Electrical engineers design, develop, test, and supervise the manufacture of electrical equipment, such as electric motors, radar and navigation systems, communications systems, or power generation equipment. Electrical engineers also design the electrical systems of automobiles and aircraft.

Electronics engineers design and develop electronic equipment, including broadcast and communications systems, such as portable music players and Global Positioning System (GPS) devices. Many also work in areas closely related to computer hardware.

Duties

Electrical engineers typically do the following:

  • Design new ways to use electrical power to develop or improve products
  • Perform detailed calculations to develop manufacturing, construction, and installation standards and specifications
  • Direct the manufacture, installation, and testing of electrical equipment to ensure that products meet specifications and codes
  • Investigate complaints from customers or the public, evaluate problems, and recommend solutions
  • Work with project managers on production efforts to ensure that projects are completed satisfactorily, on time, and within budget

Electronics engineers typically do the following:

  • Design electronic components, software, products, or systems for commercial, industrial, medical, military, or scientific applications
  • Analyze customer needs and determine the requirements, capacity, and cost for developing an electrical system plan
  • Develop maintenance and testing procedures for electronic components and equipment
  • Evaluate systems and recommend design modifications or equipment repair
  • Inspect electronic equipment, instruments, and systems to make sure they meet safety standards and applicable regulations
  • Plan and develop applications and modifications for electronic properties used in parts and systems in order to improve technical performance

Electronics engineers who work for the federal government research, develop, and evaluate electronic devices used in a variety of areas, such as aviation, computing, transportation, and manufacturing. They work on federal electronic devices and systems, including satellites, flight systems, radar and sonar systems, and communications systems.

The work of electrical engineers and electronics engineers is often similar. Both use engineering and design software and equipment to do engineering tasks. Both types of engineers also must work with other engineers to discuss existing products and possibilities for engineering projects.

Engineers whose work is related exclusively to computer hardware are considered computer hardware engineers.

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Work Environment

Electrical engineers held about 191,900 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of electrical engineers were as follows:

Engineering services 19%
Electric power generation, transmission and distribution 9
Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and
control instruments manufacturing
7
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 6
Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing 5

Electronics engineers, except computer held about 138,500 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of electronics engineers, except computer were as follows:

Telecommunications 17%
Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing 16
Federal government, excluding postal service 13
Engineering services 7
Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and
control instruments manufacturing
6

Electrical and electronics engineers generally work indoors in offices. However, they may visit sites to observe a problem or a piece of complex equipment.

Work Schedules

Most electrical and electronics engineers work full time.

Education and Training

Electrical and electronics engineers must have a bachelor’s degree. Employers also value practical experience, such as internships or participation in cooperative engineering programs, in which students earn academic credit for structured work experience.

Education

High school students interested in studying electrical or electronics engineering benefit from taking courses in physics and math, including algebra, trigonometry, and calculus. Courses in drafting are also helpful, because electrical and electronics engineers often are required to prepare technical drawings.

In order to enter the occupation, prospective electrical and electronics engineers need a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, electronics engineering, electrical engineering technology, or a related engineering field. Programs include classroom, laboratory, and field studies. Courses include digital systems design, differential equations, and electrical circuit theory. Programs in electrical engineering, electronics engineering, or electrical engineering technology should be accredited by ABET.

Some colleges and universities offer cooperative programs in which students gain practical experience while completing their education. Cooperative programs combine classroom study with practical work. Internships provide similar experience and are growing in number.

At some universities, students can enroll in a 5-year program that leads to both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. A graduate degree allows an engineer to work as an instructor at some universities, or in research and development.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Licensure is not required for entry-level positions as electrical and electronics engineers. A Professional Engineering (PE) license, which allows for higher levels of leadership and independence, can be acquired later in one’s career. Licensed engineers are called professional engineers (PEs). A PE can oversee the work of other engineers, sign off on projects, and provide services directly to the public. State licensure generally requires

  • A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience, typically at least 4 years
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam

The initial FE exam can be taken after earning a bachelor’s degree. Engineers who pass this exam commonly are called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After meeting work experience requirements, EITs and EIs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE).

