Highway Technician

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Highway Technician


Many important aspects of our lives including highways, roads, parking lots and other transportation sources are the products of highway engineering. For example, roads and tunnels, which provide people with safe and speedy travel access require the expertise and technical skills of a highway technician. Highway technicians provide technical support and services to highway civil engineers and contractors and help design and build roads. They have a significant effect on everyone's lives because the roads they help design transport people and goods, thereby fuelling our economy and making our lives run smoothly. Without their essential work, our world would have no safe highway infrastructure.

A highway technician serves as the link between civil engineers and skilled craftsmen. They adopt scientific, mathematical and engineering theories in order to solve various technical problems in the areas of research and development, manufacturing, construction, inspection and maintenance. Some technicians estimate construction costs and suggest materials to be used in particular projects, while others conduct land surveys and ground tests and take measurements. Some also prepare sketches and drawings and monitor instruments used in different research studies. In compiling the combined research and data, technicians will sort and analyze the data, calculate formulas and develop a road design.

Most highway technicians specialize in a specific area once they gain some experience, such as research and development, quality control and manufacturing. While assisting in development and research, technicians often work in laboratories conducting scientific studies and research for highway engineers. They also participate in field surveys, inspections or technical investigations of topography, soils, drainage and water supply systems around road and highway systems and provide their findings as data in projects. Quality control involves conducting inspections and tests that must be performed in order to examine the existing quality of roads and highways. Technicians are proficient at using transists, levels, density testing devices, and many other quality control test instruments. Thirdly, the manufacturing side deals more with hands-on design, development and even possibly production.

Highway technicians use traditional and high-tech tools like Intelligent Transportation Systems and Smart Systems to help engineers solve problems and meet challenges such as traffic congestion, exhaust pollution and urban development in relation to our highway infrastructure. In another study, highway technicians were hired to assist engineers in examining the need for passing lanes and their effect on the level of traffic.

Accordingly, highway technicians conduct research in each project and evaluate their findings to suit the most cost-effective solutions to problems within safety and environmental standards. They are required to constantly update their skills and knowledge in order to keep up with technological advancements in this quickly changing field.
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  Interests and Skills  
Highway technicians must possess good communication skills because they work closely with contractors, engineers and clients. They should be interested in mathematics, science and technology and enjoy working with scientific equipment and computers. There is some outdoor work involved in the job, so they should enjoy a fine balance between the two working environments.

Highway technicians analyze information and design sketches in order to solve problems. Attention to details is an important trait to possess as well as working effectively under pressure with deadline situations. Since many engineering technicians assist in design and drawing projects, creativity and artistry are also desirable.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Develop and implement engineering designs and drawings from preliminary concepts and sketches
  • Prepare construction specifications, cost and material estimates, project schedules and reports
  • Conduct field surveys, inspections or technical investigations of topography, soils, drainage and water supply systems in relation to road and highway systems
  • Conduct inspection and testing of construction materials
  • Assist in planning and scheduling highway and roads projects
  • Perform other technical functions in support of highway engineering practices
  • Prepare cost estimates and monitor project costs
  • Draft detailed dimensional drawings and designs layouts for highway projects to ensure conformance to specifications
  • Ensure that safety, design and environmental specifications are followed and legislation requirements are met
  • This field provides indoor and outdoor workplace environments with both private contractors and public or governmental agencies. For those wishing to work in an office setting, opportunities exist for AutoCAD operators, estimators and designers. A laboratory setting offers hands-on scientific research and experimentation in material testing and inspection. Outdoor work opportunities include preliminary and construction surveyors, inspecting all types of highway projects. A typical day can often include both indoor office or laboratory work and some outdoor fieldwork. It is important to note that some highway technicians may be exposed to hazards on the job from chemicals, toxic materials or equipment.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Highway technicians work in both the public and private sectors. They are employed by government agencies, transportation engineering consulting firms, construction companies, parking lot companies, research and educational institutions, communications companies and many other industries. Some highway technicians are self-employed and work on a freelance basis.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Entry-level highway technicians may begin their careers by performing routine duties under the close supervision of a civil engineer. They usually work in an engineering office helping to produce construction documents, or with a contracting firm helping to control the construction of a project. As technicians gain experience, they are often given more responsibility and more challenging assignments, often with less supervision.

Certain highway technicians may eventually move into more managerial roles and become supervisors. Additional experience could lead to work as a roads inspector, CAD operator, or a draftsperson for a municipal engineering department. Further advancement opportunities could include supervisory and project management positions. Possible career options for highway technicians include employment as drafters, surveyors, cartographers, construction specialists and surveying technicians.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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