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How Do You Stay on Top of Technology?

Dec. 13, 2023
Technology marches on, but are you lagging in your proficiency? Our 2023 Annual Salary and Career Report survey provides a glimpse into the state of continuing engineering education.

This article is part of the Annual Salary Survey series.

What you'll learn:

  • Salary and Career survey results on education levels reached by engineers.
  • Survey results on types of content most used to keep informed of tech advances.
  • The main reason why continuing education is difficult to maintain.

 

When asked about challenges in staying up to date with evolving technologies, one respondent to our 2023 Salary & Career Report survey answered in a way that may be indicative of industry employment trends: “I’m expected to be current in a wide range of disciplines because of under-resourcing and hiring of junior engineers who need mentoring and bring little to the table initially.” 

If this situation sounds familiar—needing to wear multiple hats even as you help new talent—then you’ve got to somehow find time to learn about new technologies. It could be what enables you to prove your value to your organization, both through innovative work of your own and in getting newcomers up to speed.

Needing to scramble to accommodate accelerating change, with precious little time to do so, is a perennial requirement for electronic design engineers. Our survey asked about your current level of education and your preferred means of learning new tricks. We wanted to know whether your employer pays for continuing education, and if so, in what modes? In this article, we’ll look at these topics with facts, figures, and representative anecdotal responses. Bear in mind that for most questions, we asked you to “select all that apply,” so results won’t necessarily add up to 100%.

Education Levels on the Rise

How well are engineers educated, and how do this year’s results compare with the 2022 survey? The largest chunk of respondents holds a master’s degree (33.3% vs. 32% in 2022). Then there’s 25.6% with bachelor’s degrees (22% in 2022).

Respondents with a bachelor’s degree plus some graduate studies are at over 14% this year, a slight increase from last year. Doctorates made a bit of a comeback in 2023 at nearly 13% vs. last year’s 11%. Overall, current education levels are improving year-on-year compared to last year’s survey results.

Educational Options Abound

Regardless of whether you graduated from a prestigious technical college or worked your way up from the mailroom, there’s no getting around the need to refresh your knowledge and skills. So, as we do each year, we asked, “What are some of the ways in which you continue your engineering education?”

While last year was something of an off year for continuing education, this year’s results indicate that more of you are taking advantage of opportunities to learn and grow professionally. It’s fair to say that coming out from under the pandemic cloud could be the reason.

As usual, we’ve asked about your usage of various modes of education. You can always count on industry vendors to produce webcasts, videos, and white papers in large volumes. These items are invariably free for the asking (or registering). Most webcast providers make their events available on demand if you’ve missed the live streams.

In 2023, your most preferred means of getting up to speed on technology is engineering videos (62.4%). That’s followed by engineering/technology publications at 62.2%, a significant rebound from 47% in 2022. Last year’s #1 option, seminars, fell to #3 this year, but it still climbed to 62% from 51% in 2022.

We broke out engineering/technology publications’ websites in this year’s survey, and 56.4% rely on those for news and information. White papers came in with 59% vs. 48% last year. You’re turning to engineering textbooks more this year (48.7% vs. 35% in 2022); the same goes for eBooks (41% vs. 35% last year).

In-person education options are a mixed bag: Fewer of you are attending in-classroom college courses (11.3% vs. 14% in 2022) or showing up at user-group meetings and meetups (18.3% vs 20% last year). But your tradeshow/conference attendance rose from 26% last year to 29% in 2023.

We asked about a few new education modes this year, beyond publication websites. Some 34% of respondents avail themselves of vendor-sponsored events while 19% stop in at in-house education sessions sponsored by your employers. We wanted to know if you take advantage of online tradeshows/conferences, and about 17.6% say they do. Another category of education mode that’s resurfaced in the wake of COVID-19 is podcasts, with 15.3% tuning in.

Some educational options are free of charge, but there’s quite a few that are not. We asked whether your employers reimburse you for those costs. Sadly, 25% report that you’re on your own in this regard. But over 42% say they’ll recoup costs for attending tradeshows/conferences. Nearly 38% say the same about seminars, and about 32.5% get repaid for the costs of online training sessions. If you’re taking college courses, over 27% get tuition costs back as well as costs for textbooks. Close to 25% are reimbursed for dues to engineering associations.

Time and Time Again

While fears of contracting disease have largely receded, enabling you to more readily attend shows, conferences, and seminars, lack of time remains the perennial thorn in the side of the knowledge hungry. Compared to the general population, electronic engineers are a well-paid lot, but your employers often get more than their money’s worth out of you. That’s clear from the number of anecdotal responses to our survey decrying the surfeit of time for continuing education.

“[It’s difficult to] make time available outside of work and personal time to stay current with advances in engineering and technology,” said one respondent. “The technology moves along too fast to keep up,” offered another, while a third observed, “Lots of information is becoming obsolete very quickly.”

The imbalance between work and private life remains a concern for many engineers, as any time spent with technical journals or watching videos at home means less time for the family and/or friends. “Any study of new tech has to be done on my own time with my own funds,” offered one respondent.

Then there’s the problem of the sheer volume of material to be had. What’s the source? What the heck do they know, anyway (“…sources who claim expertise when their knowledge is superficial”)? Which material is useful now and which might be useful in the future (“…just filtering out the far-future stuff from that which might be relevant soon”)?

The rate of technology change is a constant refrain among design engineers, who cite anxiety about keeping up with emerging technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence. “It’s a matter of navigating hype-fueled spam, focusing on content relevant to my job,” said one survey respondent. “It’s about filtering out all the ‘executive summary’ and ‘infomercials’ promoted as educational for engineers (generalized puffery),” added another.

Without a doubt, staying abreast of technology trends and project-relevant information is a difficult endeavor. Here’s hoping you’re able to maintain and expand your knowledge base sufficiently in 2024 to keep you at the top of your game.

Read more articles in the Annual Salary Survey series.