Electrical Engineering vs. Electrical Technology – What’s the Difference?

A career working with electronics and electrical systems can be challenging and rewarding, but it requires making some choices. One important decision you’ll make is between enrolling in an electrical engineering or technology program after high school. To make that choice, consider whether you want to be an electrical engineer, a technician or an electrician.

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What is an Electrical Engineering Program?

A post-secondary electrical engineering program is typically a four-year degree program, although there are some that offer two-year associate degrees. The four-year programs prepare students to work as electrical engineers. These are professionals who develop, inspect, test and assist in the manufacturing of electrical systems and equipment. A big part of the job of an engineer is to design new products and new ways of using electricity, both of which require deep knowledge of electrical systems and principles.

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A two-year degree in electrical engineering or a degree or certificate in electrical engineering technology prepares students to work as engineering technicians. These technicians assemble electrical systems and equipment, calibrate, test and repair systems, perform quality control tests, and draw and interpret technical diagrams. They may work with electrical engineers.

What is an Electrical Technology Program?

Electrical technology programs are also post-secondary programs offered most often at community, technical or career colleges. They may confer two-year associate degrees or certificates or diplomas that take less than two years to earn. An electrical tech degree or certificate is typically designed to prepare students to become electricians after also completing an apprenticeship.

Work Environment

Electrical engineers may be employed in a variety of settings, which means the work environment can vary. Most of the time, these professionals work in offices, because they are designing electrical systems. They may need to visit factories and other industrial settings from time to time, but largely their work is not physically demanding. Employers include engineering services companies, power stations, academic and research facilities and electronics manufacturers.

Electricians who have earned a degree or certificate in electrical technology do more active work than engineers. Rather than design electrical systems they install, maintain and fix them. They may work in homes, in commercial buildings or in industrial settings. The work can be challenging, involving a lot of standing, squatting, squeezing into tight spaces, climbing and working at heights, and using tools and heavy equipment. Electricians often work indoors, but some work outside in all kinds of weather. The work is more dangerous than that of engineers, with risks of falls, injuries and shocks.

Licensing and Training Requirements

If you are interested in becoming an electrical engineer, expect to spend more time in school. Most employers require that engineers have at least a four-year degree with courses in math, science and engineering. You will not have to be licensed in most places for an entry-level job, but to advance you may need to become licensed as a professional engineer. This requires having a degree, passing an exam and having four or more years of work experience.

Completing an electrical technology program is just one step on the path to becoming a licensed electrician. You will also need to complete a few years of on-the-job training. This can be an apprenticeship through a union or training with any master electrician willing to take you on in this role. After completing an apprenticeship, your next steps will depend on licensing requirements where you are working. Most places will require that you then become a journeyman before being eligible to become a master electrician or electrical contractor.

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Salary and Job Outlook

The most growth in these related careers is currently in jobs for electricians, which are growing at a rate of nine percent, and electrical engineers, which are growing at seven percent. These jobs are expected to continue to grow, providing a lot of opportunities for young workers and ongoing stability.

Salaries for these two jobs reflect the degree level required for each. Electrical engineers who must have at least a four-year degree earn on average $97,970 per year. Electricians make an average of $54,110 per year. It’s important to remember that to become an electrician you can start with that electrical technology program, but it is not required. You can go straight from high school to an apprenticeship as well.

Careers for both electrical engineers and electricians are growing. They both pay well and both require education and training. The differences are largely in work environment, salary and the fact that engineers mostly design while electricians install and fix. Either option will make a great future career for any young person.

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