Nanotechnology Technician

Recognized Skill Standards
May 12, 2009


Nanotechnology is the science of very small things and involves the engineering of materials on the scale of atoms and molecules. The word “nano” means dwarf in Greek and refers to the very small size of nanostructures, which are typically between approximately .1 and 100 nanometers (nm) in size. A human hair has an average width of 80,000 nm. Atoms have an average width of .1 to .2 nm.

Nanotechnology is not a single stand-alone industry. Current applications for nano-scale materials include computer hard drives, non-volatile magnetic memory, automotive sensors, landmine detectors, cosmetics, paint, ink, glass coatings, and dressings for burns and wounds.

According to the 2006 Texas Nanotechnology Report published by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, Texas is considered a global leader in nanotechnology research and development and is top ranked nationally for research, venture capital, and commercialization of nano-materials.

Also from the Texas Nanotechnology Report, Texas had 20 start-up nanotechnology companies, ranking the state third after California and Massachusetts. There are a growing number of Texas universities with nanotechnology research centers, including Rice University, the University of Texas (Arlington, Dallas, and Austin), Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and Texas State University. All of these efforts represent the depth of potential for expanding the commercialization of nano-scale products, and an indication of the potential demand for trained technicians to support it.

As is common with emerging occupations, there is currently not a Bureau of Labor Statistics classification for the Nanotechnology Technician occupational area. The closest descriptors found in the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition, include electrical and electronic engineering technicians, electro-mechanical technicians, or industrial engineering technicians. In Texas, workers in these occupations earn an average hourly wage between $23.00 and $30.00. Employment in the state is projected to grow for all of these occupations. It can then be expected that the demand for technicians trained in the field of nanotechnology to increase as commercialization of new nano-scale materials increases.

Project Goals

The project goals were:

  • Identify voluntary skill standards for the nanotechnology technician occupational area to serve as benchmark for entry into this occupational area and to serve as guides for curriculum development of community and technical college programs of study that will effectively meet the needs of both the newly graduated entry-level worker and the seasoned professional returning to education to upgrade his or her workplace skills.
  • Publish and promote the results and support the use of skill standards by educators, businesses, unions, students, workers, and government agencies.


Development and Validation Methods

A Nanotechnology Technician job analysis was conducted in 2005 which resulted in the creation of a DACUM chart of duties, tasks, skills, and tools. The skill standards developed in this project used the 2005 DACUM as the job analysis method, as suggested in the Guidelines for Development, Recognition, and Usage of Skill Standards.

Texas skill standards staff worked with Texas State Technical College’s project director to develop skill standards element proposals based on the DACUM and coordinated teleconference and online surveys to engage industry subject matter experts, to fully develop and validate the resulting skill standards. Employers from Dallas and Austin participated on the development panel.

Duties and tasks were transcribed from the DACUM as Critical Work Functions (CWFs) and Key Activities (KAs) respectively. A group of subject matter experts (SMEs), was convened via teleconference. The SMEs validated that the DACUM elements were transcribed accurately and, where it was necessary, aggregated appropriately into CWFs and KAs. During the teleconference, staff facilitated a discussion between the SMEs to develop and define consensus-based performance criteria for each of the KAs.

Following the teleconference, SMEs were asked to respond to surveys in order to define consensus-based knowledge, skills, and conditions (tools) for each of the Key Activities (KAs). Those knowledge, skills, and conditions that 50% or greater of the respondents indicated as necessary to each KA were included in the skill standards.

An additional survey asked SME respondents to rate the complexity of each of seventeen academic and employability knowledge and skill areas. Respondents rated complexity on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 indicating low complexity, and 5 indicating high complexity) and the average of the responses was used to indicate the complexity level the CWF required of each knowledge or skill area. Where the average indicated a fraction, the survey criteria indicated that the nearest whole number would be used.

Finally, SMEs reviewed hard copy compilation of the skill standards elements defined in the teleconference (Critical Work Functions, Key Activities, Performance Criteria) and resulting from the surveys (Knowledge, Skills, and Conditions; and Academic and Employability Knowledge and Skills ratings.) They were asked to verify that all elements were captured and documented as discussed in the teleconference, to review and comment on proposed statements of assessment, and to indicate their validation by signing-off on the document.

The Nanotechnology Technician skill standards contain five critical work functions in the areas of building, installing, maintaining, and repairing nanotechnology equipment; such as probing and nanolithography systems, supporting nano-scale product development, and manufacturing nano-scale product.