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It takes many skilled people to get us the electricity we rely so much on in our daily lives. From the electrician wiring an outdoor electrical box to the power plant staff who care for the machines that generate the electricity, each position has a role to play.
One of the most important positions is the electrical engineer. Electrical engineers design and maintain the electrical systems that power our world. These professionals learn to master and harness the secrets of current, voltage, magnetism and other electrical forces that keep our lights on and our devices powered.
Could electrical engineering be the field for you? Here, we’ll learn more about what it takes to become an electrical engineer.
What Does an Electrical Engineer Do?
An electrical engineer designs electrical systems for any one of numerous different applications. In terms of day-to-day responsibilities, an electrical engineer’s job may include any or all of the following:
- Using drafting and design programs to plan electrical systems for new projects or devices
- Working in the field to troubleshoot, test or repair electrical systems
- Installing and testing new equipment and electrical system elements
- Providing expertise and guidance for organizations developing electrical systems
These responsibilities will vary widely according to the field the engineer chooses to work in. A consumer electronics engineer, for example, may spend most of their time working on prototype designs, while an industrial engineer may frequently be called out to examine electrical systems at factories or power plants.
A few examples of the different fields electrical engineers work in include:
- Consumer electronics
- Oil and gas extraction
Many electrical engineers choose one type of electrical engineering to specialize in, although it’s also not uncommon for them to work in multiple fields.
Should You Become an Electrical Engineer?
A career as an electrical engineer might be for you if:
- You enjoy solving complex and challenging problems
- You have an aptitude and a passion for math and science
- You want a job that makes a tangible contribution to the world
- You’re detail-oriented and meticulous about your work
- You want to work with technology
- You don’t mind a long training and credentialing process
If most of these sound like you, electrical engineering might be your ticket to a well-paid and enjoyable career.
What are the Career Prospects for an Electrical Engineer?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2019 median pay for an electrical engineer was $101,250. It’s a high-paying job due to its mentally demanding nature, low margin for error, and long training process. The BLS’s analysis predicts demand for electrical engineers in the U.S. will grow by about three percent over the next 10 years, which isn’t as fast as some high-demand sectors but still reasonably solid.
Like people in any career path, electrical engineers can improve their career prospects by improving their credentials, working on independent projects, and acquiring additional skills. Obtaining an advanced degree in engineering is one way to do it, but many engineers also find working independently on passion projects a great way to pick up new skills and do interesting work at the same time.
It’s also a good idea for aspiring electrical engineers to focus their attention on a sector in high demand. Some parts of the market, such as engineering for the manufacturing sector, are likely to continue to decline in the U.S. as manufacturing facilities continue to be outsourced to other countries. Others, such as healthcare, are expanding along with the industries they serve.
What are the Qualifications for an Electrical Engineer?
Almost all electrical engineering jobs require applicants to be professional engineers (PE) licensed by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). The licensing process requires several years of hard work and study. It’s also slightly different in each state, so make sure you’re familiar with how your state handles engineer licensing.
The process begins with earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. You’ll need to go to a school accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). A degree from an ABET-accredited program is required to take the exams for becoming a licensed professional engineer.
An engineer who has a bachelor’s degree will then need to pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam in the electrical discipline. This challenging test measures an engineer’s knowledge of the basics of their discipline. Once you’ve passed the FE exam, you’ll become an engineer in training (EIT).
An EIT will need to complete several years of training under the supervision of a licensed Professional Engineer. This training will involve graduated levels of responsibility. At the end of this training period, you’ll take the Professional Engineer (PE) exam to become a fully licensed professional engineer.
What are the Different Levels of Electrical Engineering?
Like any career, the field of electrical engineering includes a variety of different levels. At each level, the requirements, pay and duties of the jobs will vary.
People who want to enter the highest echelons of the electrical engineering field will usually need to pursue a master’s degree or Ph.D. An advanced degree will open new doors to jobs that involve working with experimental technologies, supervising other engineers, and working on larger and more complex projects. Engineers with advanced degrees can also access higher-paying jobs that will substantially increase their earnings over the course of their careers.
Conversely, someone who’s not sure if electrical engineering is for them may want to start out as an electrical engineering technician. These entry-level jobs usually require only an associate’s degree, and they give less experienced people a chance to learn the ins and outs of electrical engineering. Engineering technicians are often responsible for practical tasks, such as mounting the components in a surface mount electrical box or testing a device’s fan speeds, so it’s a perfect job for those who enjoy a hands-on approach.
Becoming an electrical engineer is a challenging path to take, but it’s also a richly rewarding one for those who are well-suited for the job. If you’re interested, a great first step is to reach out to some of the many engineering communities active on social media. Talking to some real-life engineers will give you a great perspective on the profession.