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Other Going back for Mechanical Technology?

  1. Apr 18, 2016 #1
    Hey all, so I'm at a bit of a crossroads. I recently graduated from a community college with what would probably be considered a biological technician or laboratory technician diploma. I've worked for approximately a year in my field, but got laid off a few months ago. There just seems to be an abundance of labour in this field. I originally did this program because I have a three year biology degree and I figured it would be quick and easy with my background. For instance, anyone who graduates a university with a bachelor or masters in biology, chemistry, biochemistry, biotechnology, environmental science, microbiology, or agriculture is my direct competition. Other people I have worked with and/or graduated with are in a similar predicament, with only 20% of my graduating class being employed. Several people I know have begun night courses in accounting for a CPA designation - one of which has a master's in analytical chemistry and several published papers on chemotherapy delivery. The lab work itself is also somewhat mundane and repetitive (when I went back I was under the impression that a research job would be readily available when I graduated and I could really use my head to try to solve problems).

    So I'm considering going back to school and doing a mechanical engineering technology diploma or starting an HVAC apprenticeship, because both are specific professions. By this I mean that there is some type of governing body which regulates the credibility of the profession, and has to be in contact with a community college in terms of graduate requirements rather than just a generic laboratory technician diploma which has no governing body. Also, I always enjoyed physics in high school and I think the work in both fields would be a lot more varied, covering multiple fields. Both mech techs and HVAC guys need to know some chemistry, electrical/electronics, manufacturing methods, fluid mechanics, etc. Which leads to my questions:

    1) Is there a strong demand for mechanical engineering technologists?
    2) Do technologists have a specific place in the mechanical/manufacturing hierarchy? Eg. Engineer --> Mech Tech --> Tradespersons.
    3) Is the work varied? Or are you simply doing the same thing day in day out?
    4) A lot of the college promotional videos seem to talk a lot about machining and CNCs, and lathes. Are mechanical technologists just supervisors for tradespeople? Do they just do the designing/drafting and supervising that engineers would do, but it's cheaper to hire a mech tech?
    5) Can a mechanical technologist be self-employed? Ie. Start a consulting firm or run their own business? Or is that more of an engineering or tradesperson career option?
    6) If there are mechanical technologists on this forum, I'd also like to know if they could do it over again, would they a)have done a trade b)pursued engineering c)chosen mechanical technology.

    Thanks in advance for the answers.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 21, 2016 #2


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    Most of your questions are industry, country, company, city etc specific. So your best bet is to spend a long while on google finding information specific to your needs. I'll answer them based on my experience anyway.

    Yes. Starting salary is higher than for Bachelor of Engineering with Honours indicating higher demand, but after a few year those with a tech degree fall behind and stay there. This is from 2015 salary survey data from the national institute of engineers in my country.

    No place I've ever worked has based hierarchy on level of education. It's all about experience and skills.

    Like most engineering jobs, it depends on the company, industry, current market forces, your technical ability, your political ability (ie Are you well liked? Will you get the projects you ask for?) etc etc

    It's not just tradespeople who use mills & lathes. I am a product development engineer (with a Bachelor of Engineering with Honours) I design, develop, prototype & test new products, I use CNCs mills, 3d printers, manual lathes & mills etc etc. I wish I got to do more of it, it's great to get out of the office and make stuff.

    Mech. tech's have a different skill set than full blown engineers, they are capable of doing things engineers can't. This is, according to my national engineering body, why they get paid more out of school - their skills are more practical and they can contribute to the bottom line straight away. Many engineering graduates have very little practical skills, it takes them longer to get up to speed in 'the real world'.

    You don't need a degree to run a business. Some engineering work will require a licensed engineer to sign off, depends on your local regulations.
  4. Apr 21, 2016 #3


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    One needs to be VERY careful in not confusing "Mechanical Engineering Technology" degree with "Mechanical Engineering". In most cases, the former is not the typical mechanical engineering degree. In many instances, the addition of the world "technology" to a familiar name often means that it is a watered-down version that is often offered at vocational institutions. It doesn't mean that it is useless, and may in fact have a more desirable traits that get you a job, but they are not the same beast.

