Becoming an Electrical Engineer Careers & Salary Outlook

What is an Electrical Engineer?


When you become an electrical engineer, you will have years of specialized knowledge and training behind you. Your knowledge will help us to keep our electrical grid running, so we can power offices, houses, and everything electric.

You are a designer, creating new electrical systems; you’re an innovator, developing new ways of keeping the electric grid running. You’ll even get involved in keeping microchips within cellphones and smart watches functioning.

You are highly educated, whether you earned your Associate’s in electric engineering technology; a Bachelor’s in electric engineering, or a Master’s in this field. With your specialized knowledge, you’ll be in high demand.

Steps to Take


Once you decide on an electrical engineering (EE) major, your school career is just getting started. Explore the different schools that have the programs and degrees in which you’re interested. Carefully read through the information about each EE degree program, because you need to make sure that it offers what you need.

Think about the career you want when you walk into your first engineering job. The courses you take will determine the kind of job you can get. From the technical and laboratory knowledge you will develop, you will be able to set a path for your career. You may want to advance into graduate school or beyond.

  • Step 1: Get into a College Degree Program

  • Step 2: Get an Internship

  • Step 3: Take Your Exams for Credentials

step to take for engineers

Step 1: Get into a College Degree Program

Once you have decided where you want to go, submit your admissions application. You will have to complete several steps, such as sending your official high school transcript or GED, taking and passing either your SAT or ACT, and paying your admissions fee.

Learn who your academic advisor will be. This education professional will be guiding your school career and your class choices. They will tell you what classes to sign up for and why. You will also find out about which general education classes you need to reserve—these will round out your education.

Choose your classes with care. Certain electrical engineering classes will focus on different areas of this field. If you are interested in a specific area, for instance, one class may lead you into a microelectronics career; a second, into energy and power systems.

You may take courses in microprocessor systems, design of logic circuits, electronics, power systems, electrical circuits, electrical engineering laboratory, electromagnetic fields and waves, and signals and systems.

Step 2: Get an Internship

Get into an electrical engineering internship. Whether these learning experiences seem valuable to you or not, you will learn many things you can only get from on-the-job experience. You’ll do much more than answer phones or do filing; instead, you’ll be given actual engineering work, which means that you may be able to do some of the actual work that you’ll be doing once you graduate and accept a job offer.

Internships are important enough that they can earn you class credits. You need to take your internships at the right time in your educational program—usually, this begins as soon as you have attained sophomore standing in the electrical engineering department.

Step 3: Take Your Exams for Credentials

Before you graduate and start your first job, you need to begin getting ready to take your Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) and your Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exams.

Having these certifications means that future employers and customers will place more trust in your abilities as an electrical engineer.

About a century ago, people could accept jobs and work as engineers without having to show they had the competency that was needed for this advanced and highly technical work. Customers didn’t know whether the electrical work was safe or not. Today, every engineering student is required to take at least one certification/licensing exam.

What Does an Electrical Engineer Do?


In your work as an electrical engineer, you’ll design and develop new electrical systems. You’ll test them and make improvements to what you designed. Next, you’ll supervise the manufacture of several technologies that you are involved in, from robotics, portable music players, power generation, cell phones, global positioning systems (GPS), wired and wireless communications, automobile control systems, and power generation and transmission.

Each day will be different from the day before. One day, you may work with project management; the next, you may work on the design of new ways to use electrical power as you develop new products or improve existing ones. The following week, you may supervise the manufacturing, installation and testing of electrical equipment to make sure that they meet federal specifications and codes.

You may work on detailed, complex calculations that allow your company to develop manufacturing, construction, and installation standards and specifications. You may also investigate and troubleshoot customer complaints to evaluate the problems and develop solutions.

Skills You Will Need


Because of the degree of difficulty in your work, you’ll need to have several specialized skills. Some you may already have, so they just need further development. You will learn other skills in your electrical engineering classes.

  • Circuit design and analysis
    This is a fundamental skill. It’s a building block needed for the rest of the work and skills you’ll perform in your daily job.
  • Critical thinking and complex problem-solving skills
    You should have begun to develop these before you started your electrical engineering classes. In every assignment you are given, you need to apply these skills.
  • Active learning
    You will do a lot of learning in your classes, then continue doing so in your career. Your learning will continue even after you have graduated.
  • Instrumentation and electrical measurements
    Here, you read and operate electrical devices. You’ll test electrical currents, learning how different components of each item react with each other.

You’ll also work on linear systems theory and analysis, circuit design, develop electrical schematics, direct construction activities and equipment upkeep, collect data and analyze it, build and operate computer systems, prepare operational plans, and maintain electronic equipment.

Alternative Paths


To become an electrical engineer you have to get the education and receive specialized training while you are still taking your classes. There’s no way around it, the knowledge is so specialized that the only way you can learn it is to go to school.

One path allows you to begin at junior or community college, where you’ll major in electrical engineering technology or electrical technology. When you’ve earned all the necessary credits, you’ll have an associate degree, where you’ll be able to work in manufacturing, electronics design, sales, or service.

These two-year programs may be only the beginning if you plan to continue to a four-year university, where you’ll earn a bachelor’s degree. In this type of program, you’ll gain the knowledge you need to either launch your career or continue into a four-year program.

Once you earn your bachelor’s degree, you may decide to work in the field for a few years, then return to school for your master’s degree in electrical engineering.

In a graduate degree program your classes will be rigorous, exposing you to even more material surrounding electrical engineering. You’ll develop your knowledge and take it to a much more technical level.

Electrical Engineer Career & Salary


Where Might You Work?


