The Difference Between Engineering Technologists and Engineers

Belgian Electrical Engineers

Engineers and engineering technologists are both highly trained professionals and have similar, but not identical roles in a wide range of industries. This article specifically applies to engineering technologists and engineers in Canada, but also applies, at least in broad strokes, to many other countries, especially those that are signatories to the Sydney Accord (technologists) and the Washington Accord (engineers).

Jump down to the comparison table if you just want to see a summary of engineers vs. engineering technologists.

Education

A Bachelor’s degree in engineering (typically a B.Eng, or a BASc) is a 4-5 year degree program that spans several main areas of study including math, physics, theoretical aspects of the specific discipline, and design. This degree also typically requires students take some courses in writing and in the humanities. Graduates with this kind of degree are called Graduate Engineers, and after obtaining a few years of experience plus a little bit of further study, Graduate Engineers can become Professional Engineers.

Technology Diplomas are 2-3 year diploma programs that focus more on hands-on skills than degrees do. There is still in depth coverage of theoretical aspects of the specific discipline, but fundamental theory in math and physics does not go as deep. Technology diplomas also typically do not require any specific humanities courses, technical writing and communications are taught.

Printed Circuit Board
Printed Circuit Board (By AAAndrey A (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Accreditation

The accreditation piece of a technology diploma means that the program meets certain standards that ensure graduates have a particular set of required skills. Practically speaking this means that employers across the country and even around the world will know that graduates of the program have that set of skills. Countries that recognize CTAB or TAC accreditation for technologists include Canada, Australia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Ireland, South Korea, New Zealand, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States.

Engineering schools are also accredited, but the accreditation is done by a different body and international recognition covers a different set of countries (although many are the same).

Path from Technologist to Engineer

One thing to keep in mind is that most technology diplomas also provide a path to obtaining an engineering degree. Typically this involves completion of the diploma, completion of a bridge program where the student would catch up on some fundamental theory courses (mostly math and physics), and then entry into 2nd or 3rd year of an engineering program. Okanagan College offers this path in the form of a 6 course bridge program followed by entry into the 4th semester of the engineering program at UBC-Okanagan.

Careers

Electronic Engineering Technologists find work not only in assembly, test, and repair of electronics, but they can also be involved in design of electronic circuits and systems. Engineers find work in design and testing and typically if there is a large design group, an engineer will be in charge of a group of technologists and junior engineers.

In general, a technologists work is supervised by an engineer, however, this does not apply in all cases. In design and construction work where public safety is a consideration, the work must be overseen by a registered professional engineer and any technologists working on the project are supervised by the engineer. Pretty much any work in civil engineering falls in this scope. Work in electrical transmission and distribution also falls under this scope.

Work in electronics design typically does not require a supervising engineer although graduate engineers will have more training in this area, so are more likely to get hired for this kind of work than technologists. In the area of electronics design (or any design for that matter) where there is no legal obligation for an engineer to sign off on the work, a suitably experienced technologist will be just as capable as an engineer.

Belgian Electrical Engineers
Belgian EEs. By Unknown or not provided (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Professional Designation

To become a registered professional as either an engineering technologist or an engineer requires first graduating from an accredited institute, then obtaining a few years of experience, and finally writing a professional practice exam.

Engineering Technologist vs. Engineer Table

Engineering Technologist Engineer
Years of Schooling 2-3 4-5
Types of courses hands-on, theory, design theory, design
Degree/Diploma Dipl. Tech BASc, B.Eng
Further Education Bridge to bachelor’s degree Master’s degree, PhD
Professional Designation AScT P.Eng
Professional Code of Ethics YES YES
Scope of Work manufacturing, assembly, repair, test, design design, team lead
International Recognition Sydney Accord Washington Accord