Electrical and electronics engineers design, develop, test, and supervise the manufacture of electrical and electronic equipment, from global positioning systems to enormous electric power generators. This equipment also includes broadcast and communications systems; electric motors, machinery controls, lighting, and wiring in buildings, automobiles, aircraft, and radar and navigation systems; and power generating, controlling, and transmission devices used by electric utilities. Although computer hardware is the domain of computer hardware engineers, another engineering specialty, electrical and electronics engineers often work in areas closely related to computers.
Electrical and electronics engineers may specialize in areas such as power generation, transmission, and distribution; communications; and electrical equipment manufacturing. They also may specialize further in one of these areas, such as industrial robot control systems or aviation electronics. Some of their many duties include designing new products, writing performance requirements, developing maintenance schedules, testing equipment, solving operating problems, and estimating project time and cost..
Electrical and electronics engineers need to be able to work effectively as part of a team. They should have the ability to communicate in writing and orally. These communication skills are vital in the field of electrical and electronics engineering because electrical and electronics engineers interact so often with many non-engineering specialists in a wide variety of fields. Electrical and electronics engineers should be analytical, creative, detail-oriented, and inquisitive.
In 2002, electrical engineers earned a median annual salary of $68,180. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $44,780, and the highest 10%, who earned more than $100,980.
In 2002, electronics engineers earned a median annual salary of $69,930. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $46,310, and the highest 10%, who earned more than $103,860.
According to a 2003 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, bachelor’s degree candidates in electrical/electronics engineering received starting offers averaging $49,794, master’s degree candidates averaged $64,556, and Ph.D. candidates averaged $74,283.
Training and Education
A bachelor’s degree is required for all entry-level electrical and electronics engineering positions. Most programs include study in the electrical and electronics specialty, as well as courses in mathematics and science. Many programs include a design course, along with a computer or laboratory class. Many colleges offer students the option of earning a 2- or 4-year degree in engineering technology, which include hands-on laboratory courses that prepare students for practical design and production work, as opposed to more theory-based jobs. While graduates of these programs may obtain the same kinds of jobs as graduates with a bachelor’s degree in engineering, they are not qualified to register as professional engineers.
Faculty positions and many research and development programs in electrical and electronics engineering require graduate training. Some engineers earn degrees in business administration to enhance their education and give themselves more career options. In fact, many high-level executives in government and business started their careers as engineers. Engineers in the United States are required to be licensed if they offer their services directly to the public. When engineers become licensed, they are designated Professional Engineers (PE). PE requirements include a degree from an engineering program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), 4 years of relevant work experience, and successful completion of a State examination. Entry-level engineers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers, and may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a staff of engineers and technicians.
In 2002, electrical and electronics engineers held about 292,000 jobs.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of electrical and electronics engineers is expected to increase more slowly than the average. Although demand for electrical and electronics goods is expected to rise, employment growth will be limited by foreign competition. Overall, employment opportunities should be good because the number of graduates is expected to roughly equal the number of job openings. Job growth will be faster in services industries, such as consulting firms that offer electronic engineering expertise.
For more information on how to pursue this profession, please see our Computer Training and Technology Education directory.