Science and Engineering Technicians, Designers, and Surveyors

Updated July 2013

Technicians in engineering, science, and surveying and mapping, as well as drafters, provide essential support services to engineers and other professionals in their field. They use principles of science and engineering to assist in the development and production of infrastructure, computers, pharmaceuticals, and many other products. This overview explores the employment and working conditions, earnings, job outlook, and unionization of workers in these occupations.


Employment Data                                                                      

Engineering technicians is a broad category and workers in this field specialize in any of a number of engineering areas including aerospace, electro-mechanical, electrical and electronics, mechanical, industrial, civil, or environmental. In 2012, there were approximately 395,000 people employed as engineering technicians in the U.S.

Science technicians are also often specialized workers and are found in sciences such as, environmental, agricultural and food, chemical, geological, petroleum, biological, conservation, nuclear, and forensic. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports numbers for some sciences separately, however, in total there were approximately 305,000 people employed in a variety of science technician occupations.

Drafters, who turn the designs of architects and engineers into technical documents, usually through the utilization of specialty software, generally fall into one of three categories: architectural and civil, electrical and electronics, and mechanical. The BLS differentiates the work of drafters from that of commercial and industrial designers. While this document will focus on the work of drafters, the two occupations may share a number of similarities. In 2012, there were an estimated 149,000 drafters in the U.S.

Surveying and mapping technicians assist surveyors, typically at construction sites to keep boundary lines clear. The smallest of the three broad categories, there were an estimated 77,000 drafters in the U.S. in 2012.[1]

In general, men dominate these occupations. In 2012, 16.6 percent of drafters, 16.3 percent of engineering technicians, and only 4.3 percent of surveying and mapping technicians were women. The BLS disaggregates the various kinds of science technician, and most occupations have too few employees to report demographics, however, data are available for two occupational categories. Amongst chemical science technicians, women represented 29.9 percent of the workforce, and were 52.8 percent of miscellaneous life, physical, and social science technicians.[2]

In terms of race and ethnicity, amongst drafters in 2012, three percent were black or African American, 7.7 percent were Asian, and 9.9 percent were of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity. In engineering technician occupations, 10.8 of workers were black, five percent were Asian, and 12.3 percent were Hispanic or Latino. Black or African American workers represented 5.3 percent of surveying and mapping technicians, while Asians represented 2.5 percent of the workforce, and those of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity were 13.5 percent. In the chemical and miscellaneous sciences, black or African American technicians were 15.4 and 12.8 percent of the workforce respectively. Asians represented 4.8 percent of chemical science technicians, and 14.4 percent of those in the miscellaneous science technician jobs. Hispanic or Latino workers represented 7.4 of chemical science technicians and 10.4 percent of workers in miscellaneous life, physical, and social science technician occupations.[3]

Most engineering and science technicians work in a comfortable environment, some, however, must contend with night and weekend work and with work-related hazards, including contact with hazardous chemicals and other toxic materials. Science technicians may risk exposure to disease-causing organisms, toxic chemicals, radiation, or radioactive isotopes. While the majority of workers in these occupations are able to maintain a standard 40-hour work week, 18 percent of drafters, 24 percent of engineering technicians, 22 percent of surveying and mapping technicians, and 18 percent of science technicians reported their work week was usually longer than 40 hours in 2011. Across all four categories, at least half of those reporting working longer than standard weeks, reported usually working 50 hours or more per week.[4]


Education and Training

Engineering and science technicians have a wide distribution of educational attainment. Many technicians have at least an associate’s degree. This varies by occupation, ranging from approximately one in four surveying and mapping technicians over the age of 25 holding at least one post-secondary degree to more than half of drafters over 25 holding an associate’s or higher. Among those without a post-secondary degree, large percentages of workers in all occupations report completion of some college credits.[5]

Education Attainment of Science and Engineering Techs


Earnings

In 2012, aerospace engineering and operations technicians reported median annual earnings of $61,530, the highest amongst engineering technicians. Environmental engineering technicians reported the lowest annual in the category, with a median salary of $45,350.

Wages for nuclear technicians in 2012 far out-paced other science technicians. Median annual earnings for nuclear technicians were $$69,060 compared to $34,070 for agricultural and food science technicians.

