Sitting at the crossroads of mathematics, physics and energy, electrical engineering is responsible for some of the most useful inventions of our time. Indispensible items like telephones, light bulbs, televisions, and computers were all birthed out of the field, with more innovations constantly emerging today. In the guide that follows, interested individuals can learn more about this dynamic area of work, including related occupations, necessary skills and technologies, typical salaries, and job growth projections.
What does an Electrical Engineer Do?
Electrical engineering is one of the younger forms of engineering, having been around since the late 1800s. The field has grown dramatically in the last century, and today stretches out to any industry utilizing technology or energy as a power source. Electrical engineers may work in a range of areas, including mobile devices, appliances, power stations, satellites, personal and business structures wiring, and telecommunications.
Also known as electronics engineers, electrical engineers are credited with creating thousands of useful technologies, yet that’s not all they do. In addition to innovating, these professionals also create designs plans, test out various prototypes of their inventions, oversee manufacturing, and supervise installation in some cases. They may work in a lab, an office, or a manufacturing plant, and their careers may be focused in small firms devoted to specific electrical products or massive conglomerates such as Samsung or Apple. As the digital world continues to become irreplaceable in myriad industries and parts of everyday life, electrical engineers will be at the forefront of this growth.
Steps to Becoming a Electrical Engineer
Before committing to a degree program in electrical engineering, prospective students may want to get a better sense of all that goes into landing that first job out of college. The good news is that entering this area of engineering is easier than some other types . Keep reading to learn more about the necessary steps for becoming an electrical engineer.
While historically a bachelor’s degree has been enough education to secure work in the field, a continual rise in students electing to complete a master’s degree could shift the norm in coming years. Baccalaureate programs in electrical engineering cover topics ranging from electrical circuit theory and drafting to digital design and differential equations via a mix of classroom lectures, fieldwork and time in the lab.
A number of universities provide a “4+1” option whereby students can complete a master’s degree in one extra year, allowing them to study topics more in-depth and complete a research project and comprehensive exams. Aside from creating opportunities for managerial or leadership roles, a graduate degree also enables individuals to teach at certain postsecondary institutions or move into research and development.
Internships, along with cooperative programs, are essential components of successfully finding work after graduation. Because the field places significant value on prior experience of everyday tasks, students should embrace every opportunity they can to learn and observe in a professional setting. Completing a summer cooperative and a semester-long internship provides access to professionals in the field, opportunities to gain hands-on knowledge, mentorship, and a greater understanding of what to expect when it comes time to apply for a job. Many companies will have all their internship and co-op positions posted on their websites, as evidenced by Raytheon and General Electric.
With so many different types of work available to them, fledgling electrical engineers often choose to focus their knowledge by completing a concentration in their degree. These specializations, which typically account for 12 to 18 hours of coursework, offer concentrated studies to instill a level of expertise.
Some of the most frequently offered specializations include:
- Computer Engineering
- Signal Processing and Control Systems
- Electromagnetic Fields
- Environmental Electronic Engineering
Unlike other fields of engineering, certification is not mandated or as common within electrical engineering circles. Still, for those who wish to distinguish themselves in the field, completing certification exams is a perfect way to do so. In order to receive full certification through the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Survey, the official certifying body, individuals should:
- Attend an ABET-accredited institution
- Undertake the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) in electrical engineering examination directly after completing a baccalaureate degree
- Complete at least four years of professional work experience
- Take the Professional Engineering (PE) exam in electrical engineering
Thanks to prior internship and cooperative experience, recent graduates should have a variety of marketable skills and contacts within the field. As of 2014, the top industries employing electrical engineers include:
- Telecommunications – 18 percent
- Federal government agencies – 13 percent
- Architectural and engineering services – 12 percent
- Semiconductor and electronic component manufacturing – 9 percent
- Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing – 6 percent
Components of a Success Electrical Engineering Career: Skills, Tools, and Technology
While the field of electrical engineering does not require students to be licensed to practice, those who wish to rise above their peers and be more competitive for executive roles complete the examinations. Aside from licensure by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Survey, electrical engineers seeking further professional development or certification may consider some of the following credentials:
- Certified Electrical Inspector (CEI) Certificate.
The International Association of Electrical Inspectors offers this certification at more than 120 different sites throughout the nation. To be eligible, individuals must have completed an AS or BS degree in electrical engineering.
- Fundamentals of Engineering (FE).
Taken directly after graduation, the specialized electrical and computer examination is a six hour test comprised of 110 multiple-choice questions. Topics run the gamut and include those related to properties of electrical materials, circuit analysis, signal processing, electronics, power, electromagnetics, digital systems, and software development. During the last two examination rounds in January and April of 2015, 1,217 recent graduates completed the exam, with a 75 percent pass rate.
