Workers with training in electronics are employed in a variety of industries from computing and construction to energy and automotive. Electronic vocational schools offer a number of pathways to specializations within these broad fields. Certifications, while generally voluntary, help you to exhibit mastery of a specific skill set and make you more attractive to potential employers.
Electronics vocational schools can train you for a number of different jobs across many industries -- not just in residential electrical repairs. Your training may lead to a job installing computer systems in cars, inspecting electrical relay systems at a hydroelectric plant, or supervising as an apprentice repairs the wiring in a high-rise office building. Electronics specialties include:
- Electronic automotive installation and repair: Gain skills putting in mobile electronics and aftermarket products.
- Electronics engineering: Develop, test and produce items like control systems, circuit boards and even mobile phones.
- Instrumentation and solar electronics engineering: Help develop, test and calibrate instruments and equipment for the solar power field.
- Medical electronics engineering: Use electronic skills to maintain and care for medical imaging equipment and technology.
- Residential electrical installation and maintenance: Use circuitry and wiring skills to help install systems or make repairs under the guidance of a more skilled journeyman.
Electronics Certification and Degrees
Electronics training ranges from formal apprenticeships to associate degrees through electronics vocational or trade schools. Many electronics engineering technicians and electrical installers and repairers begin their careers at an electronics vocational school. Some may simply take relevant courses while others complete an associate degree program.
Over 50 professional certifications exist. Certification is voluntary, but demonstrates mastery and can make you a more attractive job candidate. Some of these certifications are available through the organizations listed below:
- The National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET) provides electrical power testing and certification for those employed in fields such as electric power generation, transmission, and distribution industry.
- ETA International has certification available in several fields, including basic electronics, biomedical, electronic security networking, industrial electronics, mobile communications and electronics installation, renewable energy, and many others.
- The International Society of Automation offers certification as a Control Systems Technician, requiring applicants to show their skills in areas like electronic instrumentation, process control systems, process control loops and more.
How to Become an Electrical Technician
There are many different jobs available in the electronics field, but gaining necessary skills and the right knowledge can be essential. Here are some steps to take for building a career as an electronics technician.
- Finish high school or obtain a GED: Foundational knowledge can be a hallmark to success in any career, and a high school diploma or GED shows that you have completed the basics to be able to continue on. Also, many employers today require a minimum of a high school diploma or GED for hiring.
- Enroll for a vocational or community college program: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), some type of postsecondary training, most often an associate degree, is necessary for entering the electrical or electronics engineering technician field. In a program like this, you could take coursework in C++ programming, circuitry, Java programming, microproccesors, physics, and more. Also, algebra, basic science and trigonometry are typically requirements for any of these programs accredited by the Technology Accreditation Commission of ABET.
- Think about pursuing certification: As mentioned earlier, there are different certifications available, giving you the opportunity to prove that you have specific knowledge and skills. Whether you opt for certification through NICET, ETA International or the International Society of Automation, certification could be important to standing out from competitors.
- Continue on in your education: A bachelor's or even master's degree could be a future step for those interested in the field of electronics and electrical engineering. A bachelor's degree in electrical engineering could set you on your way toward more opportunities, and a graduate degree could be a later path to more challenging job possibilities and even better pay.
Expert Q&A on Electronics Trade Schools
Because there are many paths to training and education for electronics workers, you may want to speak with someone in the field for recommendations on the path that would fit for you. To gain more insight about the role of trade schools and vocational education in the electronics industry, we spoke with Jeff Conner, the Dallas Service Manager of Control Concepts.
Jeff Conner is the Dallas Service Manager of Control Concepts.
RWM: What is the typical educational path needed to enter the electronics field?
Conner: Our company provides service for all types of electronic motor controls, Programmable Logic Controllers and other types of machine automation electronics. We look for Field Service Technicians with at least an Associate Degree in Electronics or a related field. Additional studies or a double major in Instrumentation, Electrical Power and Control, Laser Electro-optics, etc., are very helpful. Degree programs that include significant hands on time in labs, projects, and internships are preferred.
RWM: How long does it typically take to complete education/degree/certification for this job?
Conner: A typical graduation plan would take at least two years to complete. Students with a double major and/or internship will take longer. In this field, though, education is ongoing and lifelong. New hires can expect formal and on the job training to begin on the first day of work, but individual research will be part of the process as well. For the rest of their career, they will need to learn about new devices and new ways to apply the old devices. Occasionally, we are also faced with old technology which is no longer in widespread use. In those cases, we must become students of past technologies and techniques as well.
RWM: Why would you encourage someone to pursue this career? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
Conner: A career in industrial electronics and automation is perfect for someone who loves to learn, to explore and to be challenged. Our technicians are working with a wide variety of equipment used in a staggering number of industries. They might move from a plastics manufacturer to a food/beverage plant to a city water treatment facility to a corrugator - all in the same week. Invariably, our technicians get an adrenaline rush when they see a machine come to life and get to work (or back to work). If you don't enjoy that feeling, if you don't enjoy this kind of variety, or if you just want to do the same thing every day then this may not be a good career field for you.
RWM: Do you have any advice for young people who are just starting out in this career?
Conner: Work hard in school - especially in sciences and higher math. Then spend your free time in creative, constructive ways. Playing video games won't help you, but writing one would. Make something new with a Raspberry Pi or Arduino. Build the perfect tube guitar amp. Reprogram your car to turn off the lights when you turn off the engine. Find ways to develop research methods, hone your problem solving skills and stretch yourself. Doing these kinds of things will greatly increase your chances of getting hired and, besides that, you'll enjoy it!
Salary and Career Outlook for Electronics
As with any career, pay can vary based on time on the job, location of the employer and even drive for success. A career in electronics can be promising and typically results in higher than average wages for all occupations combined, according to BLS data. Keep on reading for more details on salaries for electrical or electronics engineering technicians.
|Career||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Number of New Jobs||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Electrical and Electronics Drafters||62,890||1,600||5.4|
|Electrical and Electronics Engineering Technicians||61,870||-2,800||-2|
|Electrical and Electronics Installers and Repairers, Transportation Equipment||59,080||700||4.4|
|Electrical and Electronics Repairers, Commercial and Industrial Equipment||56,670||100||0.1|
|Electrical and Electronics Repairers, Powerhouse, Substation, and Relay||72,450||-1,000||-4.5|
|Electronic Equipment Installers and Repairers, Motor Vehicles||33,500||-5,800||-50|
|Electronic Home Entertainment Equipment Installers and Repairers||39,670||700||2.4|
|Electronics Engineers, Except Computer||102,390||-1,900||-1.4|
- Electrical and Electronics Engineering Technicians, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes173023.htm
- Electrical and Electronics Engineering Technicians, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Dec. 17, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/electrical-and-electronics-engineering-technicians.htm#tab-4
- Electricians, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/electricians.htm
- Electrical and Electronics Installers and Repairers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/electrical-and-electronics-installers-and-repairers.htm
- ETA International, http://www.eta-i.org/
- Instrumentation and Electronics Technician, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, http://energy.gov/eere/sunshot/instrumentation-and-electronics-technician
- The Indoor Environment & Energy Efficiency Association, http://www.acca.org/education/epa/