Polymers are a group of materials that include plastics, rubber, adhesives, resins and fibres. Polymer technicians are involved in the manufacture of these materials, or use them to make other component parts or products. The three main groups of materials are:
Composites manufacturing is a particularly important area of development. There is a major increase in the use of polymers within the manufacturing process, replacing traditional materials, such as metal.
Polymer technicians ensure that the manufacturing process works effectively. They may work in factories or with research and development organisations. They often work with sophisticated machines and have responsibility for their supervision. They may also be involved in the setting up of machinery, production, maintenance and quality control checks.
Technicians usually work with operatives and engineers to ensure that production is efficient and cost effective. They support them in ensuring that new processes and materials are introduced successfully. They also aim to solve technical problems before the materials go into production. This may involve the development and provision of the tools necessary for the production process to run smoothly. These can take the form of extrusion dies, mould tools or formers. They are used in a wide range of plastic, rubber and composite manufacture, including extrusion, resin infusion, injection moulding, blow moulding, rotational moulding and dip moulding.
In addition to the technical work described above, technicians may also supervise the work of operatives and liaise with customers and suppliers.
Polymer technicians normally work standard full-time hours, which may include shifts and weekend work. Overtime may sometimes be required in order to meet deadlines.
Technicians may work in a number of different working environments. These may range from quiet, modern offices to laboratories and factory production or maintenance areas, which may be noisy.
When working on a production line, technicians usually wear overalls and protective clothing. At other times, they may wear formal office clothing.
A starting salary as an apprentice may be around £9,000 a year.
The basic starting salary for a qualified polymer technician may be about £14,000. With further experience, this may rise to around £20,000 a year.
Senior technicians may earn up to £30,000 a year.
Around 14,000 companies are involved in polymer processing, employing around 280,000 people in the UK. The smaller companies often specialise in small injection moulding, making goods such as electrical switches and light fittings. A technician working for one of the larger companies, however, may be involved in the manufacture of a range of products, such as household goods, electrical products, medical products, synthetic fibres and high-performance fibres.
Polymer science is an expanding area. It is likely that new companies will continue to develop across the UK as new uses are found for plastic, rubber and composite materials in the home, industry and medical professions.
There is currently a shortage of qualified technicians, particularly those with Level 3 qualifications. Jobs may be advertised in the local press, at Jobcentre Plus offices and in the magazine Plastics and Rubber Weekly. Opportunities may also be found on the web sites of manufacturing companies and agencies specialising in industrial recruitment.
There are two main routes of entry:
Polymer technician Apprenticeships may be available. Entry is with five GCSE's (A*-C), including maths and science or technology, or equivalent qualifications, such as the BTEC First Diploma in applied science.
Vocational A levels and BTEC Certificates or Diplomas provide an alternative route. An applicant can then apply to an employer for a trainee technician post. Entry to these courses is usually with four GCSE's (A*-C), including maths and science or technology, or equivalent.
Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.
Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The Diploma in manufacturing and product design may be relevant for this area of work.
For those already working in the industry at craft level, there may be opportunities to progress to technician level. This usually involves studying part time towards a relevant BTEC Certificate or Diploma, pursuing polymer qualifications offered by PAA\VQ-SET or achieving an NVQ Level 3 qualification.
Many companies offer technicians the chance to work towards NVQ's in polymers. This will accredit the practical elements of the job and also provide the theoretical structure. This may be achieved by studying at a local college on a day- or block-release basis.
The Cogent Sector Skills Council (SSC) has also been leading the development of a range of qualifications dealing with specific training elements appropriate for this role, which have been accredited on the Qualifications and Credit Framework. These include qualifications focusing on operations, maintenance and support functions within polymer processing environments.
Polymer technicians are encouraged to become members of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3), which will entail meeting a number of criteria.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
Polymer technicians need:
With experience, a polymer technician can progress to a senior technician role. With further experience and qualifications, it may be possible to work as a polymer technologist. Some may move into purchasing, sales or management.
Technicians may find work with engineering consultancies, providing project installation services for clients.
It is possible to work up from apprentice to incorporated or chartered engineer.
British Plastics Federation,
5-6 Bath Place, Rivington Street,
London EC2A 3JE
Tel: 020 7457 5000
The British Rubber and Polyurethane Products Association,
6 Bath Place, Rivington Street, London EC2A 3JE
Tel: 0845 301 6852
Composites UK, 4A Broom Business Park,
Bridge Way, Chesterfield S41 9QG
Tel: 01246 266245
Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining,
1 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5DB
Tel: 020 7451 7300
The Federation for Industry Skills and Standards,
10 York Place, Edinburgh EH1 3EP
Tel: 0300 303 4444
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.