Exploring this Job
If you are interested in a career as an engineering technician, you can gain relevant experience by taking shop courses, joining electronics or radio clubs in school, and assembling electronic equipment with commercial kits.
You should take every opportunity to discuss the field with people working in it. Try to visit a variety of different kinds of engineering facilities—service shops, manufacturing plants, and research laboratories—either through individual visits or through field trips organized by teachers or school counselors. These visits will provide a realistic idea of the opportunities in the different areas of the industry. If you enroll in a community college or technical school, you may be able to secure internships with local employers through your school's career services office. Internships are valuable ways to gain experience while still in school.
The Technology Student Association (TSA) provides students a chance to explore career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, enter academic competitions, and participate in summer exploration programs. TSA administers a competition called The Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics and Science (https://tsaweb.org/teams) that allows high school students to demonstrate their technology skills. For more competitions, visit http://careercornerstone.org/pcprogproj.htm and www.engineergirl.org/250/Contests.
Engineering technicians play a role in almost every part of our daily lives. We can thank engineering technicians (along with engineers, scientists, and other workers) for safer cars and planes, drugs that work effectively when we are sick, well-constructed buildings and highways, clean water and air, and the computer games we play for hours, among many other things that we take for granted.
Some of the major technician specialties include electrical and electronics engineering, civil engineering, industrial engineering, and mechanical engineering. The following paragraphs provide more information on these and other engineering technician specialties:
Aeronautical and aerospace engineering technicians design, construct, test, operate, and maintain the basic structures of aircraft and spacecraft, as well as propulsion and control systems. They work with scientists and aeronautical and aerospace engineers. These engineers often have training in electrical and electronics engineering, industrial engineering, and mechanical engineering, among other specialties. Many aeronautical and aerospace engineering technicians assist engineers in preparing equipment drawings, diagrams, blueprints, computer-aided designs, and scale models. They collect information, make computations, and perform laboratory tests.
Biomedical engineering technicians use engineering and life science principles to help biomedical engineers and scientists research biological aspects of animal and human life. They help design and construct health care instruments and devices and apply engineering principles to the study of human systems.
Chemical engineering technicians assist chemists and chemical engineers in the research, development, testing, and manufacturing of chemicals and chemical-based products.
Civil engineering technicians help civil engineers design, plan, and build public and private works to meet the community's needs. Civil engineers and technicians work together for the community, providing better, faster transportation; designing and developing highways, airports, and railroads; improving the environment; and constructing buildings, bridges, and space platforms. These engineering professionals work in one of the seven main civil engineering areas: structural, geotechnical, environmental, water resources, transportation, construction, and urban and community planning. The work is closely related, so a technician might work in one, or many, of these areas. A variety of subspecialties are available, including structural engineering technicians, geotechnical engineering technicians, materials technicians, urban and community planning technicians, research engineering technicians, sales engineering, transportation technicians, highway technicians, rail and waterway technicians, and construction engineering technicians.
Electrical and electronics engineering technicians work individually or with engineers to help design, produce, improve, maintain, test, and repair a wide range of electronic equipment. Equipment varies from consumer goods like televisions, computers, and home entertainment components, to industrial, military, and medical systems, such as radar and laser equipment. Electronic devices play a part in practically every business and even many leisure activities found around the globe. Such diverse activities as NASA space missions, sophisticated medical testing procedures, and car and airplane travel would be impossible without the use of electronic equipment. The products made by the electronics industry can be divided into four basic categories: government products (which include missile and space guidance systems, communications systems, medical technology, and traffic control devices), industrial products (which include large-scale computers, radio and television broadcasting equipment, telecommunications equipment, and electronic office equipment), consumer products (which include televisions, DVD and MP3 players, and radios), and components (which comprises the smaller pieces that make up all electronics, such as capacitors, switches, transistors, relays, and amplifiers). Subspecialties in this career field include electronics development technicians, electronics drafters, cost-estimating technicians, electronics manufacturing and production technicians, and electronics service and maintenance technicians.
Electromechanical engineering technicians help electromechanical engineers with such activities as instrumentation, computer-based process control, and machine design.
Environmental engineering technicians help environmental engineers and scientists design, build, and maintain systems to control waste streams produced by municipalities or private industry. Environmental engineering technicians typically focus on one of three areas: air, land, or water.
Industrial engineering technicians assist industrial engineers in their duties: They collect and analyze data and make recommendations for the efficient use of personnel, materials, and machines to produce goods or to provide services. They may study the time, movements, and methods a worker uses to accomplish daily tasks in production, maintenance, or clerical areas. The kind of work done by industrial engineering technicians varies, depending on the size and type of company for which they work. A variety of subspecialties are available, including methods engineering technicians, materials handling technicians, plant layout technicians, work measurement technicians, time-study technicians, production-control technicians, and inventory control technicians.
Materials engineering technicians work in support of materials engineers and scientists. These jobs involve the production, quality control, and experimental study of metals, ceramics, glass, plastics, semiconductors, and composites (combinations of these materials). Metallurgical technicians may conduct tests on the properties of the aforementioned materials, develop and modify test procedures and equipment, analyze data, and prepare reports.
Mechanical engineering technicians work under the direction of mechanical engineers to design, build, maintain, and modify many kinds of machines, mechanical devices, and tools. They work in a wide range of industries and in a variety of specific jobs within every industry. Technicians may specialize in any one of many areas, including biomedical equipment, measurement and control, products manufacturing, solar energy, turbo machinery, energy resource technology, and engineering materials and technology.
Nanotechnology engineering technicians use scanning electron microscopes, spectrometers, analytical and scientific software, and other tools to produce, test, or modify materials, systems, or devices of macromolecular or molecular composition.
Petroleum engineering technicians help petroleum engineers and scientists improve petroleum drilling technology, maximize field production, and provide technical assistance.
Robotics engineering technicians assist robotics engineers in a wide variety of tasks relating to the design, development, production, testing, operation, repair, and maintenance of robots and robotic devices. One well-known use of robotics technology at NASA are the Mars Rovers, which explored the surface of Mars per the instructions of robotics engineers and technicians back on earth. The two rovers traveled nearly 33 miles and captured more than 342,000 photos of the Martian landscape.
Engineering technicians work in a variety of conditions depending on their field of specialization. Technicians who specialize in design may find that they spend most of their time at the drafting board or computer. Those who specialize in manufacturing may spend some time at a desk but also spend a considerable amount of their workday in manufacturing areas or shops.
Conditions also vary according to industry. Some industries require technicians to work in foundries, die-casting rooms, machine shops, assembly areas, or punch-press areas. Most of these areas, however, are well lighted, heated, and ventilated. Moreover, most industries employing engineering technicians have strong safety programs.