California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

   Electrical Engineers in California

May also be called: Electrical Design Engineers; Electrical Research Engineers; Power Distribution Engineers; Power Transmission Engineers; Solar Engineers

What Would I Do?

It could be said that Benjamin Franklin was the first person to discover electricity by flying a kite with a key attached to the end of the string during a thunderstorm in 1752. However, there were many others before him (as far back as 600 BCE) who were intrigued by this invisible and unknown energy. In the 19th century, pioneers, such as Ampere, Faraday, Ohm, and Oestad, discovered the electrical properties of charge, current, potential and resistance, and the dynamics between them. Many inventions came out of these discoveries, such as the electric light bulb, electrical communications (telegraph and telephone), and Nikola Tesla’s invention of the first alternate current (AC) motor. However, it was not until the later part of the 19th century that Electrical Engineering became its own field of study.

Electrical Engineers* research, design, develop, manufacture, and test electrical equipment and systems. Products they design are many and varied, and include electric motors for wind turbines; machinery controls, lighting, and wiring; radar and navigation systems; and power generation, control and transmission devices used by electric utilities. In addition, Electrical Engineers analyze, develop, and propose designs for improving products or processes, such as electric and hybrid vehicles, or solar photovoltaic systems. They also use advanced methods, theories, and research techniques to investigate and solve complex technical problems.

The terms “electrical” and “electronics” engineering often are used interchangeably; however, Electrical Engineers traditionally focus on the generation and supply of power, whereas Electronics Engineers work on applications of electricity to control systems or signal processing. They specialize in areas such as power systems engineering or electrical equipment manufacturing.

Electrical Engineers may be employed in a wide range of industries, including the following:

  • Aerospace industry, where they design, develop and test electrical systems and components for aircraft, helicopters and missile guidance systems. Electrical Engineers may also work on research and development of spacecraft and space vehicles for space exploration.


  • Computer industry, where they perform hardware and software design and test, computer-aided design tool development, system integration and test (bringing together a group of components into one system), and system/component electrical fault analysis (detection and diagnosis of system failures) and reliability studies. The unique aspects of creating cutting edge products require both technical excellence and cooperative teamwork.


  • Transportation sector, where they design and develop electrical systems for highways and traffic management. Electrical Engineers may also design the automated highway traffic control signs, which warn travelers of hazards on the road. They may also design fog warning systems, which automatically caution drivers of foggy conditions on the highway. In addition, Engineers work with highway advisory radios (HAR), which broadcasts information over a designated AM radio frequency, to advise motorists of traffic conditions. Some of these electrical systems are designed to use energy-efficient products, such as solar photovoltaic panels.


  • Utilities industry, where they design, develop and test devices, such as electric motors, electric generators, relays, and transformers. Engineers conduct research and development on improving energy efficiency for the electrical grid and power plants by developing new technologies, such as the “smart grid.” They also work with alternative energy sources, such as solar, hydropower, and wind developing ways to connect these renewable energy sources into the existing electrical infrastructure.

For many Engineers, the technical aspect accounts for only a fraction of the work. They must also spend time discussing proposals with clients, preparing budgets, and determining project schedules. Some Electrical Engineers provide consultation services to various types of businesses. Many senior Engineers manage a team of technicians or other Engineers. Most engineering projects involve some form of documentation, so strong written communication skills are important.

Tools and Technology

Electrical Engineers use a variety of tools in the course of their work, including computers, frequency calibrators or simulators, signal generators, voltage or current meters, and software, including computer-aided design (CAD/CADD), project management, and word processing.

Green Economy

Electrical Engineers will play an important role in the emerging green economy. They may assist with the research and design of energy-efficient systems, such as “smart grids.” They may also work within the renewable energy generation sector developing, designing, and testing products using energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass. Some Engineers may work with traditional non-renewable sources (oil, coal, gas, and nuclear) that are undergoing green technological changes. In addition, Electrical Engineers may work in the green construction sector, installing green technology into new green buildings or retrofitting existing residential and commercial buildings.

