While professional engineers are often
viewed as the unsung problem-solvers
toiling outside of the limelight, there are
other members of the engineering team
who may have an even lower profile: technicians and technologists.
According to a National Academy of
Engineering report, there is little awareness of engineering technology as a field of
study or an employment option in the US.
Even employers of technicians and technologists aren’t always aware. The NAE
committee that published the report, which
included NSPE member Walter Buchanan,
P.E., F.NSPE, conducted a study that found
30% of nearly 250 respondents had never
heard of engineering technology education.
In addition, one-third of respondents said
they did not know the difference between
work performed by engineers and work
performed by engineering technologists.
As the report explains: “Very abstractly,
if engineers are viewed as being respon-
sible for designing the nation’s technolog-
ical systems, then engineering technicians
and technologists are the ones who help
build and keep those systems running.”
NSPE has a more than 60-year history
of working with technicians and tech-
nologists. In 1956, as the nation came to
rely more heavily on machines and auto-
mation, President Dwight Eisenhower
formed a committee of leaders in science,
business, education, government, and
labor to address the growing need for
skilled workers who could support the
work of engineers.
NSPE was involved in the committee’s
work and was an early proponent of technicians as part of the engineering team.
In 1961, NSPE’s support of technicians
led to the creation of the Institute for the
Certification of Engineering Technicians,
which became the National Institute for
Certification in Engineering Technologies
20 years later.
Today, NICET is a division of NSPE.
NICET certifies 200–300 new engineering
technologists and technicians each month,
and since its founding, the institute has
issued more than 144,000 certifications.
The NAE reports that in 2014 US educational institutions awarded nearly 94,000
four-year engineering degrees, nearly
18,000 four-year ET degrees, and more than
34,000 two-year ET degrees. As of 2013,
the estimated number of people with four-year ET degrees was 480,000. In contrast,
the estimated number of people with four-year engineering degrees was a little over
5 million. There are no data on the number
of those with two-year degrees in either ET
Some engineering technology graduates
become licensed professional engineers.
Thirty states allow those with an E T degree
from an ABET-accredited program to take
the FE and PE exams, according to the
report. In the 2010 administration of the
FE exam, 2,600 of 45,600 candidates ( 5.7%)
had a four-year degree in ET. Of the 26,600
candidates who took the PE exam that year,
900 ( 3.4%) had a four-year ET degree.
In examining the ET workforce, the
committee found steadily increasing employment for technicians and technologists from
1971–2015 but flat earnings. Over the past
40 years, real earned income for technicians
and technologists has consistently averaged
about $50,000 (in 2015 dollars).
Engineers, on the other hand, saw real
annual earnings grow from slightly more
than $70,000 in the early 1980s to about
$86,000 in 2015.
There was no clear evidence of a
shortage or surplus of engineering technicians or technologists, but the committee
said there could be market imbalances in
certain geographic areas.
Among its recommendations, the
committee said the National Science
Foundation should consider funding
research on factors affecting matriculation,
retention, and graduation in ET.
In addition, the committee says research
is needed to better understand the reasons
for the apparent loose coupling of degree
attainment and employment in ET. People
with ET degrees work in a broad range
of occupations, and those employed as
engineering technologists have a diverse
degree background. For example, 12% of
engineering technologists have a four-year
degree in ET, while 39% of them have engineering degrees, according to the National
Survey of College Graduates.
Engineering Technology? What’s That?
Engineering technicians and technologists have a long relationship with
professional engineers and NSPE.
Not long after World War II, as
higher education changed and industry
automation took off, the profession
began seriously discussing the technician’s role on the engineering team. In
1961, NSPE established the Institute for
the Certification of Engineering Technicians, which became the National
Institute for Certification in Engineering
Technologies 20 years later. Today,
NICET is a division of NSPE.
NICET Technician Certifications
Civil Engineering Technology
Construction Materials Testing
Land Management and
Electrical and Mechanical Systems
NICET Technologist Certification
Technologist certification requires
a bachelor’s degree in an engineering
technology program accredited
by the Technology Accreditation
Commission of ABET.
The associate engineering technologist grade is available upon graduation, while the certified engineering
technologist grade requires at least
five years of related work experience
after graduation. CT applicants must
also submit two endorsements.
Learn more at www.nicet.org.