Becoming an Electrical Engineer: Job Description & Salary Info

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An electrical engineer's annual salary is around $96,000, but is it worth the education and licensing requirements? Get the truth about the job duties and career prospects to find out if becoming an electrical engineer is right for you.
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The Pros and Cons of a Career in Electrical Engineering

Electrical engineers design and test electrical systems and equipment, such as power generators, electronic control systems and communications systems. Take a look at the following list of pros and cons to find out if an electrical engineering career is for you.

Pros of an Electrical Engineering Career
High salaries for entry-level and experienced engineers*
Job flexibility (engineers could easily shift fields)*
Broad range of career options and job functions**
Job benefits can include tuition reimbursement or profit sharing**

Cons of an Electrical Engineering Career
Continuing education required due to evolving technology*
Employment growth limited by overseas competition (5% growth between 2012 and 2022)*
Licensure generally requires four or more years of experience*
Job hazards include risk of electric shock ***

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **University of Florida, ***Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

Career Information

Job Description

Depending on the industry in which you work, your job duties as an electrical engineer could include developing and analyzing manufacturing processes, designing computer software semiconductors or developing electrical power systems. You might also be responsible for implementing and testing these systems or components. Additional job duties can include ensuring that members of your team follow safety protocols designed to reduce the risk of on-the-job injury. Professionals in this field typically work a 40-hour week, unless project deadlines require overtime.

Specializations

As an electrical engineer, you can work in any number of industries, including the computer, telecommunications, manufacturing and aerospace industries. You might also choose to further specialize in areas such as control systems, solid state electronics or signal processing. In fact, due to the similarity between some engineering fields, you might even transfer your skills to other specialties, such as computer hardware or mechanical engineering.

Salary and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which cited the 2009 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, graduates of engineering bachelor's degree programs received some of the highest entry-level salaries. Those starting out in the electrical, electronics and communications engineering fields earned just over $59,000 a year on average. Electrical engineers as a whole earned a mean annual salary of nearly $96,000 as of May 2014 (www.bls.gov).

Job growth is this field is expected to be around 5% from 2012 to 2022, according to the BLS. This relative lack of new employment opportunities was expected to be the result of competition from engineering firms overseas. However, the need to replace professionals who leave this field as well as manufacturers' continuing demand for design services was expected to create job openings.

What Are the Requirements?

Electrical engineers generally need a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering (BSEE), although a degree in a related specialty, such as mechanical or civil engineering, might qualify graduates for some positions. These programs typically include courses in calculus, circuit theory, signal processing and digital systems design. You might also take electives or pursue specializations in such areas as computer engineering and control systems.

Once you graduate from one of these bachelor's degree programs, you could need to earn a license if you work on public projects or independent engineering jobs. Although each state establishes its own requirements, there are certain steps that generally must be followed after completing a BSEE program approved by ABET, Inc. (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). You must first pass the Fundamentals of Engineering exam administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, which can be taken after earning a bachelor's degree. Once you've accumulated four years of work experience in the profession, you'll then need to pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam to become a fully licensed Professional Engineer.

Useful Skills

In addition to technical expertise, electrical engineers need strong analytical and problem-solving skills to control project costs or troubleshoot design flaws. You might also consider developing the interpersonal skills necessary to work with members of your design team. To gain experience and build marketable skills, you could participate in internships or summer programs through your school while you're earning your bachelor's degree. Some of the other skills and abilities you can learn might include the following:

  • Organizational skills to execute your design plans
  • Experience supervising others
  • Strong communication skills to present project information via written reports
  • Familiarity with design software, such as AutoCAD

Actual Job Postings from Employers

In addition to a BSEE, many employers look for applicants with up to ten years of industry experience. Expertise in word processing or spreadsheet software might also be required along with project management experience. Read some of the requirements listed in a few job posting from March 2012:

  • An employment services company listed job openings in Pennsylvania, Alabama and Missouri for a client looking for a lead electrical engineer with a train rail signaling background to manage and coordinate design projects as well as mentor other engineers. This position requires a BSEE or similar major and a minimum of ten years of experience in rail control or systems engineering.
  • A power company in Delaware was looking for an engineer to design electrical substations. Requirements for this position included a BSEE degree, at least five years of experience in power systems design and proficiency in the MS Office suite.
  • A tire company was seeking an electrical engineer to oversee the automated processes in its Alabama factory. Applicants needed a BSEE and four years of experience, although a master's degree in electrical engineering was preferred. Familiarity with cost estimating, spreadsheets and databases was also a must.

How to Stand Out

Since most of the technology associated with this field evolves at a rapid pace, continuing your education can give you an edge in the field. One way to stay abreast of these changes is through membership in a professional engineering organization, such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) or the National Society of Professional Engineers. In addition to networking opportunities, benefits of membership can include access to workshops, industry publications, online courses and other educational aids.

Another way to increase your value in the marketplace is to obtain professional credentials, such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' (IEEE) Wireless Communication Engineering Technologies certification or the Certified Biometrics Professional credential. Passing a certification exam and maintaining your credential can demonstrate your understanding and expertise in electrical engineering applications and theories.

Alternative Career Paths

Technical Writer

If you're interested in engineering technology, but math isn't your strength or project design and oversight don't appeal to you, a career in technical writing might be a better fit. Technical writers, sometimes called technical communicators, can use their engineering or science backgrounds to develop documentation that covers operations, maintenance and equipment specifications in easily understood terms. As of May 2010, the BLS reported the mean annual salary for a technical writer was about $66,000, which is lower than that of an electrical engineer. However, the job outlook is much higher for these professionals, with an 18% growth expected through the 2008-2018 decade.

Sales Engineer

Alternatively, if you have a congenial personality, you can still use your engineering knowledge without having to obtain licensure as a sales engineer. These professionals act as technical consultants who help customers select products to meet their various needs. With a mean annual salary of nearly $95,000 in 2010, successful sales engineers can earn a bit more than an electrical engineer, but the job can be more stressful, since earnings often depend on commission and job security could rest on meeting quotas. This job can also involve quite a bit of travel and time away from home. A 9% employment growth in this field was projected for the same reporting decade, according to the BLS.

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Full Sail University

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  • Electrical Technician
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