Those who are new to the electrical field are often confused about the difference in electrical engineering and electrical technology (or electrical systems technology) degrees and careers.
First, let’s establish that the two aren’t the same.
To begin with, you need to clarify what type of job in the industry you are interested in, and which degree you will need to get there.
Electrical Technology Programs
These programs prepare students for jobs as electricians performing everyday wiring, maintenance, and repair of electrical systems in buildings.
Students learn manual skills for front-line jobs as commercial/residential/industrial/construction electricians.
They install, maintain, repair, and upgrade electrical systems in homes, commercial and industrial buildings and settings.
This training can partially substitute the required experience for a journeyman electrician license in many jurisdictions.
If you wish to become an electrician to work in construction and on-site, installing, maintaining, and repairing electrical systems in new construction and existing structures, you need a degree in electrical technology.
Electrical Engineering Programs
These programs prepare students for jobs with the designing and development of electrical systems.
Students study to be employed in engineering jobs developing, testing, and supervising the production and installation of electrical systems.
This education can be a substitute for some on-the-job experience required for a master electrician license in some jurisdictions.
Electronics engineering is a field included in the electrical engineering dealing solely with low voltage systems.
Such systems typically comprise semiconductor devices, integrated circuits, transistors, and diodes.
It is related to computer engineering.
High voltage system engineering is usually referred to as electrical engineering.
It involves distribution systems and power engineering in civil and industrial projects.
Electrical engineering degree programs typically cover electronics engineering as well.
Alternatively, they offer it as a concentration in a program.
Electrical Engineering Technology
More confusion comes with electrical engineering technology (EET), which is the name of the applied electrical engineering domain.
It deals with the hands-on maintenance, manufacturing, and repair of electrical circuitry and systems.
It involves the work with everything from consumer electronics products to industrial electronic motors.
EET programs are similar to electrical technology vocational training, but they are focused more on preparing graduates for the jobs of engineering technologists.
They work in computer and electronic component product development and design, testing, and quality control.
On the other hand, electrical technology programs focus on construction trades as electricians working on the electrical wiring of homes and buildings.
The programs cover the National Electric Code, OSHA construction safety standards, and the methods to run raceways and wire.
These topics aren’t a part of electrical engineering technology programs.
Differences and Similarities Between Electrical Engineering and Electrical Technology Programs in Study
The basic difference is in manual and technical skills that apply to the wiring of buildings (electrical technology) and design aspects and theory of electrical systems (electrical engineering).
Electrical Technology Programs Teach Hands-on Skills Related to Wiring Buildings
Programs in electrical technology are more hands-on.
They focus on the application of electrical principles to solve real-world problems.
This refers to electrical systems that are used to light, power, and heat the buildings.
The programs include some classroom instruction but mostly focuses on hands-on training in the lab or shop environment.
The topics include:
- OSHA Safety Standards.
- Power Generation.
- Wiring, Raceways, and Conduit for Residential/Commercial/Industrial Construction Wiring Projects.
- National Electrical Code (NEC).
- Motor Controls.
- Industrial Controls.
Electrical Engineering Programs Teach Electrical Theory and Systems Design
Electrical engineering degree programs focus mostly on math and science.
Students should understand and make calculations based on physics governing electrical interactions.
Students do a lot of math modeling work that teaches them the skills necessary to design and simulate new electrical circuitry and systems.
The courses of these programs usually include:
- Microprocessor design.
- Electrical circuit design.
- Linear devices.
- Technical writing.
- Interfaces and instrumentation.
EET programs combine some of the two.
They teach such skills as electric and digital circuitry, computer configurations, software, and logic design, and some computer programming.
Differences and Similarities Between Electrical Engineering and Electrical Technology in the Real World
Both programs focus on safety principles while working with electricity and related equipment.
They cover instances both for personal protection and the best methods of installation.
The electrical systems’ design is equally important to the proper installation to prevent fires or accidents.
The common subjects also include producing and reading blueprints and working in CAD (Computer-Aided Design) and drafting programs.
Engineers and electricians have to be skilled in reading blueprints.
They are also expected to update construction documentation, which is another essential safety aspect.
Electricians Build Electrical Systems and Infrastructure
Being graduates of electrical technology programs, electricians are responsible for bringing all the grand engineering plans to life.
Electricians are the ones who take blueprints and build systems that generate and distribute light, power, and heat in the real world.
Electricians usually have to travel to the location of the job, as they work on-site.
They work with specialized tools to solder, crimp, and pull wiring in place, while spending most of their working day outdoors.
They have to read blueprints and interpret them to the processes that physically put together electrical wiring systems.
Electrical Engineers Design It
Electrical engineering graduates usually work at the desk.
They are responsible for the design, testing, and supervision of the construction and installation of electrical systems, products, and components.
Most of the modern world runs on electricity and depends on these systems, so engineers contribute to making them work.
Engineers usually work in offices, off-site, and do a lot of drafting and paperwork.
They should often translate ideas into schematics and blueprints, so they need excellent communication skills.
Electrician Licensing for Electrical Technology and Electrical Engineering Graduates
Students in electrical technology programs are heading for careers in the electrical trade.
With their degrees, they should meet qualifications to meet the journeyman license requirements.
The education you get from this program is roughly equal to what you would learn in an apprenticeship.
Some states allow the graduates of the electrical technology program to sit for the exam for a journeyman license.
In this case, you won’t need as much on-the-job experience.
A journeyman electrician license usually requires 4 years or 8,000 hours of supervised experience as an apprentice.
Some states and jurisdictions allow the candidates to substitute a year (2,000 hours) of this experience with a two-year Associate of Applied Science in Electrical Technology degree.
An electrical engineering degree isn’t usually a direct path to the electrical trade.
These students are eligible to use their school time to meet the experience requirements.
But commonly, they would either have to sit for the state engineering exam or could progress to the master electrician level in the states allowing that.
For example, in New York, holders of electrical engineering degrees can substitute up to 7.5 years of experience with 2.5 years of schooling.
This number of years is what is required for a master electrician or special electrician license.
In Utah, a B.S. in electrical engineering can be counted for three years of experience as a journeyman to become a master.
Some people take both paths during their careers.
They earn an associate’s degree in electrical technology to qualify for a journeyman exam.
Then, they go back to school to earn a bachelor’s in electrical engineering to meet some requirements for a master electrician license.
With either option, you can be prepared for a job as an electrician.
However, an engineering degree is more time-consuming and expensive.
It is really worth it if you are longing for a master electrician or engineer level.