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Once you have your degree and licensure in hand, you will be able to work in a wide range of work settings. For instance, you may work for a private company as either a project engineer, transmission engineer, or power systems engineer.

If you like sales, you may be able to combine your sales talent and your engineering knowledge, working for a company that sells electrical components or systems. You may work in research and development (R&D).

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), you may also hold a position, working to produce semiconductors, within an electrical component manufacturing company. You may also work in the telecommunications industry, or for the federal government.

As an electrical engineer, you may find a position working to design wireless communications networks. Your employer may be one of several well-known organizations. You may build robots, designing propulsion, navigation, control systems, or communications for robotic machines. You could even be employed by a company that designs and builds smart-grid, grid-interfacing, and energy storage technologies.

If you have been looking to the near-future, you may work for a company that builds electric cars. Here, you may design the electronic circuits or the electric power train and additional components that power these vehicles.

Potential Career Paths


As an electrical engineer, you’ll be blessed with an abundance of career possibilities. From designing the electrical portion of wireless communications networks to putting the power into electric vehicles, you’ll be helping to broaden the various electric engineering fields.

You may choose to become a sales engineer, vending power systems equipment. You could push the boundaries of renewable energy as well. Once you’ve been working in this field for a few years, you may be promoted to a plant manager’s position, where you’ll be responsible for power distribution and automation systems.

RF Design Engineer—Entry to Mid-Level
You will work with project teams to satisfy operational requirements for RF systems. As you gain experience, you may eventually lead these teams. You’ll be responsible for helping to lead in advancing RF engineering, so that you and your organization can expand the leading edge of RF communications technologies.

You’ll be required to possess excellent problem-solving, interpersonal skills, and communication skills. You should be adaptable, able to work in a team or independently.

Entry-Level Electrical Controls Designer
At this level, you will train with a more experienced designer for pump system control, cellular, SCADA, lift stations, Motor Control Centers, boiler controls, water pressure booster systems, and any other custom work as spelled out by project specifications.

You must know about three-phase power and distribution. Be able to develop an understanding of customer specifications (municipal and commercial), standards, and National Electric Code.

Be able to communicate effectively with sales to obtain all relevant information that is in the application.

Telemetry Signals Analyst
In this position, you will be expected to learn on-the-job, even though you already have your electrical engineering degree. Your problem-solving, interpersonal, and analytic sills should equip you to be accountable, resilient, flexible, collaborate with team members, and communicate well with everyone in the office.

You’ll be working on weapon systems design or testing. You should have specialized experience and skills in aerospace, physics, astronautic or, mathematics-related fields; missile guidance and control design or development; telemetry system design or implementation; aircraft or unmanned aerial vehicle design, development, or flight experience.

Project Engineer—Construction
In this position, you will be assisting project managers and field management in planning, project completion, management direction, positive financial outcome, and customer satisfaction of each assigned construction project.

Your duties may include assisting with permit applications, monitoring project planning, execution and closure, establishing and maintaining all project management files and document control, obtaining permits and scheduling inspections when requested and tracing incoming and outgoing submittals.

Energy Engineer
You will develop energy conservation projects through on-site auditing, engineering analysis, understanding of energy/mechanical systems, and thorough communication and fact-finding.

You will work directly with the Energy Services team in the procurement, development, and execution of conservation projects. Assist in development of energy conservation project scope and proposal development. reform preliminary and detailed facility audits to identify conservation opportunities, identify and recommend specific conservation measures for existing facilities.

New Projects Engineering Specialist
Your primary responsibilities are to provide technical support to designated projects and specific production lines. Your attention focuses on new project planning and implementation for focusing on safety, quality, cost, and productivity as they related to equipment, processes, and systems.

Implementation of new projects, working to meet all requirements of the new projects gate system; complete trials for bending, welding, and assembly; development of inspection standards; development of process plans; development of internal tooling drawings; development of tooling/jib work plans; development of new project cost reduction ideas and implementation; participation in research for innovation; participation in the development of standard work; participation in the development of investment proposals and reporting to other new project groups.

Electrical Engineer Salaries


OccupationEntry-LevelMid-CareerLate-Career
Electrician - Certified$46,500$50,600$62,700
Apprentice electrician$30,300$37,800-
Master electrician$51,700$60,400$65,400
Low voltage electrician$36,500$42,300$69,500
Industrial electrician$49,400$60,700$64,900
Maintenance electrician$53,000$55,800$57,400

**Salary info provided by PayScale

Career Outlook


The most recent job outlook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that the employment of electric and electronics engineers is expected to grow about 7% between 2016 and 2026. This is about as fast as all other U.S. occupations. But, the growth in employment in this field is likely to be slowed down by a decline in many U.S. manufacturing industries or by slow economic growth.

The largest area of growth is expected to take place in engineering services firms as projects that involve electronic devices are invented and manufactured. Electric engineers are also expected to respond to a demand for developing complex consumer electronics.

The speed at which technology is being conceived of and developed is contributing to the ongoing demand for electrical and electronics engineers as they work in research and development. This area is one where their knowledge and expertise will continue to be needed as they work on new developments in solar arrays, communications, and semiconductors.

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Advancing from Here


After working in your field, some avenues for advancement may include working to develop a green economy. This includes smart grids and other energy systems that are more efficient. Engineers in this field work to design, test, and develop products that use the sun, geothermal, wind, and biomass to create sources of renewable energy.

Advance toward a Ph.D, where you can focus on researching new devices, components, and even new energy sources. In your career, you are one of the most important professionals to move our country forward.

You might even eventually move into a leadership role in your engineering firm, or a different firm. These include electrical project manager, senior electrical engineer, and principal electrical engineer.