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Everything Else » Why do electronic technicians get paid so poorly?

July 29, 2012
by jmuthe
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Hello, I know that this question is not about the Nerdkit, but I thought that there might be people here who work in the field of electronics that could answer this question for me. I have had an interest in working with electronics at a young age so I majored in it in college, got good grades, and then graduated with a Bachelors degree. Then I got a job as an electronic technician for a company that makes ophthalmic equipment for eye doctors. My salary started out at $10/hour then went to $11/hour a year later, and then I didn’t get a raise for four years and when I finally did it was fifty cents. So after working there five years I now make $11.50 hour. The third year that I worked there, I was tired of the low salary so I tried to look for a new job but it seemed that the other electronic technician jobs didn’t pay much better. For example, one job that I asked about required a college degree and two years of job experience which I had but they offered to give me $12/hour. My coworker also told me about a job he looked up that was a decent salary at $20/hour. However, the job required 10 years of experience, and required you to have skills on so many different types of computer program. I feel that with those requirement the salary should be double that.

I feel shocked that electronic technicians get paid so little because I always thought that jobs that require you to have skills always pay a decent salary, and the more skills they require, the better the salary. The reason for that is because let’s say two jobs pay exactly the same but one requires you to learn a skill in college and the other one doesn’t. Why would anyone bother to go to college to qualify for the first job when they could earn just as much with the second job. The extra pay is a motivator for people to go to college to learn these skills. That’s why a highly educated doctor makes more money than a less educated nurse and why a nurse makes more money than a less educated janitor. I will admit that you don’t have to be a genius to be an electronic technician but you have to have some skill. Since I have to test and repair electronic equipment to a component level, I have to understand some basic concepts in electronics. I have to be able to read and understand a schematic. I have to know how to use test equipment like a multimeter and oscilloscope as well as a function generator. I also have to be able to use a soldering iron to solder and desolder components that are surface mounted and thru-hole. That could be a little tricky to most people since some of these components contain over a hundred pins and must be soldered precisely. You also have to be careful not to damage the pads on the PCB board as well. Every few months I also have to train a technician, who works for our distributors, on how to troubleshoot basic problems with the machines so I have to have good communication skills. My boss tells me that the distribution technicians always told them that I do a good job explaining it to them. In fact I am told by my boss and coworkers that I do a good job overall but I still make no more than a janitor.

I am not saying this to complain but rather because I want to ask a few questions. Am I the only electronic technician that gets paid so poorly or do other people here have similar experiences? If so then why does a job that requires you to have skills, pay so badly. I mean, what is the motivation for people to go to college to learn electronics, and then apply for a job as an electronic technician if they could make just as much by not going to college and becoming a janitor. Thirdly, are there other professions that require you to have skills but have an average pay of less than $15/hour or is this an original trait of an electronic technician? Lastly if electronic technicians get paid so poorly then how come I never hear about them going on strike or threatening to on strike in the news like with other professions. For example this happens with teachers, MTA workers, Con-Edison workers, and even professional baseball players but the funny thing is that they all make a lot more money than electronic technicians do.

July 29, 2012
by jmuthe
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One thing that I wanted to point out is that people seem to keep getting confused on what an electronic technician does. They sometimes mix them up with other professions. An electronic technician is someone who tests and troubleshoots electronic equipment. They don’t do electrical work in a house or building. That is what an electrician does. They are also not cable TV installers or Con-Edison workers. I say this so that people don’t look up the salary of these workers, see that it is higher than what I make, and say that these electronic technicians get paid well. They might get paid better but they are not electronic techncians.

August 20, 2012
by rblalock
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I'm hearing you, brother.

I did component level circuit board repair for a long time, and was always amazed at how low the pay was for how much knowledge I needed to do the job. But the answer to your question lies in a simple economics lesson. When an electronic device needs repair, one must balance the cost of having it repaired with the cost of buying a new one. This is the reason you don't see very many TV repair shops anymore. It just isn't worth the cost to get something repaired when a new one is pretty cheap and usually offers an upgrade.

If you work for Sony and actually design their new DVD player, they will pay you a lot of money. And the labor to put them together is extremely cheap. But fixing it when it breaks is, sadly, never going to make you wealthy.

There is a bright side. Take your electronics skillz and bring them to the IT market. That's what I did and now I make almost triple what I used to as a bench technician.

August 20, 2012
by Ralphxyz
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But the answer to your question lies in a simple economics lesson. When an electronic device needs repair, one must balance the cost of having it repaired with the cost of buying a new one.

I just had a inexpensive ($85.00 on sale) but great Lexmark printer/scanner/fax die.

We had also purchased a extended warranty plan ($15.00) through Staples.

Staples just gave us another printer, they didn't even want to have to deal with disposal so they never even looked at it.

Some day I'll get around to fixin it.