  5. Apr 21, 2016 #4


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    I'll chime in with my experiences of working with EE (Elect Engineering) and EET (Elect Engineering Technology) graduates in the Electrical power and design industry. Many of the EET graduates had an immediate and more practical knowledge of the industry. But they lacked the advanced math and science background to actually understand the big picture. I had several EET graduates and a couple of EE graduates work for me. Both seemed to do well and both degrees had equal chance to advance in the company after they were hired. However, equal chance didn't mean equally equipped. The EE was usually much better rounded in nearly all of their abilities even if they were behind at the start. Their grasp of the underlying science and their often extra electives in business type classes would often propel them past the EET graduate.
    However, in the field (and this employer did put the junior engineers in the field), the EET's generally fared a bit better, its just that this was a short term benefit, that disappeared after a year or so.
  6. Apr 21, 2016 #5


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    Large companies can impose degree restrictions on promotions and pay levels. Sometimes the techs get restricted at a certain level, and usually are not compensated the same
  7. Apr 21, 2016 #6


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    Why would you go for mech tech or HVAC over an engineering degree?
  8. Apr 24, 2016 #7
    I realize this. But this is what it's called in Canada, and it is at a community college. There are also bridging options to engineering programs at two universities here that would allow transfer into second and third year respectively.
  9. Apr 24, 2016 #8
    Because of time and money issues. Going back to school for 4-5 years for a mechanical engineering degree would leave me with a huge amount of debt. The HVAC course would be the most profitable in the short term, and the mech tech could be as well depending on the company I would work for. Yes, the mechanical engineering degree could be the most profitable, but at the moment I am unsure of my abilities in math to justify that risk. The mech tech program has the ability to be done in 2-3 years, start working, gain some experience, and if I feel that I could do it, bridge into year 2 or 3 of an accredited engineering program depending on the school.
  10. Apr 24, 2016 #9


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    One big advantage of being a tradesman or technician is that you get paid by the hour, and you can make a lot from overtime & call out rates. I did a washington accord engineering degree, and my salary is in the upper quartile for graduates but it'll still be quite a few pay rises (& years..) before I earn as much as I did as an electrician. I also don't get a work vehicle, work phone or tool allowance as an engineer. There's also more office politics and bureaucracy to deal with in engineering, with that said I'm still glad I did engineering.

    From the 2015 salary survey done by national institute of engineers in my country:

    After 5 years a Diploma of Engineering holders gets paid considerably more than any other qualification. Make an informed decision, find (good) engineering salary data for wherever you live. Find multiple sources, IME government data is often so vague and general it's pretty much useless to make specific career decisions from.

    I went to university with a guy who did that, his experience meant he was miles ahead of the rest of us in most courses and finished top of the class.
  11. Apr 25, 2016 #10


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    the reason I brought that up

    You most likely will not be using chemistry, fluid mechanics, or hardcore physics in a job as a mechtech or HVAC tech
  12. Apr 25, 2016 #11
    Thanks for the response and I'd like to keep this discussion going if thats okay. I was hoping to find a tradesperson on this forum. Could you tell me why you went back for engineering rather than starting your own business as an electrician? Could you also send me the link from where you got the above chart? The mechanical engineering tech program is part of the Sydney Accord. And the majority of the mechanical engineering degrees here (in Canada) are part of the Washington Accord as well.

    I worked for about 6 weeks as an electrician's helper/labourer but found the work to be repetitive and a little dull, but maybe that's just the helper work (dig trenches, grab tools, etc) - I was offered an apprenticeship at the end of the six weeks, but turned it down and went and did the laboratory diploma program i described above - the company I was at didn't seem the right fit and the journeyman was kind of a dick.
  13. Apr 25, 2016 #12
    Really? Could you be a bit more specific? I'm not disagreeing with you, but could you go into a bit more detail about 'hardcore' chem, physics, mechanics, etc.? Because I don't want to end up in a similar situation. When I did this college diploma course, we were kind of led to believe that there would be opportunities in research. I pictured myself being an assistant to a PhD trying to develop cures to various conditions/diseases. Not simply filtering/extracting samples day-in and day-out (my previous jobs) as a 'tech' in the loosest sense of the word. Anyone who could read an SOP could do the jobs I did without my educational background.
  14. Apr 26, 2016 #13


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    It wasn't very stimulating. I liked the fault finding/ problem solving aspect but for the most part you just follow the codes or the engineers plans.You learn a little science during training but rarely use it. It isn't too different to an HVAC tech in that respect, and there is some overlap, I know quite a few electricians who have some HVAC tickets so they can gas up heat pumps and work on refrigeration systems etc.

    It's for NZ so probably not much help to you (And apparently it's only available to members so I can't link to it), I found a 200 page doc on Canadian engineering labour market projections to 2025 on the Engineers Canada website, that's probably worth a look.
  15. Apr 28, 2016 #14
    Another question, did you choose electrical engineering (I'm assuming) as your major simply because you were an electrician before that? Or was that the part of physics that appealed to you the most?

    I spoke to an academic advisor yesterday at my community college and they suggested taking the civil engineering technology program and doing the environmental stream because of my background in chemistry and biology. Also I'm a little worried of jobs being outsourced to China in manufacturing. But I think I'd prefer to do a mechanical engineering technology stream - I enjoyed that part of physics in high school and university, and bridging into an Engineering degree seems easier with a more traditional technology stream than environmental technology.
  16. Apr 30, 2016 #15


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    I did mechanical engineering.

    I have never had a serious interest in physics, I like pop science physics and the basic physics you do in engineering but not much beyond that. I like engineering - designing and building things, where science is usually just a means to an end.

    Some things can be outsourced eg a civil eng. tech. that sits in a office drafting all day, and some can't be eg a civil eng. tech that is out digging out core samples then testing them in a lab.

    You've already experienced what sounds like a mundane and repetitive technician job. If I were you, I'd think long and hard and do a lot of research before jumping into another technician qualification.
  17. May 1, 2016 #16
    Geez, that's impressive (to go from electrician to mech engineer). I thought most people who went into engineering had some sort of strong affinity for math or physics. I do agree with you on the mundane and repetitive nature which is what I'm a little worried about. I mean I don't want to end up being a draftsperson for the next 20 years. But I need to do something as well. Do you think doing a trade in the meantime (hvac or electrical) would be just as good as a technologist in terms of day to day routine? I still think the ability to bridge into a full engineering degree is a huge advantage for the technologist.

    My friend's dad is a former mechanical engineer at a railway here in Canada and he says that a trade is the way to go in my current situation, rather than the technologist.
  18. May 2, 2016 #17


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    I think those with a strong affinity for math or physics would do a math or physics degrees. There's no modern physics in a Mech E degree, most of the math and physics is hundreds of years old. Not to say it's easy or useless just that it won't prepare one for a career in math or physics, or satiate those with a genuine interest in math or physics.

    All jobs are routine on some level, it doesn't always mean it's unsatisfying. A degree or trade doesn't protect one from an unenjoyable job, there are engineering jobs that I have no interest in, I'm sure others would think the same of my job.

    My advice is don't do something 'in the mean time', If you want to be an engineer, go for it. You don't want to do a trade and have a nagging voice in the back of your mind whispering if only you had been an engineer, I know what that's like :wink:

    Well, why not go straight for engineering? It'll be faster and cost less.
  19. May 2, 2016 #18
    It will be slightly faster but it will cost me more where I live. The community college seems to receive stronger subsidization than the university here. I've registered for both programs in case a spot opens (hvac and mech eng tech) so I'll have to give this serious thought over the next few months. Thanks very much for your thoughts on the matter. I really do appreciate it.
  20. May 2, 2016 #19


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    You can end up in plenty of dull jobs with an engineering backround.
    But in most cases as a 'tech' you'll be fighting an uphill battle to get the mathy work. If you are on a team of 2 engineers and 2 techs, chances are that the engineers will get assigned the mathy work and you'll be assigned the hands on work. not there is anythign wrong with that in any way. But if you want to do mathy things you need to position yourself to do them.

    Its a lot easier to be an engineer and get tech work than the other way around

    billy_joule hit the nail on the head with this post. It's what a few of the techs I work with have said.
  21. May 2, 2016 #20
    Alright, I appreciate the advice. But like I said before, engineering is a little too far to shoot for at this point, due to money issues. But following your advice, would you say the mech tech with an option to bridge into an engineering program later would be more worthwhile than doing an hvac job in the 'meantime' as well?
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