How Do I Become an Engineering Technologist? Education, Certification & Experience

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Which came first? Engineering or engineering technology? While on the surface these two career paths may seem similar, there are certain distinctions in definition, education requirements, certifications, and job opportunities.

One of the main distinctions is that engineering technology translates theoretical engineering principles into actual products. Engineering technologists can be found in a wide array of industries, including manufacturing, construction, industrial, maintenance, and management. They implement basic engineering principles and skills through the manufacturing, construction, and operation of products and work with engineers to implement the latter’s designs. In a nutshell, the difference between engineering and engineering technology is the difference between theory and application, design and implementation.

The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) is an organization that certifies university programs in engineering, computing, applied and natural science, and engineering technology. It breaks down the differences between engineering and engineering technology according to program curriculum and career path and has two accreditation commissions for evaluating educational programs in these fields: the Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC) and the Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission (ETAC).

While engineering programs typically focus on more robust and higher-level courses in calculus and theoretical science, engineering technology programs dedicate more time to more practical types of mathematics, such as algebra, trigonometry, and applied calculus, among others.
Concerning career paths, engineering graduates typically pursue entry-level positions as engineers or developers, where their work focuses on conceptual design or research and development. However, many enroll in a graduate program to specialize in a more precise field within engineering.

Engineering technology graduates, by comparison, tend to pursue entry-level positions as hands-on technologists or technicians, depending on the length and breadth of their program. Graduates of four-year programs are called technologists, and those of two-year programs are called technicians. They typically work in construction, manufacturing, product design and testing, or technical services and sales. Those who wish to continue their education typically enroll in engineering, facilities management, or business administration graduate programs.

An engineering technology degree has some overlap with a bachelor of science in engineering, but they also each have unique features. A bachelor of science in engineering offers extensive knowledge about cross-disciplinary applications and processes. An engineering technology degree is typically specialized according to a concentration and features less theoretical, more practical training. Popular tracks include nanotechnology, electrodynamics, semiconductors, and digital logic design.

Read on to explore how to become an engineering technologist.

Step 1: Obtain a High School Diploma (Four Years)

To work in engineering technology, one must have a high school diploma. Some high schools have begun offering specialized classes and programs that expose young people to engineering careers. For example, Lehigh Career & Technical Institute in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania, offers industry certifications to high school pre-engineering and engineering technology students.

Interested high school students should consider taking certain classes in preparation for this field, such as advanced math and science courses and computer science. Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) academies and summer enrichment programs are also available throughout the United States, offering students a taste of this career pathway and gauging their aptitude for future success.

Pioneer Academics, for example, offers online summer classes to high school students. Students complete a rigorous 12-week engineering research project. Upon completion, students receive college credit they can use when earning an undergraduate degree.

Step 2: Earn a Degree in Engineering Technology (Two to Four Years)

Aspiring engineering technologists have two options when pursuing a college degree. The first is a two-year associate degree. The second is a four-year bachelor of science degree.

Two-Year Associate Degree Programs in Engineering Technology

Two-year associate degree programs lead to the certification of an engineering technician. These professionals are important problem-solving individuals who work in laboratories and manufacturing facilities. The faculty who teach these programs may be master’s degree holders in engineering or engineering technology or have a professional engineer (PE) license.

The outlook for engineering technicians differs by subfield. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021), job growth nationally between 2019 and 2029 should increase by 3 percent for mechanical engineering technicians, 3 percent for civil engineering technicians, and 2 percent for electrical engineering technicians. The median range of income for a graduate of this type of program is $64,232 a year, according to Indeed (2021).

While many community colleges offer associate degree programs, there are various online options available as well. The University of the Virgin Islands offers an associate degree in electronics and computer engineering technology. It is designed to be completed in 24 months, but it can be finished in less time if transferring credits. Courses begin monthly and are billed as the ideal program for those deciding between electronic technology and computer engineering.

Thomas Edison State University has several associate degree programs for aspiring engineering technologists, including aviation flight technology, biomedical electronics, clinical laboratory science, computer and information technology, electrical technology, electronics engineering technology, nuclear engineering technology, and technical studies.

Four-Year Bachelor’s Degree Programs in Engineering Technology

Graduates of bachelor-level engineering technology programs use their engineering knowledge, scientific expertise, and technical skills to support engineering work. Although still focused on the application of engineering principles, these professionals have a stronger foundation of theoretical and mathematical concepts than their associate degree counterparts—but less than engineering bachelor degree holders.

Engineering technologists are typically involved in product development, manufacturing, product assurance, sales, and program management. ABET specifies that the faculty that teaches these programs have a minimum of a master’s degree in engineering or engineering technology or equivalent, or a PE license and a master’s degree. Career website Glassdoor reports that engineering technologists with a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn roughly $78,000 annually.

