Most employers prefer to hire engineering technicians with an associate degree or other postsecondary training in engineering technology. Training is available at technical institutes, at community colleges, at extension divisions of colleges and universities, at public and private vocational-technical schools and in the Armed Forces.
Although it may be possible to qualify for certain engineering technician jobs without formal training, most employers prefer to hire someone with a 2-year associate degree or other postsecondary training in engineering technology. Workers with less formal engineering technology training need more time to learn skills while on the job. Prospective engineering technicians should take as many high school science and math courses as possible to prepare for programs in engineering technology after high school.
Most 2-year associate degree programs accredited by the Technology Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) include at least college algebra and trigonometry and one or two basic science courses. Depending on the specialty, more math or science may be required. About 700 ABET-accredited programs are offered in engineering technology specialties.
The type of technical courses required depends on the specialty. For example, prospective mechanical engineering technicians may take courses in fluid mechanics, thermodynamics and mechanical design; prospective electrical engineering technicians may need classes in electrical circuits, microprocessors and digital electronics and those preparing to work in environmental engineering technology need courses in environmental regulations and safe handling of hazardous materials.
Technical institutes offer intensive technical training through application and practice, but they provide less theory and general education than do community colleges. Many technical institutes offer 2-year associate degree programs and are similar to or part of a community college or state university system. Other technical institutes are run by private organizations, with programs that vary considerably in length and types of courses offered.
Community colleges offer curriculums that are similar to those in technical institutes but include more theory and liberal arts. There may be little or no difference between programs at technical institutes and community colleges, as both offer associate degrees. After completing the 2-year program, some graduates get jobs as engineering technicians, whereas others continue their education at 4-year colleges. However, an associate degree in pre-engineering is different from one in engineering technology. Students who enroll in a 2-year pre-engineering program may find it difficult to find work as an engineering technician if they decide not to enter a 4-year engineering program because pre-engineering programs usually focus less on hands-on applications and more on academic preparatory work. Conversely, graduates of 2-year engineering technology programs may not receive credit for some of the courses they have taken if they choose to transfer to a 4-year engineering program. Colleges having 4-year programs usually do not offer engineering technician training, but college courses in science, engineering, and mathematics are useful for obtaining a job as an engineering technician. Many 4-year colleges offer bachelor's degrees in engineering technology, but graduates of these programs often are hired to work as technologists or applied engineers, not technicians.
Vocational-technical schools, another source of technical training, include postsecondary public institutions that serve local students and emphasize training needed by local employers. Most schools that offer training to become an engineering technician require a high school diploma or its equivalent for admission.
Other training in technical areas may be obtained in the Armed Forces. Many military technical training programs are highly regarded by employers. However, skills acquired in military programs are often narrowly focused and may be less applicable in civilian industry, which often requires broader training. Therefore, some additional training may be needed, depending on the acquired skills and the kind of job.