What is an Engineering Technician?


become an engineering technician

Guenter Wendt was an engineer who worked for NASA in the “golden age of space” of the 1960s. He had studied in Germany before joining the German Army and fighting with the Nazis in WWII. You may know his name from the movie Apollo 13 when Tom Hanks, as Jim Lovell, quipped, “Ah, Guenter Wendt. I wonder where Guenter Wendt?” He is known by aerospace professionals as the man who controlled the launchpad. Still, the Apollo contractor refused to hire him full time. In fact, when the fire erupted on the Apollo One mission and killed three astronauts, Wendt was at home. The astronauts of Apollo Seven refused to fly their mission unless Wendt was reinstated as Pad Leader.

Why is this important to a discussion of engineer technician jobs? It is important because Wendt was an engineer, not a technician. Still, the astronauts considered him indispensable. Many people who work as engineering technicians are considered “background people”.  Even so, they are vital to the industries all the same.

Becoming an engineering technician could be wise for your career development.  This is particularly true for those who want to be an engineer but don’t want to spend a lot of time in college. In many industries, engineering technicians are considered the “doers”. This is because they are the ones doing the hands-on work while working alongside engineers. Whether it is setting up and calibrating equipment, making calculations, or using their math and science skills to assist engineers, engineering technicians are an important part of engineering.

What is an Engineering Technician?

become an engineer

Engineering technicians are trained engineering professionals who work with engineers. They regularly help them with all of their duties.  The engineering technician job description varies depending on the field of engineering. While engineers use their math and science knowledge to solve problems and design products, engineering technicians assist the engineers in many tasks. These tasks may include:

  • collecting data
  • designing and performing tests
  • assembling equipment
  • recording test data

Their job duties vary by the industry in which they work. An automotive engineering technician may diagnose and fix a car problem.  An electronics and electrical engineering technician will work to put together electrical systems. The duties of an engineering technician will also vary by their place of employment.

What Does an Engineering Technician Do?

Mechanical Engineering Tech

Mechanical engineering technicians can be found at work in a wide variety of settings and industries. These workers specialize in building and maintaining entire systems of mechanical elements. Manufacturing plants, laboratories, and even military operations rely on mechanical engineering technicians on a daily basis. Chemical feed pumps, elevator systems, communications systems, pneumatic systems, and advanced robotics systems are a handful of the elements that these professionals may work with.

Civil Engineering Tech

Civil engineering technicians work for both the government and private entities.  They design the many structural components found throughout society.  These are usually owned by government authorities. Examples of these types of structures include bridges, roads, dams, electrical grid systems, irrigation and water systems. This role of civil engineering tech often takes the worker back and forth between the field and the office.

CAD Operator

CAD operators are essentially artists and designers who use CAD (computer-aided drafting) programs to fulfill their work tasks. CAD operators work in many venues.  Some of these include architect firms, millwright firms, construction companies, and manufacturing companies. While it is true that many CAD operators went to school for CAD knowledge, many others came to succeed in this field strictly through an engineering background.

Industrial Mechanical Engineer

Today’s industrial mechanical engineer acts in many of the same capacities as does the above-mentioned mechanical engineer, but with a slight variation in focus. In this particular role, the engineer is much more focused on work in the industrial sector. This makes for a more select area of venues in which the engineer might be found.  They are found mostly in the manufacturing sector. The management of instrumentation designs, electro-mechanical systems, industrial plumbing and HVAC systems and waste management systems all fall under the responsibility umbrella of this worker.

Engineering Consultant

Engineering consultants represent yet another important role as an engineering technician. Here, the technician applies their knowledge by providing expert advise to various client companies and individuals. These companies contact them when they are in need of the specific expertise they can provide. Those working in this role can be found working for larger, consultation-providing organizations.  They can also often be found just as successfully working on their own. This type of worker can often have a greater personal choice in the exact type of engineering work and clientele they would prefer to work with.

