If you have considered becoming an engineer, you may have wondered about the option to major in engineering technology. Engineering technology is a career field related to engineering, but the curricula, job titles, responsibilities and salary potential can be quite different between engineering and engineering technology. Like engineers, engineering technicians with the right skills and education are in demand in growing industries across the United States.
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Engineering vs. Engineering Technology
It isn’t just the names “engineering” and “engineering technology” that are similar. Both engineers and engineering technicians apply principles of science and math to the practical purpose of solving real-world problems. In fact, due to the overlap between these two fields, especially in their emphasis on math and science coursework, the difference between a degree in engineering and engineering technology might not be easily noticeable at first.
However, there are distinct academic requirements the set engineering and engineering technology degree programs apart. While engineering programs focus on theory and conceptual design, engineering technology programs focus on the actual application and implementation of ideas. Full-fledged engineers are the ones who design solutions to engineering needs and problems, while engineering technicians and technologists act as assistants who use their strong technical skills to help implement these designs by helping with data collection, prototype testing and machine function and maintenance. Since these two different career paths encompass such different responsibilities, the education needed to work in these fields is distinct, too.
When it comes to schooling, engineers usually graduate from four-year programs and consider moving on to graduate-level paths. Generally, a bachelor’s degree is the minimum education needed to become an engineer. Bachelor’s degree programs in engineering cover the concepts, theories and foundations of engineering design and offer opportunities to cultivate practical design skills, in addition to learning the technical skills needed to bring an engineering design to fruition.
Those that pursue engineering technology can graduate with an associate’s degree and immediately become a technician working in construction, manufacturing, product design, testing, or technical services and sales. Engineering technicians who continue their education with a bachelor’s degree in engineering technology can attain the title of technologist and work in engineering, facilities management, or business administration.
Engineering and engineering technology programs are accredited by two separate commissions within ABET, the Engineering Accreditation Commission and the Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission.
Is Engineering Technology a Good Degree?
Different people may define a “good degree” in different ways. By most measures, though, engineering technology (in any engineering discipline) would count as a good degree. It prepares students for a career with solid earning potential, a generally favorable job outlook and work that is challenging enough to be fulfilling. You don’t need to spend a decade in school pursuing multiple levels of advanced degrees to be able to get started in this field, which lessens the costs of pursuing this education – not only in terms of tuition dollars but also in opportunity costs, since you can get started earlier, and in terms of the time commitment required.
One factor to consider when asking this question is whether you plan to pursue an engineering technology degree at the associate’s or bachelor’s level. Engineering technology is among the top degrees that are better to earn at a community college than a four-year school, according to U.S. News & World Report. In this field, acquiring specific technical skills and professional certifications is often more valuable than earning a baccalaureate degree in terms of both marketability for job opportunities in the field and earning potential. A BS engineering technology salary isn’t significantly higher than a typical salary with only an associate’s degree in engineering technology, according to U.S. News & World Report.
It’s also important to think about whether this degree is a good fit for your personal strengths and interests. To succeed in an engineering technology degree program, you’re going to need to be good at math and science and to have the aptitude to develop significant technical skills.
The Need for Engineering Technicians and Technologists
Engineering technicians and technologists work in a variety of places. The industries employing the most engineering technicians and technologists include the federal government, engineering services, scientific research and development, employment services and navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). All in all, there were about 327,530 engineering technicians and technologists employed in seven different engineering disciplines across the United States as of 2020.
While the engineers who design and develop new solutions to problems play a crucial role in innovation, the work of engineering technicians and technologists is essential in bringing these solutions to life. The more extensive your technical skills, the more in demand you will be in the job market.
While having a breadth of practical skills can help you qualify for many engineering technician roles, having more specialized skills can help you advance to higher-level niche roles.
Job Demand in Different Fields of Engineering Technology
The field where engineering technicians and technologists were most needed as of 2020 was aerospace engineering. According to the BLS, aerospace engineering technicians and technologists can expect opportunities to increase by 9 percent between 2020 and 2030, on par with the job growth rate for all occupations. In addition to the option of preparing for this career path by earning an associate’s degree in aerospace engineering technology, you can also complete vocational-technical education in computer programing or robotics as well as machining. Many aerospace engineering technicians and technologists work for the government with projects that involve national defense, so they need to have security clearances. Those that pursue civilian opportunities can find work constructing aircraft.
The BLS anticipated a job growth rate of 8 percent between 2020 and 2030 for environmental engineering technicians and technologists. Environmental engineering technicians and technologists work to prevent or clean up environmental pollution. They collect samples to analyze, work to mitigate sources of pollution and arrange for the disposal of hazardous waste materials.
Mechanical engineering technicians and technologists should expect a 6 percent job growth rate, leading to 2,300 new jobs added between 2020 and 2030, according to the BLS. Many mechanical engineering technicians are contracted for work rather than hired for in-house positions. There are pros and cons to contract work, in general, but contract work tends to be a better option for skilled contractors like engineering technicians and technologists than for workers in unskilled contractor roles. Mechanical engineering technicians and technologists that work under mechanical engineers might work in growing fields such as automation, 3D printing, robotics, and alternative energies.
