The False Narrative of Electronics Technology

I’ve attended a 2-year trade school majoring in Electronics Engineering Technology. It’s been a couple years since I’ve graduated with honors, and even though it pains me somewhat to write this, I feel as though it might benefit someone if they are considering majoring in the same thing:

I feel as though I’ve been sold a false narrative concerning Electronics Technology.

That’s not to say that I didn’t like the program or that I wouldn’t choose the same thing if I were to go back in time and choose from the same school’s list of majors. However, there is a noticeably wide disparity between what students majoring in the subject expect in terms of earning potential and the reality that awaits them after they’ve walked across the stage.

I admit that I’ve read about it somewhere online, but largely chalked it up to someone making some poor choices with their degree. But after having had experience with several employers, the disappointing wages that I’ve seen discussed seem consistent with what I’ve seen out in the field.

First, the expectation. I know that a lot of people see the word “engineering” in the title of the program and assume that the degree prepares the student for a career in electrical engineering, wherein it’s not unusual to make around $90,000 a year right out of college, possibly even more. That’s some buy-a-car-and-own-a-home money, right there. Of course, it’s reasonable to be skeptical that someone would rake in that kind of dough right after graduating with a 2-year degree; Electrical Engineering is far more challenging and is a 4-year degree (that’s not unusual to take 5 to 6 years to finish).

A more realistic expectation would be to have the understanding that Electronics Technology prepares one to work as an Electronics Technician, and for how difficult the coursework is, one might expect to make something like $50,000 a year right out of school.

Was that what you were expecting? Here comes the disappointment: the typical hourly rate for an Electronics Technician is from $16 to $20 per hour.

That’s it. Around $34,000 a year. I know someone who makes that kind of money as an automotive technician, and he doesn’t even have a college degree.

That’s a disappointing amount of money considering the kind of hard work it takes to get a degree in EET. While most people are put off by the more complex math and only take the algebra courses needed to graduate high school, Electronics Technology has you learning whole new numbering systems. While most people are happy just to have a computer with a high clock speed, Electronics Technology has you learning about computing architecture and networking. Are you ready to learn about the alpha and beta ratings of transistors (and then not likely use this information in your job)? The trigonometry course that’s required isn’t like high school trig; on the college level, it’s a whole new ball game. I even went beyond and took a calculus course. From what I can tell, even engineers rarely have to use derivatives and integrals.

And for what? To make just a few dollars more than a new hire at an upscale gas station? Even now, I’m barely getting by in an apartment, and currently don’t have a car. I didn’t just get a super-hard degree, I did so with honors. Something seems wrong, here.

I’ll give you an idea of just how hard it is to be an EET major. There are majors in the college that graduate about 25 out of the 25 students that enroll in them as freshmen. Other majors seem to do well at retaining their students. For EET, it’s different. It’s not unusual for freshmen to drop like flies in the first month of the first semester. It’s likely that only around half of freshmen make it to the second semester. They often fail out due to poor grades, or withdraw because it turned out much harder than they imagined.

If you’re curious, those that stick around often make fun of those who don’t make it. Even those who withdraw within a month of the first semester are joked about as far in as year two.

It seems that only about a third of freshmen make it as far as the second year. Those that do usually make it to graduation. It’s not that the coursework is any easier, but those who make it to second year demonstrate the diligence necessary to see it through to the end.

Their reward? They become qualified to make 16 Snickers bars an hour at some place that can fire them for forgetting to plug in their static strap. Of course, they’re being taxed, so they’d be taking home less than that.

I know that the market decides the value of one’s skills, which is a highly nuanced topic, but how is it that something that’s so hard to become qualified to do pay so little money?

Don’t get me wrong, I do like my job. Still, there’s something disappointing about getting into a sort of “smart-guy” field and getting really good at it only to discover that there’s not as much money in it as you thought. There’s a false narrative surrounding Electronics Technology, which one would expect a school’s guidance counselors to feed into, but is self-enforcing by the expectation that if something is really hard to do, the outcome of accomplishing it must be much more desirable. One lesson that one can learn from this is that a more difficult path doesn’t necessarily mean the rewards are greater.

Knowing this, would you still major in Electronics Engineering Technology?

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