This article discusses the vital aspects of an electrical engineering career. You will learn what electrical engineers do, where they work, what their job duties are, how to become one, career paths, specialties and more.
What We Do
An electrical engineer is a technical professional who designs and develops new electrical systems, tests equipment and solves engineering problems. Electrical engineers study and apply the mathematics and physics of electricity, electronics and electromagnetism to large and small scale systems to transmit energy and process information. Electrical engineers work with all sorts of electronic devices, from small, handheld to devices to supercomputers.
Electrical engineers are usually focused on large scale electrical systems, including motor control and power transmission and also using electricity to transmit small and large amounts of energy. Electrical engineers work on many different technologies, including telecommunications, electrical power stations and satellite communications.
Some of the common job duties of electrical engineers are:
- Design new methods to use electric power to develop and improve projects
- Perform complex calculations to develop construction, manufacturing, and installation standards and specifications
- Direct the installation, testing and manufacture of electrical equipment to ensure that products meet codes and specifications
- Investigate customer complaints or the public, and evaluate engineering problems, while also developing solutions
- Work with company project managers on production to ensure projects are completed on time and on budget
Electrical engineers also do the following things:
- Design electrical components, products and software for commercial, medical, military and scientific applications
- Develop testing and maintenance procedures for electric equipment and components
- Evaluate electrical systems and recommend changes to equipment or design modifications
- Perform inspections of electronic equipment, systems and instruments to ensure they meet safety standards
Where We Work
Electrical engineers held about 188,000 jobs in 2016 in the United States. The largest employers of these professionals were in these fields:
- Engineering services: 19%
- Electric power generation: 10%
- Research and development in the engineering, physical and life sciences: 8%
- Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing: 6%
- Navigational, measuring, electromedical and control instruments manufacturing: 6%
A related field is electronics engineering. There were about 136,000 of these professionals in 2016 in these industries:
- Telecommunications: 18%
- Federal government: 13%
- Semiconductors and other electronic component manufacturing: 12%
- Engineering services: 9%
- Navigational, measuring and electromedical manufacturing: 7%
As far as geographic location, these cities are recognized as great for engineers of different kinds:
- Huntsville AL
- Warner Robins GA
- Palm Bay FL
- Warren MI
- San Jose CA
- Midland TX
- Decatur AL
- Kennewick WA
- Dayton OH
How To Become
To get your start in an electrical engineering career, it is necessary to earn a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Employers in this field also value internships in engineering as well as participating in cooperative engineering programs, where students earn school credit for work experience.
If you want to earn your bachelor’s degree in this field from high school, you should have courses in physics, math, algebra, calculus and trigonometry. Having courses in drafting also are very useful, as electrical engineers must be skilled in preparing different technical drawings.
Some universities have a five year engineering program that lets you earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree.
The job outlook for electrical engineers is solid in the next several years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports job demand in this field will rise by 7% through 2026, which is about as fast as average when compared to other occupations. It is expected that job growth for electrical engineers will occur the most in engineering services firms; more companies are expected to use engineers in this industry for projects that are related to electronic systems and devices.
It is expected that the quick pace of technical innovation in the next several years will increase demand for electrical engineers in research and development, which is an area where a high level of engineering expertise will be needed for the design of distribution systems that are related to many types of new technologies. Electrical engineers in this area will play major roles in technical areas such as solar arrays, semiconductors, and communications technologies.
The median salary for electrical engineers in 2017 was $95,000, with the top 10% earning more than $150,000. The median salary for electronics engineers was $102,100 with the top 10% earning more than $160,000. The top industries for electrical engineers in terms of salary were:
- Research and development in the physical, engineering and life sciences: $110,000
- Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing: $99,100
- Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing: $96,900
- Electrical power generation: $94,600
- Engineering services: $92,300
Electrical Engineering Career Paths
Below are some of the other types of jobs that you can get in this growing field:
- Electrical Engineering Technician: This electrical engineering professional works with electrical and electronics engineering professionals to develop communications equipment, computers, medical monitoring devices, navigational equipment and other electrical and electronic equipment. They may work in product evaluation and testing and use diagnostic and measuring equipment to test, adjust and repair equipment. These electrical technicians are also involved in manufacturing and deploying automation equipment.
- Electronics Engineering Technician: Electronics engineering technicians are responsible for designing basic circuitry and drafting of sketches to clarify details of the documentation of design, under the direction of engineers. These technicians are also responsible for building prototypes from rough plans and sketches, and assembling, testing and maintaining circuitry components per engineering instructions and technical manuals. Electronics engineering technicians also resolve and identify equipment malfunctions and then work with the manufacturer to obtain replacement parts.
- Electro-Mechanical Technician: An electro-mechanical technician combines the knowledge of mechanical technology with the knowledge of electrical and electronic circuits. They are responsible for testing, operating and maintaining unmanned, robotic and electromechanical equipment of various types. They commonly test and operate machines in factories and related job sites. They also are in charge of analyzing and recording test results and writing documentation that accurately describe the tests that are performed and what the results were.
To get started in electrical engineering, you need to have a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering or a related field, and have strong mathematical skills. If you want to work in an engineering management capacity, you will generally need to have your Master of Science in electrical engineering.
Below are some of the most common types of specializations in electrical engineering:
- Biomedical: Includes biomedical instrumentation, medical imaging, neural and brain interfaces and micro-electromechanical systems
- Computers and digital circuit design: Circuitry that handles logic and computations.
- Control systems: Electronic circuitry that robustly and precisely controls machines and equipment.
- Micro-electronics and photonics
- Nanotechnology: Design of submicroscopic structures for electronics and related purposes
- Packaging: This is the art of packing as many integrated circuit chips as possible into a small space.
- Pattern recognition and artificial intelligence: This software makes it possible for a vehicle to drive itself and stay on the road and avoid hitting other objects.
- Power: Includes design of generators, motors and electrical distribution
Training and Certifications
If you want to get the best out of your electrical engineering education and career, you may wish to earn one of more of these certifications:
- Electrostatics Discharge Control (ESD) Associate Engineer
- Electrostatic Discharge Associate Technician
- Certified Military Standard EMC Specialist
- Expert Systems Engineering Professional
- Fluid Power Systems Designer
- PV Installer Professional
- Certified Military Standard EMC Specialist
- IPC-A-600 Acceptability of Printed Circuit Boards
- Certified Biometrics Professional
- Certified Reliability Engineer
- Specialty Areas. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://electrical-engineering.uark.edu/about/specialty-areas.php
- What Do Electrical Engineers Do? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.engineering.unsw.edu.au/electrical-engineering/what-we-do/what-do-electrical-engineers-do
- Electrical and Electronics Engineers. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/electrical-and-electronics-engineers.htm#tab-2