Electrical Engineers Overview

Electrical engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in engineering to start working in the field, however some research jobs require a master degree. Employment is expected to grow at an average rate and the job outlook should be favorable for electrical engineers. The starting salaries for electrical engineers are some of the highest among college graduates. Beyond college, electrical engineers must complete continuing education throughout their careers due to ever-changing technology.

Nature of the Work for Electrical Engineers

Electrical Engineers

Using math and science, electrical engineers come up with economical solutions for technical problems. They use scientific advancements to meet consumer and societal needs through commercial applications.

Many electrical engineers develop new products. In the process they must consider several factors from specifying precise functional requirements, to designing and testing components, to evaluating the final design for safety, reliability, cost and effectiveness.

Beyond design and development some electrical engineers work in maintenance, testing or production. They may determine the cause of malfunctions, test products for quality or supervise production in factories. At the supervisory level, electrical engineers are usually in charge of major components or entire projects.

Electrical engineers use computers extensively on the job. They control efficiency, monitor quality, simulate and test system operations and produce and analyze designs. Also adding new principles to the design process is nanotechnology.

Electrical engineers design, develop, test and supervise electrical equipments manufacturing process. They may work with a variety of electrical equipment including electric motors, communications systems, lighting and wiring in buildings, radar and navigation systems, machinery controls and power generation, transmission and control devices used by electric utilities. They may also design electrical systems for automobiles and aircraft. Electronics and electrical engineers are often confused and the term can be used interchangeably. However, electrical engineers usually focus on the generation and supply of power while electronics engineers traditionally have worked on applying electricity principles to control systems or signal processing. Specialization areas for electrical engineers include electrical equipment manufacturing and power systems engineering.

Usually electrical engineers work in labs, offices or plants. Some may spend time outside at productions sites and others must travel extensively to worksites and plants located here or abroad.

A standard 40-hour workweek is typical for electrical engineers though deadlines may require longer hours from time to time.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Electrical Engineers

Most entry-level jobs require electrical engineers to hold a bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronics engineering. However, some natural science or mathematics graduates can qualify for some engineering jobs. Even those trained in mechanical engineering and civil engineering can often work as electrical engineers, shifting to different fields to follow employment prospects.

Usually, electrical engineers concentrate on electrical and electronics engineering and take math, physical science and life science courses. General engineering is also often include along with a design course and a computer or laboratory class. Many colleges and universities also require humanities and social sciences credits.

Beyond standard engineering degrees, colleges often offer 2-year or 4-year degrees in engineering technology, which include hands-on laboratories focusing on current issues and applications. These programs prepare students for design and production work rather than those using theoretical and scientific knowledge. The 4-year programs often lead to jobs similar those a bachelor’s degree graduate gets. However, engineering technology grads can’t register as a professional engineer. Some employers consider technology graduates to have skill levels between an engineer and a technician.

A graduate degree isn’t usually required for entry-level positions. However, electrical engineers may seek a masters degree for faculty, research and development or government positions—or simply to broaden their education and technological background.

The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) accredits college and university engineering and engineering technology program. For electrical engineers that need to be licensed, one of these programs may be required.

To get into a college or university engineering program, prospective electrical engineers should have a background in math (algebra, calculus, trigonometry, geometry), science (physics, biology, chemistry), English, social studies and humanities. Bachelor’s degree programs are usually designed as 4-year programs, but many electrical engineers take 5 years to complete them. Usually the first two years are spent studying core curriculum and the last two focus on engineering with a concentration in a specialty.

Colleges and universities offer a variety of different scenarios. Some have 5-year master’s degree programs. And some have 5 or 6-year programs that combine classes with practical work, which can help students finance part of their education as they gain valuable experience.

All 50 states require electrical engineers to be licensed if they will offer services directly to the public. With a license, they are called professional engineers (PEs). Usually, electrical engineers must graduate from an ABET-accredited program, have 4-years of related work experience and pass an exam. Recent grads can take the exam in two stages—they take one part at graduation to become engineers in training (EITs) or engineering interns (EIs). With work experience they can later take part two. Many states require continuing education to maintain the license.

Electrical engineers should also be creative, detail-oriented, analytical and inquisitive. Communication skills, both oral and written, are also important, especially as electrical engineers interact more frequently with specialists in field outside of engineering.

Working for the Federal Government, electrical engineers must be US citizens and some may need security clearance.

To start many electrical engineers work under experienced engineers and may even receive classroom or seminar training on the job. Later with experience and skills they receive more difficult assignments with great independence. They may advance to become technical specialists or supervise a team of electrical engineers. Some even go into sales, as electrical engineers they can discuss technical aspects and help in installation, product planning and use.

Many professional certifications are available for electrical engineers and can help in advancement to managerial or technical positions. About 36 percent of jobs were in manufacturing, 30 percent in professional, scientific and technical services industries, especially engineering, architectural and related services. Governments employed about 12 percent of engineers. And about 3 percent were self-employed.

Industries will look to electrical engineers as competitive pressures and changing technology forces companies to update and improve products to optimize manufacturing. Electrical engineers can help increase productivity and expand output as new technologies improve the design process.

The continued globalization of engineering work along with the ability for work to be done by engineers in other countries thanks to the Internet can hold down employment growth.

The trend toward contracting electrical engineers with engineering services firms has also made workers more vulnerable to layoffs during downturns. Throughout their careers electrical engineers must continue their education because much of their value to employers is their knowledge of the latest technologies. During layoffs or when seeking promotions, those without a current education may be at a disadvantage.

Overall job prospects are expected to be good for electrical engineers. An employment growth of 2 percent is expected. A strong demand for electrical devices should spur job growth including wireless phone transmitters, navigation systems, electrical power generators and high-density batteries. That said, employment growth will still be limited by international competition and the use of engineering services completed in other countries. The best job prospects will go to electrical engineers working in firms that provide engineering expertise and design services to manufacturers.

Top 10 Most Popular Electrical, Electronics and Communi­cations Engineering Schools

1. Georgia Institute of Technology, Main Campus (Atlanta, Georgia)
2. University of Southern California (Los Angeles, California)
3. The University of Texas at Austin (Austin, Texas)
4. University of Illinois, Urbana, Champaign (Champaign, Illinois)
5. University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley, California)
6. Stanford University (Stanford, California)
7. California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Pomona, California)
8. University of Florida (Gainesville, Florida)
9. North Carolina State University at Raleigh (Raleigh, North Carolina)
10. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, New York)

See All Electrical, Electronics and Communi­cations Engineering Schools

Most Popular Online Electrical, Electronics and Communi­cations Engineering Schools

1. DeVry University - Online School
2. Arizona State University - Online School
3. University of Florida - Online School
4. ECPI University - Online
5. Ellis University
6. Keller Graduate School of Management - Online School

Employment and Job Outlook for Electrical Engineers

Number of People in Profession


Changing Employment (2008-2018)

Employment is projected to little or no change (decrease or increase by 2%).

There are about 1.6 million engineers, 157,800 of which are electrical engineers.

Earnings and Salary for Electrical Engineers

The median annual salary for electrical engineers is $83,110. The highest 10 percent earned more than $126,810, the lowest 10 percent earned under $53,510 and the middle 50 percent earned between $65,720 and $104,060. Engineers as a group earn higher starting salaries than any other college graduates at the bachelor’s degree level. The average starting salary for electrical engineers is $60,125.

Annual Salary for Electrical Engineers

On average, Electrical Engineers earn $83,110 per year.

10% 25% 75% 90% $53,510/yr $65,720/yr $104,060/yr $126,810/yr

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook