Engineers take on all kinds of complex technical and logistical tasks -- like building bridges and designing software -- so it follows that most of them are highly educated. But not all workers in the engineering field need four-year degrees.
A two-year degree in engineering technology will qualify you to work as an engineering technician. They do some of the same things as engineers, but their work is usually more application-oriented. For example, a civil engineer might design a highway, while a civil engineering technician would be in charge of particular parts of the project, such as estimating construction costs or conducting traffic studies.
For the technically inclined, this can be satisfying work, and considering the relatively short time it takes to get a degree the pay is decent: CBSalary.com puts the national average salary for engineering technicians at $54,872, with the 25th percentile at $41,452 and the 75th percentile at $70,186.
In addition to salary, you'll need to weigh a number of factors before pursuing an engineering technology degree.
Choosing a school
The vast majority of employers highly prefer that engineering technicians have an associate degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal agency that tracks employment.
Most engineering technology degrees are granted after students complete a two-year program at a community college, vocational school or technical institute (programs are also available through the Armed Forces). The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology certifies about 700 engineering technology programs.
Like engineers, engineering technicians need a background in math and science, though their coursework is likely to be more limited and focused on practical applications. They will probably do some post-secondary classes in algebra, trigonometry and sciences relevant to the area of engineering in which they plan to specialize (civil, industrial, electrical, mechanical, environmental, biomedical, etc.).
Some community college programs are designed so that students can continue their engineering studies at a four-year institution. These programs tend to be more academic and theoretical, and therefore they aren't always well suited for students who want to leave school and start working right away, according to the BLS.
The BLS projects that employment of engineering technicians will grow 5 percent between 2008 and 2018, slower than the 10 percent average growth across all occupations during that period. But a closer look at the numbers reveals that job growth will vary widely depending on the technicians' area of specialty.
For example, the BLS projects slight declines over the 2008-2018 period for technicians with electrical or mechanical specialties (significant considering that a third of all engineering technicians specialized in electrics or electronics in 2008).
The declines may seem counter-intuitive, since electronics increasingly dominate our professional and personal lives, but foreign competition and streamlined production are likely to mean less work for engineering technicians in these areas, according to the BLS.
However, other types of technicians are likely to see much faster-than-average growth. Employment is projected to grow 30 percent for environmental engineering technicians and 17 percent for civil engineering technicians.
Environmental regulations are getting stricter, and companies are becoming more proactive about avoiding eco-hazards, leading to demand for engineers and techs with environmental training. And civil engineers will increasingly be needed to repair and build the nation's infrastructure. Both of these occupations require engineers and techs to be present at job sites, making them harder to outsource.