Pros and Cons of a Component Engineering Career
Rather than designing entire systems or products, component engineers help with product development, research and manufacturing by focusing on individual pieces or parts of an electronic, electrical or mechanical system or product. Read on to learn about the pros and cons of becoming a component engineer.
|Lucrative career (average yearly salary around $100,000 for electronics engineers)*|
|Can be employed in a variety of technology-based fields (computers, medical equipment, communications, etc.)*|
|Research and development work can improve efficiency and cut costs*|
|May be responsible for technological advances*|
|Slow projected employment growth (only 4% between 2012-2022)*|
|Requires advanced knowledge in science and technology fields, which can be difficult to learn*|
|May require several years of prior work experience**|
|Continuing education is essential for keeping up with technological changes*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **CareerBuilder.com
Essential Career Information
As a component engineer, you would create, evaluate and source the specific parts and components used in the creation of a variety of products. Computers, communications, biomedical products or other technology-based industries are common employers, although there are many other industrial applications for component engineering. Your job duties include assisting the development of part specifications through testing and evaluation, which in turn allows you to assist product designers in choosing the right components for their needs. Failure analysis would help you understand the limits and applications of components, so you can recommend improvements or alternatives. To help companies reduce costs, you would also look for new ways to use existing components and work extensively with suppliers to get the best price for high-quality materials.
Career Outlook and Salary Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) said electrical and electronics engineers (including component engineers) will face slow job growth of only 4% between 2012 and 2022, (www.bls.gov). The BLS predicted employment growth for electronics engineers (excluding computer engineers) at 3% for the same period. Although these engineers can expect job opportunities in areas of technological expansion and in research and development services, overall employment is expected to be slow because of the contraction of manufacturing. However, engineering is a field with excellent compensation, as electronics engineers had an average yearly salary of nearly $100,000 in 2014 and electrical engineers made about $96,000 per year on average.
Career Skills and Requirements
To become a component engineer, you'll need to earn a bachelor's degree in an engineering discipline from a program with accreditation from ABET. An electrical engineering degree is the most typical path, but other options include computer, mechanical or biomedical engineering, depending on what specific industry you want to work in. Electrical engineering degree programs include coursework in calculus, physics, computer science and electronics, often with a hands-on cooperative work program to give students real world experience and technical skills.
You must also be both creative and analytical, so that you can solve complex problems and see multiple alternatives at once. Not only will you need in-depth knowledge of the elements of mechanical, electrical and electronic systems, you must also be able to apply previous knowledge to new situations. Understanding raw materials, production processes, math and computers is also helpful. Since you would be working with design engineers, product developers and others, you'll also need excellent communication skills and the ability to work effectively as part of a team.
What Do Employers Look for?
Employers typically want innovative thinkers with 3-7 years of experience in component engineering, electronics and electrical systems. Knowledge of parts and experience working with external suppliers is also helpful. Below is a sampling of job postings on CareerBuilder.com available in May 2012:
- A California audio/visual electronics company wanted a component engineer with at least seven years of experience who could assist with component sourcing, evaluation and failure analysis. The job also requires a bachelor's degree in electronics, experience and familiarity with industry standards like ISO 9001 and knowledge of supply chain practices.
- A utility company in Minnesota advertised for a senior component engineer to oversee all stages of the development and implementation of components for meter reading equipment. The job requires the applicant to have a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering or computer engineering, 5-10 years of component engineering experience and experience working with external suppliers.
- An engineering firm in Illinois looked for an electrical and electronic component development engineer to work with product developers, purchase finished components from global suppliers and apply current components in new ways. The job requires a bachelor's degree in mechanical or electrical engineering coupled with 3-5 years of job experience or a master's degree in those areas with 1-2 years of experience. Abilities in sketching engineering-related drawings and drafts were also required, as well as experience in a construction, mining or other heavy industrial environment.
How Can I Stand Out?
Although it's less common for electrical and electronics engineers, one way to demonstrate your expertise and professional commitment is to become licensed as a Professional Engineer (PE) through the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). After graduating from an ABET-accredited bachelor's degree program in engineering, you can take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam to become an engineering intern, work under a licensed PE for four years, acquire state licensure and then take the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam (www.nspe.org).
Staying current with emerging technologies and innovations allows you to understand the latest developments in your field or industry. Membership in professional organizations, professional development activities, college coursework or other means of study can help you maintain up-to-date knowledge of technological advancements. In turn, your employer can benefit from you since you'd be actively seeking new information to apply to job tasks.
Alterative Career Paths
If you want an engineering job that takes you further up the supply chain than finished components, you could consider a career as a materials engineer. In this occupation, you'll test and evaluate the raw materials that go into manufacturing processes, looking for ways to improve use and performance of a particular type of material or composites. You'll need a strong background in math and sciences, including physics, biology and chemistry; a bachelor's degree program in materials science or engineering is usually the minimum education requirement.
Materials engineering has a slightly better career outlook than component engineering, with employment growth predicted at 9% in the 2010-2020 decade. BLS salary figures also showed that materials engineers have an average salary comparable to electrical and electronics engineers, with a 2011 mean annual salary around $87,000.
Computer Hardware Engineer
If you want to focus research to create, test and improve computer hardware, you could think about becoming a computer hardware engineer. You'll work with software engineers to make sure computer systems function up to specification, and improve computer components to keep up with software innovations. A bachelor's degree in computer engineering or electrical engineering is often sufficient to provide a strong understanding of electronics systems, computer design and mathematics. Like materials engineers, the BLS projected a 9% increase in the number of computer hardware engineers employed between 2010 and 2020. Computer hardware engineers are also compensated well, with 2011 salary figures showing average annual earnings around $101,000.
Another option for specialization in engineering research and development is biomedical engineering, which allows you to create medical appliances and artificial replacement parts for the body. As you might imagine from the name, biomedical engineering combines knowledge of engineering, medical science and biology; this broad knowledge base means that biomedical engineers may have education beyond a 4-year degree. In 2011, 45% of biomedical engineers held bachelor's degrees, 35% held master's degrees and the remaining 20% had earned doctoral or professional degrees, according to O*Net OnLine (www.onetonline.org).
Although the BLS predicted favorable career prospects and seemingly-explosive job growth of 62% between 2010 and 2020, this is a relatively small occupation and the increase in employment represents just below 10,000 jobs added for that 10-year period. According to 2011 BLS wage estimates, biomedical engineers had a mean annual salary around $88,000.