August 20, 2012
by jmuthe
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Hello, I want to thank you for responding to my post. I have a few follow up responses though. First, I like working with electronics but I suppose that at this point I would be willing to change careers if an IT specialist pays more. However, it seems that the work of an IT specialist is very different than that of an electronic technician so I don’t think that the skills would be transferrable. I have a degree in electronics engineering and have several years of experience as an electronic test technician. Is that enough to get a job as an IT specialist or would I have to go back to school and get a new degree?

Secondly, I understand the point that a lot of electronic items are so cheap that it would be cheaper to get a new one than to fix it. However, there are still many electronic items that are very expensive. At my job I have to test my company’s printed circuit boards (PCB) that came from an outside assembler and if they are broken then I have to fix them. After I fix the machine, our company may sell it for thousands of dollars. On average, more than half of these boards have at least some small problem with them. Most of the time, the problems are easy and quick to fix. I may either have to replace a cheap component or fix a cold solder. If I didn’t have the skills to fix this machine, my company would be throwing away half of these PCB boards and lose hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. I am pretty sure that many other electronics technicians work on machines that are even more expensive . Would it be cost effective to just replace a $10 million machine if you could easily fix a part in 20 minutes?

Thirdly, although you gave a reasonable response to why electronic technicians get paid so little, it still doesn’t fully answer a point that I made in my first post. The advantage of an unskilled job is that it is easy to get and the disadvantage is that it pays very little. The advantage of the skilled job is that it pays a lot more but the disadvantage is that you need to invest you time, energy, and money and go to college to train yourself for the job. However, the problem with being an electronic technician is that you have to go to college like a skilled worker but get paid the same amount as an unskilled worker such as a janitor. Actually if an 18 year old high school graduate decides to become a janitor, they would probably be better off than an 18 year old that decides to study electronic in college for four years and become an electronic technician even if they are paid the same. The reason is because the janitor could start working full-time four years earlier than the student and also wouldn’t have to worry about student debts. So basically my question is,

“Why would anyone decide to go to college and become an electronic technician if they could just skip college and make just as a much as a janitor or several other unskilled workers?”

That is the question that I really want answered above all else. I know that you may respond by asking me why I became an electronic technician if it pays so little. The answer is because I was really interested in electronics when I was younger and I didn't realize that the profession paid so poorly. I just assumed that since the job required skill, it would pay well. Is that why a lot of people become electronic techncians? Simply because they didn't do enough research on technician's salary before they picked their majors?

August 20, 2012
by dgikuljot
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I cant directly answer your question but an electronics engineer gets paid alot more. And here in CA I have noticed that alot of the companies seem to be hiring engineers instead of just technicians. So was your degree an actual engineering degree or just electronics?

August 20, 2012
by jmuthe
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I am not sure. The exact title of my degree is Bachelors of Technology in Electrical Engineering Technology. I think that I learned a lot in college and I am a good technician but I don't think that I am qualified to be an electronic engineer unless I work with a company that would be willing to train me to become one.

October 20, 2012
by Jer
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Hi jmuthe

I have had the same question my self. When I was just learning electronics in high school (in the 80's) I was told by all the adults around me, that I was making a very good career choice. I have tried my whole life to learn more while providing for my family. (I HAVE NEVER BEEN ABLE TO BUY A HOUSE!) At that time Electronics was still considered a new field but then a bunch of cheep schools for electronics started up (in the 80’s) and flooded the market with technicians driving down our salaries. This and other market forces have rendered others and me to very meager life. The only thing I have is the LOVE of the Art of Electronics. My boys are now fully gown and I feel that I have failed them. I still work as an engineer because it’s my ART and that’s all I know. I'm diffidently not an engineer for the pay!

Please don’t let my opinion discourage you instead understand that nothing in life is easy.

October 21, 2012
by Noter
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Continuing your education is the best way to advance your career and paycheck. Especially if your young but even older folks will benefit from additional degrees and knowledge/expertise. I encourage you all to go back to college even if just part-time and get the next or another degree. If you start now you'll be way down the road in another 5 years. If you have all the electronic engineering degrees, work on software engineering, just keep going and you will reach your goals. Learn all you can, never stop.

October 21, 2012
by mongo
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35 years ago, I got my first job as an electronics tech. That was when everybody said "Electronics is the field of the future".

Then in the late 1970's, there were so many guys coming out of trade school that the market was swamped with new blood. Technicians became a dime a dozen. Most of them that I had to work with weren't worth a hill of beans but they had the school certificate, where I did not. I got into it on my own, learned it on my own and continue to do that. But the schooled guys found that they had the upper hand. Even though I did not have the "formal" education, I found myself fixing all the problems the new kids were causing. I now have that formal education, built on top of my life time of experience, but there still is no $$ in it.

So, the best thing to do is learn all you can and find the niche where you can put it to use and not compete with a million others in the same position.

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