Each state issues its own licenses. Most states recognize licensure from other states, as long as the licensing state’s requirements meet or exceed their own licensure requirements. Several states require continuing education for engineers to keep their licenses.

Other Experience

During high school, students can attend engineering summer camps to see what these and other engineers do. Attending these camps can help students plan their coursework for the remainder of their time in high school. The Engineering Education Service Center has a directory of engineering summer camps. 

Advancement

Electrical and electronic engineers may advance to supervisory positions in which they lead a team of engineers and technicians. Some may move to management positions, working as engineering or program managers. Preparation for managerial positions usually requires working under the guidance of a more experienced engineer. For more information, see the profile on architectural and engineering managers.

For sales work, an engineering background enables engineers to discuss a product's technical aspects and assist in product planning and use. For more information, see the profile on sales engineers.

Personality and Interests

Electrical and electronics engineers typically have an interest in the Building and Thinking interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking interest which might fit with a career as an electrical and electronic engineer, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Electrical and electronics engineers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Concentration. Electrical and electronics engineers design and develop complex electrical systems and electronic components and products. They must be able to keep track of multiple design elements and technical characteristics when performing these tasks.

Initiative. Electrical and electronics engineers must be able to apply their academic knowledge to new tasks in every project they undertake. In addition, they must engage in continuing education to keep up with changes in technology.

Interpersonal skills. Electrical and electronics engineers must be able to work with others during the manufacturing process to ensure that their plans are implemented correctly. This collaboration includes monitoring technicians and devising remedies to problems as they arise.

Math skills. Electrical and electronics engineers must be able to use the principles of calculus and other advanced topics in math in order to analyze, design, and troubleshoot equipment.

Speaking skills. Electrical and electronics engineers work closely with other engineers and technicians. They must be able to explain their designs and reasoning clearly and to relay instructions during product development and production. They may also need to explain complex issues to customers who have little or no technical expertise.

Pay

The median annual wage for electrical engineers was $98,530 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $63,020, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $155,880.

The median annual wage for electronics engineers, except computer was $105,570 in May 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $66,620, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $164,210.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for electrical engineers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences $113,050
Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing 104,170
Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing 104,400
Electric power generation, transmission and distribution 99,610
Engineering services 96,540

In May 2019, the median annual wages for electronics engineers, except computer in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing
$114,260
Federal government, excluding postal service 112,870
Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing 106,240
Engineering services 101,580
Telecommunications 98,600

Most electrical and electronics engineers work full time.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of electrical and electronics engineers is projected to grow 2 percent from 2018 to 2028, slower than the average for all occupations. Employment growth is expected to be tempered by slow growth or decline in most manufacturing industries and in telecommunications.

Job growth for electrical and electronics engineers is projected to occur largely in professional, scientific, and technical services firms, as more companies are expected to tap the expertise of engineers for projects involving electronic devices and systems. These engineers also will remain in demand to develop sophisticated consumer electronics.

The rapid pace of technological innovation will likely drive demand for electrical and electronics engineers in research and development, an area in which engineering expertise will be needed to design distribution systems related to new technologies. These engineers will play key roles in new developments with solar arrays, semiconductors, and communications technologies. The need to upgrade the nation’s power grids will also create demand for electrical engineering services. Additionally, these engineers may play a role in assisting with the automation of various production processes.

For More Information

For more information about general engineering education and career resources, visit

American Society for Engineering Education

Technology Student Association

For more information about licensure as an electrical or electronics engineer, visit

National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying

National Society of Professional Engineers

International Society of Automation

For more information about accredited engineering programs, visit

ABET

For more information about engineering summer camps, visit

Engineering Education Service Center

 

FAQ

Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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I am not sure if this career is right for me. How can I decide?

There are many excellent tools available that will allow you to measure your interests, profile your personality, and match these traits with appropriate careers. On this site, you can take the Career Personality Profiler assessment, the Holland Code assessment, or the Photo Career Quiz.

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