Whether you’re interested in a future as an engineering technician or a full-fledged engineer, an associate’s degree can be a great starting point for your career. The demand for workers with a two-year degree in engineering depends on a number of factors, including whether you study engineering or engineering technology, what discipline of engineering you go into and how much further study or on-the-job training you receive.

Engineering and Engineering Technology

The first thing prospective students should know about associate’s degrees in engineering is that there is a difference between studying engineering and studying engineering technology. Many associate’s degrees are offered in the field of engineering technology, rather than engineering. One important reason for this is because you must have a bachelor’s degree if you plan to be an engineer. If you want to go for your associate’s degree, you need to either be prepared to transfer to a four-year college to complete your bachelor’s degree requirements or going into the somewhat different, though related, career path of engineering technician.

What Is the Demand for an Associate’s Degree in Engineering

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Both paths can lead to a good job. Engineers, who apply science and mathematical principles to designing solutions to real-world problems in a variety of disciplines, earn a median annual wage of $92,220l, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Engineering technicians are the ones with the technical job of installing, testing, maintaining, repairing and troubleshooting technology created by engineers. An engineering technician can expect a median salary from $50,230 to $67,240 depending on discipline, the BLS reported, although with specialized on-the-job training, engineering technicians can earn six-figure salaries in senior-level roles, according to U.S. News & World Report.

A bachelor’s degree is required to use the title engineer as well as to attain a Professional Engineering (PE) license, though licensure is voluntary and not required to become an engineer.

Demand for Engineering Technicians

Overall, career opportunities for engineering technicians are growing at nearly the same rate as jobs for all occupations. The BLS predicts a six percent increase in jobs for all engineering technicians, mapping technicians and drafters. However, what your job prospects would be in this occupation depend a great deal on what discipline of engineering technology you choose as your specialty.

The fastest growing branch of engineering technology is environmental, which currently employs about 17,000 Americans. The BLS expects opportunities in environmental engineering technology to rise by 13 percent, which will lead to an additional 2,200 jobs. However, occupations that already employ more engineering technicians may have lower rates of job growth but add more jobs to the economy. For example, there are already 81,100 civil engineering technicians working in the U.S., and the nine percent anticipated job growth rate should result in 6,600 new jobs.

Engineering technician jobs in other disciplines aren’t growing quite so fast. Opportunities for industrial engineering technicians, for example, are expected to see little to no change with a growth rate of just one percent, or 400 new jobs expected. Electromechanical technicians and electrical and electronics engineering technicians will see slower than average rates of growth, according to the BLS.

The field of aerospace engineering technology has an average job outlook with a seven percent growth rate expected, but its above average pay makes it the most profitable branch of engineering technology.

Demand for Engineers

If you’re willing to put in at least another two years of additional studies beyond your associate’s degree, you might wonder what job outlook is in store for engineers. The BLS expects the total number of engineering jobs in all disciplines to increase by nearly 140,000 over a decade.

As with engineering technology roles, new jobs for engineers are likely to be more plentiful in some branches of engineering than in others. Engineering opportunities as a whole are predicted to increase by eight percent. The discipline seeing the fastest growth rate, 15 percent, is petroleum engineering, which currently employs 33,700 Americans but should add another 5,100 jobs. The field of marine engineering should see a 12 percent job growth, but since it only accounts for 8,200 jobs, that double-digit increase will only add 1,000 new positions. The much larger occupation of civil engineering, employing 303,500 Americans, will see 32,200 new jobs if it grows at the anticipated 11 percent rate.

On the other end of the spectrum are slower growing engineering roles. Engineers working in two branches, nuclear engineering and materials engineering, are seeing what the BLS terms “slower than average” job growth. For nuclear engineers, a four percent growth rate will add just 700 jobs. Materials engineers will likely see only 400 new jobs opening over a decade if job growth occurs at the expected two percent. Of course, there are several other engineering disciplines which are growing at approximately average rates, such as mechanical engineering, health and safety engineering and electrical and electronics engineering.

The curricula of engineering and engineering technology programs are different. Aspiring engineers who earn an associate’s degree in engineering technology may have to start their education over from scratch at a four-year school.