Jobs for industrial engineering technicians and technologists are expected to increase by 4 percent from 2020 through 2030, the BLS reported. Industrial engineering technicians and technologists perform work such as designing production workflows, putting together manufacturing machinery and equipment plans and analyzing production costs and statistics. It should come as no surprise, then, that four out of the top five employing industries for industrial engineering technicians and technologists are in manufacturing industries. The computer and electronic product manufacturing industry employs 19 percent of the occupation, followed by the transportation manufacturing industry’s 13 percent share of the profession, the chemical manufacturing industry’s 8 percent of the profession and the machinery manufacturing industry’s 7 percent of the profession. Another 10 percent of the field is employed in the professional, scientific and technical services industry.
New job opportunities for civil engineering technicians and technologists are likely to grow at the slower than average rate of just 2 percent from 2020 through 2030, according to the BLS. Civil engineering technicians and technologists are often employed by state and local governments to work with civil engineers on projects to improve, repair, and enhance the country’s infrastructure. These technicians and technologists work with engineers to plan, design, and build highways, bridges and utilities along with commercial, industrial, residential, and land development projects. Civil engineering technicians and technologists read and review project drawings, observe project sites, test construction materials and soil samples, and set up and maintain project files and records.
Jobs for electrical and electronics engineering technicians and technologists, too, are expected to grow by only 2 percent between 2020 and 2030, according to the BLS. Electrical and electronics engineering technicians and technologists usually need an associate’s degree in their respective fields. The reason their job growth is so slow is due to these technicians and technologists primarily working in traditional manufacturing industries, which are slowly downsizing. Like mechanical engineering technicians, electrical and electronics engineering technicians and technologists are likely to see contracting opportunities emerge, particularly in the professional, scientific and technical services industry, the BLS reported.
Don’t be discouraged if technician and technology job opportunities in your intended engineering discipline are growing at slower than average rates right now. Just because the number of new jobs being created may not be what you would wish, jobs in these fields are still opening up as current workers move into senior-level roles, retire, switch careers or otherwise leave the workforce. For example, the BLS expects there to be 11,000 job openings per year for electrical and electronics engineering technicians and 6,500 openings per year for civil engineering technicians, on average.
To put these numbers in perspective, the BLS expects job opportunities across all architecture and engineering occupations to increase by 6 percent between 2020 and 2030, culminating in 146,000 total new jobs for all kinds of engineers, engineering technicians and technologists, architects, drafters and related roles.
Engineering vs. Engineering Technology Salary
What can you expect from an engineering technology degree salary? Like engineers, engineering technicians and technologists can expect somewhat different earning potential depending on the discipline of engineering in which they work. However, what’s consistent against the salary potential across all engineering disciplines is that engineering technicians and technologists earn significantly less than their engineer colleagues in the same discipline.
The median salary for engineering technicians and technologists in 2020 ranged from $51,630 to $68,570 depending on the discipline of engineering in which you work, according to the BLS. However, the engineering technician and technologist occupations have a huge wage gap between the highest and lowest earners. The lowest-earning engineering technicians and technologists in the least lucrative disciplines earned $70,000 less per year than the highest-paid engineering technicians and technologists in the most lucrative discipline.
Environmental engineering is the least profitable of the major disciplines for engineering technicians and technologists. The BLS reported the median salary for environmental engineering technicians and technologists in 2020 as $51,630. In comparison, the BLS reported that environmental engineers earned a median wage of $92,120 in 2020, putting their median earnings at almost 80 percent more than the technicians and technologists working beneath them.
The median salary for civil engineering technicians and technologists in 2020 was $54,080, according to the BLS. For civil engineers, the BLS reported a 2020 median wage of $88,570. That puts civil engineers’ earning potential at nearly 65 percent more than that of civil engineering technicians and technologists.
For industrial engineering technicians and technologists in 2020, the median wage was $57,320, according to the BLS. Industrial engineers earned a median annual salary that’s $30,000 higher, at $88,950.
The BLS reported that mechanical engineering technicians and technologists enjoyed a median salary of $58,230 as of 2020. For mechanical engineers, the median wage in 2020 was $90,160.
Electrical and electronics engineering technicians and technologists earned a median salary of $67,550 in 2020, according to the BLS, while electrical and electronics engineers earned a median wage of $103,390.
The median salary for aerospace engineering technicians and technologists in 2020 was $68,570, making this the highest-paying discipline for engineering technicians and technologists, according to the BLS. For aerospace engineers, the median salary in 2020 was $118,610.
There’s no question that engineering technician and technologist roles are less lucrative than full engineer roles. Still, engineering technicians and technologists make good money, especially when they prepare for their education with an associate’s degree program instead of a bachelor’s degree program – cutting out considerable time and expense in tuition dollars. The median wage for all workers with an associate’s degree in 2020 was $938 per week, which adds up to $48,776 over the course of a year, according to the BLS.
For all of the above engineering technician occupations, the median salaries were well above the $41,950 median salary across all occupations in 2020. Engineering technicians in the 90th percentile – those earning more than 90 percent of the profession – made salaries in the $80,000-, $90,000-, or even $100,000-range. For example, the top 10 percent of aerospace engineering technicians can earn more than $103,450.
If you want to boost your earning potential as an engineering technician, make it a priority to learn advanced and in-demand technical skills. For example, many of the highest-earning aerospace engineering technicians work in positions that involve programming CNC machines for manufacturing, according to U.S. News & World Report.