How to Become an Engineering Technician

engineering technician

To become an engineering technician, you must complete a two-year associate degree program.  This degree should be in engineering technology. Potential engineering technicians should complete as many science and math courses in high school as possible. Engineering technician programs should be accredited. This accreditation is offered by the Technology Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). There are currently about 700 ABET-accredited engineering technology programs in the United States.

Engineering technology programs are usually found at community colleges or technical schools. They include various science and math courses as well as courses. These include courses in thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, mechanical design, digital electronics, and environmental regulations. Students enrolled in an engineering technology degree program can choose to specialize in a specific area.

In addition to earning a degree, engineering technicians often obtain certification.  This works as a way to enhance employment options and demonstrate their knowledge. The American Society of Certified Engineering Technicians is one organization that offers the necessary exams.

Another Option

The “gold standard” for an engineering technician is the associate’s, or even bachelor’s, degree. Another way to become an engineering technician is through a program at a trade school. Programs for HVAC engineering technicians, for example, can take anywhere from ten months to two years to complete. The longer programs are the equivalent of an associate degree.  The 10-month program will usually award a certificate. HVAC engineering technicians may also have to complete some extra training in an area of expertise.

Employers will also sometimes hire applicants as engineering technicians who have no certificate or degree, but who have served an apprenticeship. These apprenticeships may last for five years or more. These opportunities allow people to become engineering technicians (and even open doors to engineering degrees) while earning a regular paycheck and getting a “free” education.

What Does an Associate Degree in Engineering Look Like?

become an engineering technician

Associate degree programs will normally include courses in communications, math, and other basic education.  These programs will also include the fundamentals for engineering. Engineering courses may include introduction to engineering classes, engineering design, creative thinking and problem-solving, collaboration, and rudimentary drafting classes.

Students will also have the opportunity to tailor their degrees with courses in their areas of interest.  Some examples of this are courses in drafting, sketching and drawing, understanding and using graphs and tables, dynamic forces, electrical systems, and others.

Students in science associate degree programs will be able to specialize in heating systems, refrigeration, heat/load calculations, and other courses. The goal is to equip the student for passing the licensing or certification exam. Of course, many classes will be hands-on.

Mechanical engineering students may take courses in engineering mechanics, drafting, mechanical design, and other subjects. Similarly, those wanting to be engineering technicians in electrical engineering may take specialized courses.  These could be in electronics fundamentals, electric motors, electric equipment, and mechanical systems.

The emphasis in all these programs is on giving the students the skills and knowledge they need to become trained professionals. Engineers take the same courses, but with more intensity.

It is true that trade schools may offer two-year certification programs that approximate an associate degree and lead to employment as an engineering technician. However,  they usually will not give students quite the breadth of education that a regular Associate of Arts or Associate of Science degree offers.

Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that engineering technicians earned annual wages ranging from $35,030 to $97,270.  The average annual wage is listed at $64,550. Several factors can affect wage potential, including experience, training, certifications, employer, and location. The industry in which engineering technicians work can also affect their wages.

The expected job growth for engineering technicians also depends on the industry. The BLS predicts a job growth of nine percent for civil engineering technicians, one percent for industrial engineering technicians, two percent for electrical and electronics engineering technicians, and five percent for mechanical engineering technicians.

We began this article by talking about Guenter Wendt. Wendt was respected by astronauts and government officials for his skills and his knowledge. Yes, he was an engineer and not an engineering technician. But we learned that he was a “background” person who probably did many of the tasks that are known to be assigned to engineering technicians today. Many of the accomplishments of engineers rely on those “background” tasks. The opportunities are many and so are the rewards.

Engineering technology is a field that, while it may not be showing huge job growth, will always need qualified workers. These workers are needed to assist engineers as technology continues to grow and new products are developed. Becoming an engineering technician offers good wages and challenging work.  Not only that, but it also works as a foundation for an engineering degree. This would be a great way to gain experience in the field and build your resume for future employment.

OAD Staff
August 2023

Related Resources:

This concludes our article answering the question “What is an engineering technician?”