional who means business, who respects the craft, and who's committed to the kind of excellence that powers industries and lights up cities.

ISA Certification

The International Society of Automation (ISA) offers a Certified Control Systems Technician (CCST) program. This certification covers a broad range of topics and is highly respected in the industry.

Online Courses

Platforms like Coursera and Udemy offer a wide range of courses that can help you skill up. From technical skills like calibration and systems management to soft skills like communication, there's a course for almost everything.

Industry Seminars and Webinars

These events provide an opportunity to learn from experts in the field and can be an excellent networking opportunity. Websites like Eventbrite often list upcoming industry-specific seminars and webinars.

Refine Your Instrument Technician Skills and Find a New Role With Per Sé Group

As an instrument technician in the power generation sector, you navigate a landscape that's as demanding as it is fulfilling. Your career is built on a foundation of diverse technical know-how complemented by soft skills that are just as vital. Sharpening these skills and tapping into the wealth of resources at your disposal is more than a path to personal excellence; it's how you become a linchpin in your team and a driving force in your organization's success.

Whether you’re looking for career coaching or a new role, join our network today to connect with an instrument technician recruiter and take the next step in your career.