- Power Systems Engineering Certificate.
Advocated by the Energy Providers Coalition for Education, this certificate is built around three classes focused on electric power engineering, power systems analysis, and electric machines and drives. It is offered by Clemson University, both in person and online.
- Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE).
To sit this exam, candidates must have completed at least four years of work experience in a professional setting. There are three different electrical and computer examinations, including computer engineering, electrical and electronics, and power. The vast majority of examinees take the third version: in the last testing round, 23 individuals took computer engineering (52 percent pass rate), 98 took electrical and electronics (69 percent pass rate) and 828 took power (62 percent pass rate). All three are comprised of 80 multiple-choice questions taken over an eight-hour exam period.
- Wireless Device Professional Certified Professional (WDCP) Certification.
Electrical engineers who work with wireless devices often complete this certificate to specialize their knowledge. Areas of focus include wireless LAN systems, Bluetooth, UNII devices, AVIS, and personal communication systems. Those interested can undertake this certificate via Exemplar Global/iNARTE
Career Trends in Electrical Engineering
The field of electrical engineering is expected to continue expanding in the coming years, thanks in part to the innovative nature of the field. Technologies will carry on emerging and moving forward, and electrical engineers in turn will use them to develop new products. The overall growth between 2012 and 2022 is set for 5 percent, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting the majority of new jobs will be found in engineering firms. The reasoning for this prediction is that individual companies, especially smaller ones, will shift away from having in-house electrical engineers and instead contract them from larger firms.
Some of the nation’s hottest jobs are currently in the field of engineering, and each offers the opportunity to build successful careers, dig into meaningful projects, and work with a variety of people. The following section provides some of the most exciting careers available to those interested in electrical engineering.
These professionals oversee the workflow and projects of other electrical engineers, taking a wide lens view of current and future work opportunities. Typically working within an engineering firm, electrical engineering managers have usually worked in the field for a number of years before moving into this supervisory role. In addition to coordinating projects, they also lead the charge in business development, train staff, create and maintain budgets, and review the work of their charges.
Working alongside professional electrical engineers, technicians can be found in a variety of industries, including transportation, mobile devices, computing, or industrial production. They are often responsible for assembling and testing prototypes, problem solving design issues, and drafting plans for future products. Although this position requires less education than those pursuing electrical engineering, the salary is still well above the national average.
Coming in after the work of an electrical engineer has been completed, electrical repairers may find themselves working in industrial environments, manufacturing plants, electronics companies, or for an individual client with a large number of electronics. They disassemble and reassemble electronics to complete diagnostic tests, provide cost estimates for fixing items, repair or replace the problematic pieces, and communicate their findings. They must maintain a thorough and up-to-date knowledge of the field to provide valuable services.
Electrical Engineer Salaries
Nearly 8,000 individuals graduate with a bachelor’s or master’s level degree in electrical engineering each year, and with good reason. In addition to a promising career outlook, jobs in the field are coveted for their high salaries and potential for moving up the career ladder. While the salaries given below sit in the 50th percentile, professionals at the top of their game stand to make significantly more.
Electrical Engineer Job Growth, Prospects, and Outlook
Although the U.S. Department of Labor projects only a five percent growth of electrical engineering positions nationally between 2012 and 2022, several states are poised to see much higher numbers. While Colorado leads the charge with a projected growth of 25.6 percent, Maine is set for a 3.5 percent decrease.
What Do Related Occupations Make?
When considering a future occupation, the earning potential of that career is significant. Those working in engineering and similar fields typically make significantly more than the national average, and these related occupations are no exception.
Related Occupations: What You Need to Know
Both the fields of electricity and engineering encompass many different jobs, giving students and professional much variety when it comes time to choose their careers. Whether planning to complete vocational training or a graduate-level program, the related careers below offer options spanning the spectrum.
Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Payscale
In order to envisage and design electric devices, EEs must possess a comprehensive knowledge of multiple forms of math, including advanced calculus, trigonometry and algebra.
Analyzing and developing electrical components often requires long hours of concentrated effort or working with very small pieces. Wiring is also a lengthy process where every single aspect must be properly connected to function. Long hours and small details call for professionals who can focus on the task at hand until it is completed.
Electrical engineers frequently work with technicians and other engineers, and being able to communicate complicated design plans and layouts is crucial. If interfacing with customers, this skill becomes even more important as they must use common language to convey complex information.
The digital age has ushered in a host of new products, so being able to continually innovate and think outside the box to develop unique devices is a skill potential employers will truly value.
Engineering electrical products is incredibly intricate, and it’s inevitable that some prototypes or designs won’t work out exactly as planned the first few times. Being able to analyze the problem and create solutions goes a long way in this field.
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