Job Description

Electrical engineers work in many different fields. They can be found wherever a company has a complex technical problem that involves electricity. For example, some are hired by utility companies to improve the efficiency of their electrical transmission systems, or to monitor and repair the equipment at the power plant. Others may work for manufacturing companies, developing things like the fuel cells that may one day power cars or air conditioners that require less electricity to run. They can be involved in creating anything that uses electricity.
On the job, electrical engineers use precise drafting and designing techniques to turn their ideas into products that help consumers. The tools they use include computer programs, such as CAD (computer-aided design) programs, which give three-dimensional views of their designs.


Working Conditions

A lot of the work electrical engineers do is done at a desk, in front of a computer. However, their job does not always take place in an office. Sometimes they are required to respond to and solve problems on the factory or power plant floor. Engineers who specialize in telecommunications equipment may have to travel to communications towers to install or repair equipment. Those who work as consultants may even go across the country (or the world) to their clients’ factories to inspect or troubleshoot equipment. On average, electrical engineers work between 40 and 45 hours a week, depending on deadlines and workload. Many of them can also expect to work a fair number of evenings and weekends when they are under pressure to meet a deadline. Vacation time varies from company to company, but most electrical engineers take between 2 and 4 weeks of vacation a year.



Earnings depend on a number of factors, including experience and level of education. For example, those with bachelor’s degrees in electrical engineering earn less on average than those who have also completed a master’s degree. As engineers gain experience and take on greater responsibilities, their yearly incomes rise. Starting salaries for electrical and electronics engineers are usually between $45,000 and $65,000 a year. The national average income for people in this career is about $70,000. However, engineers with many years of experience often make up to $150,000 a year. Highly trained specialists and senior-level managers can earn over $150,000 a year. In addition to their salaries most engineers also receive benefits, including health and dental insurance and paid sick leave and vacation time. Some may receive further benefits, including performance-based bonuses, use of a company car, and pension plan contributions.


Education & Training

High school students interested in pursuing a career in electrical engineering should take courses in math, science, and English. A bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering is the minimum educational requirement to work in this field. However, a degree in a closely related subject, like electronic engineering, may also be acceptable. Bachelor’s degrees usually take 4 years to complete and are offered at universities across the country. At the undergraduate level, students are taught how to design and build electrical communications systems, power systems, and computers. Programs include courses in subjects such as power electronics, digital signal processing, telecommunications systems, and semiconductor materials. Some universities offer co-op programs, allowing students to combine work experience and study. While you may be able to find a job with only a bachelor's degree, a master's degree or PhD is often required for academic or advanced research and development positions.