In drafting, electrical and electronics drafters reported highest median annual wages in the field ($55,700) while architectural and civil drafters reported the lowest ($47,970). Surveying and mapping technicians reported median annual earnings of $39,670 in 2012.[6]

With only a few exceptions, real wages for engineering and science technicians have remained stagnant or decreased over the last decade. Even for those occupations that have experienced growth, when controlling for inflation the wage increases were modest. Surveying and mapping technicians experience the largest wage growth in the last decade; however, even it amounts to a less than one percent increase annually.[7]

changes in employment and wages for science and engineering techsA number of factors can influence an individual technician’s earnings, including training, experience, industry, and region. However, the field continues to experience a persistent gender wage gap as well. Because of the relatively small number of women in the field, not all occupation specific data are available, however, in 2012 median weekly earnings for women working as technicians in miscellaneous life, physical, and social sciences were just 75 percent of those for men.[8]


Job Outlook

One possible explanation for the stagnant wage growth in the last decade is the overall decrease in the number of jobs for engineering and science technicians. The number of jobs grew overall in only six of the sixteen occupations outlined from 2003-2012. Jobs for biological and nuclear science technicians grew by 45-50 percent each in the last decade; however, these were both relatively small occupations to start. [9]

Different occupations experienced varied growth and decline over the last Changes in Employment for Selected STEM techsdecade. Some occupations, such as architectural and civil drafters, experienced rapid growth prior to the 2008 recession, but have since faced a steady decline. The number of jobs in industrial engineering however, has been somewhat mercurial, and shows signs of returning to pre-recession levels. Mechanical engineering did experience modest overall loss of jobs; the total number has remained relatively flat since 2003. Geological and petroleum science technician jobs grew steadily, but these occupations represent only a small percentage of total employment in the field.[10]

The BLS projects generally weak job growth for most engineering and science technician occupations. Slow growth or even decline is a function of a number of factors including, increased offshoring and automation of jobs, and contraction of budgets for research and development following the 2008 recession.[11]


Union Organization

In 2012, the percentage of engineering and science technicians who were union members varied by occupation with four out of the six occupation categories having above average union density. Engineering technicians and surveying and mapping technicians boasted the highest rates of unionization with 15.6 and 12.5 percent respectively. Chemical technicians and a catch-all category of other life, physical, and social science technicians had 12 and 11.9 percent density respectively. Biological science technicians and drafters had the lowest rate of unionization at 4.6 and six percent respectively. These numbers represent only rough estimations, because a relatively small number of observations make precise numbers difficult to ascertain.[12]

A number of professional unions represent engineering and science technicians, including the American Federation of Government Employees, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, the United Steelworkers of America, and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.


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[1]Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2012–2013 Occupational Outlook Handbook, visited July 22, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/; U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, Table 11, “Employed persons by detailed occupation, sex, race, and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity,” 2012.

[2] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, Table 11, “Employed persons by detailed occupation, sex, race, and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity,” 2012.

[3] Ibid.

[4] U.S. Census Bureau, DataFerrett, American Community Survey, Public Use Microdata, 2011.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, accessed July 18, 2013, www.bls.gov/oes/

[7] Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics 2003-2012, accessed July 18, 2013, www.bls.gov/oes/

[8] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, Table 39. “Median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers by detailed occupation and sex,” 2012.

[9] Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics 2003-2012, accessed July 18, 2013, www.bls.gov/oes/

[10] Ibid.

[11] Janet Babin, “Why more engineers are losing jobs,” Marketplace. June 17, 2009. Available at: http://www.marketplace.org/topics/business/fallout-financial-crisis/why-more-engineers-are-losing-jobs;Linda Levine. “Offshoring (or Offshore Outsourcing) and Job Loss Among U.S. Workers” Congressional Research Service. Washington, DC. December 17, 2012.  Available at: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL32292.pdf

[12] Barry T. Hirsch and David A. Macpherson, Union Membership and Earnings: Compilations from the Current Population Survey, 2013 ed., (Arlington, VA: Bloomberg BNA, 2013.)

 

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