Grantham University offers online programs in computer engineering technology and electronics engineering technology. The university touts a comprehensive support structure that includes a student success partners program, a teaching and learning center, and a career center. The programs are accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), and financial aid and scholarships available to those who qualify.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University offers a bachelor’s degree in engineering technology. Coursework includes online classes such as aeronautical science, aviation safety, helicopter operations and safety, and unmanned aerial systems. With more than 130 locations around the world as well as an online option, students can customize their degrees in many ways, including by concentration.

Step 3: Earn a Graduate Degree (Two Years, Optional)

Engineering technologists who have completed a four-year bachelor of science program can further their education, hone their skills, and elevate their career options and salary range with a graduate degree. Monster (2021) highlights that master’s degree programs in engineering and technology management often have the highest rate of return in relation to salaries. Median pay in those jobs for master’s degree graduates ranges from $127,000 to $141,000 annually.

Drexel University offers a master of science in engineering technology for bachelor degree holders in a STEM or related field. Applicants must also have a minimum GPA of 3.0 for the last two years of their undergraduate studies.

The program at Drexel is ranked as one of the top online engineering technology graduate programs in the country by the U.S. News & World Report. This program boasts that it focuses on the latest technological advancements taught by well-respected faculty who hold various specializations, including internet-based robotics, integrated circuits, and microfluidics. Students in this program will complete 27 credits of foundational courses, nine credits of electives, and a nine-credit capstone.

Purdue University also offers an online master’s degree in engineering technology. Part of the Purdue Polytechnic Institute, Purdue’s program has been ranked in the top spot in both engineering technology enrollment in the U.S. and in female graduates in engineering technology by the American Society of Engineering Education. Graduates work in various Fortune 500 companies, including Caterpillar, Eli Lilly, Tesla Motors, and Kimberly-Clark, to name a few.

Admission requirements for the Purdue master’s in engineering technology include:

  • At least three years of relevant professional experience
  • An updated resume or CV
  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution
  • A cumulative 3.0 GPA or higher
  • Official transcripts from all universities attended
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • A 500-word personal statement

These requirements are typical of any master of science program in engineering technology, although some requirements may vary.

Step 4: Obtain Professional Certification (Timeline Varies)

In the U.S., graduates of an ABET-accredited bachelor’s degree in engineering technology may pursue entry-level employment. However, technologists typically earn certification as a technologist through one of several independent societies and organizations.

The National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET) is the primary certification professionals in this field earn. They offer two levels of certifications depending on work experience and education. The technician certification is offered in six categories, including civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering. They include:

  • Construction materials testing in either asphalt, concrete, or soils
  • Highway construction inspection
  • In-building public safety communications
  • Electrical power testing
  • Fire alarm systems
  • Inspection and testing of fire alarm systems
  • Inspection and testing of water-based systems
  • Special hazards systems
  • Water-based systems layout
  • Video security systems designer and video security systems technician

To be eligible for technician certification, candidates must have at least six months of work experience related to the specific certification. If candidates have more work experience, they can apply for a higher level of certification up to level four. Level three also requires a letter of recommendation, and level four requires a letter of recommendation and proof of senior responsibilities.

Candidates must also pass an exam on their particular engineering technology specialization. Exam fees range from $175 to $410, depending on the exam and the level. All exams are computer-based and vary in length and time.

There are two technologist-level certifications, neither of which require an exam. The Associate Engineering Technologist (AT) certification requires candidates to simply have a four-year ABET-accredited engineering technology degree.

Candidates must submit an online application and pay a $160 application fee. To earn the Certified Engineering Technologist (CT), candidates must have an ABET-accredited engineering technology degree, present five years of work experience, submit two letters of recommendation, and pay a $190 application fee.

The Association of Technology, Management, and Applied Engineering (ATMAE) also offers two levels of certification in technology management. The first is a certified technology manager (CTM) certification. To be eligible, candidates must have either a bachelor’s or associate’s in technical, technology, technology management, or engineering. The exam is offered online but requires a proctor. Candidates will have two hours to answer the 160 questions. While this exam is open book, candidates may not use any online or digital references. Fees range from $20 to $150 depending on ATMAE membership level.

The second certification is that of a certified senior technology manager (CSTM). This is awarded to professionals who are eligible for or have earned a CTM certification and have completed 30 units of continuing education. No additional fee or exam is required.

Additional Resources for Engineering Technologists

Membership in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) comprises students as well as engineers and scientists from more than 160 countries. Resources include highly cited publications, conferences, technology standards, and professional and educational activities.

The National Technical Information Service (NTIS) is part of the United States Department of Commerce and was established originally after World War II as the Publication Board to house the world’s most comprehensive collection of U.S.-sponsored technical research. While still a focus, the NTIS also provides innovative data services to federal agencies.

The American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) promotes quality engineering technology education through scholarship, innovation, and industry engagement. Annual conferences and a leadership institute offer workshops, technical sessions, and training and focus on partnerships between education, industry, and government.

The National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NSPE) has certified more than 135,000 engineering technicians and technologists since 1961 and is recognized and often required by many employers to show proficiency. The website also features a job board for industry openings.

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