Green economy activities and technologies would most likely have an effect on Electrical Engineers. The advancements in technology may cause changes to the work and worker requirements, such as new tasks, skills, knowledge, and credentials.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

*This product was partially funded by a grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment & Training Administration. The information contained in this product was created by a grantee organization and does not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Labor. All references to non-governmental companies or organizations, their services, products, or resources are offered for informational purposes and should not be construed as an endorsement by the Department of Labor. This product is copyrighted by the institution that created it and is intended for individual organizational, non-commercial use only.

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Operate computer-assisted engineering or design software or equipment to perform engineering tasks.Computers and Electronics
Confer with engineers, customers, or others to discuss existing or potential engineering projects or products.Oral Expression
Direct or coordinate manufacturing, construction, installation, maintenance, support, documentation, or testing activities to ensure compliance with specifications, codes, or customer requirements.Complex Problem Solving
Design, implement, maintain, or improve electrical instruments, equipment, facilities, components, products, or systems for commercial, industrial, or domestic purposes.Operations Analysis
Perform detailed calculations to compute and establish manufacturing, construction, or installation standards or specifications.Mathematics
Oversee project production efforts to assure projects are completed on time and within budget.Monitoring
Plan or implement research methodology or procedures to apply principles of electrical theory to engineering projects.Engineering and Technology
Estimate labor, material, or construction costs for budget preparation purposes.Judgment and Decision Making
Compile data and write reports regarding existing or potential electrical engineering studies or projects.Critical Thinking
Inspect completed installations and observe operations to ensure conformance to design and equipment specifications and compliance with operational, safety, or environmental standards.Systems Analysis
Design electrical systems or components that minimize electric energy requirements, such as lighting systems designed to account for natural lighting.Design
Integrate electrical systems with renewable energy systems to improve overall efficiency.Systems Evaluation
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Electrical Engineers work in office buildings, laboratories, manufacturing firms, or industrial plants. They may spend time outdoors at construction sites, facilities, businesses, and other locations, overseeing the installation of electrical system and equipment; monitoring operations; or solving onsite problems. When working with any type of electrical systems or equipment, Electrical Engineers must be trained in proper safety procedures. Most Engineers work a standard 40-hour workweek but can expect occasional evening, weekend or holiday work to meet deadlines.

Generally, Electrical Engineers are not members of labor unions, although those working in State or local government are required to become full members or pay "fair share" in a union, such as Professional Engineers in California Government (PECG).

Will This Job Fit Me?

Electrical Engineers frequently work with ideas, which they translate to designs that others implement under engineering supervision. Engineers search for facts using a variety of sources in order to solve problems. Electrical Engineers are also skilled in analysis and design. This requires a type of intelligence that is logical, detail-oriented, inquisitive, and creative. Additionally, Electrical Engineers' work activities may involve practical, hands-on problems and solutions.

Electrical Engineers must be able to work alone or as part of a team. Effective oral and written communication skills are critical. Engineers usually convey information to interested parties on a range of technical topics, such as design reviews.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

Wages

The median wage in 2016 for Electrical Engineers in California is $115,804 annually, or $55.68 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2016Low
(25th percentile)
Median
(50th percentile)
High
(75th percentile)
California$89,001$115,804$146,452
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2016 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas

Benefits

Electrical Engineers generally receive excellent benefit packages, including health and life insurance, vacation, sick leave, and pension plans.

What is the Job Outlook?

With the increased focus on environmentally sustainable business practices, it is expected that there may be increased opportunities for Electrical Engineers. However, like many occupations, employment is sensitive to the fluctuations of the economy.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Electrical Engineers is expected to grow slower than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Electrical Engineers are expected to increase by 4.6 percent, or 1,100 jobs between 2012 and 2022.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Electrical Engineers
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Estimated
Employment
Projected
Employment
Numeric
Change
Percent
Change
Additional Openings
Due to Net
Replacements
California
(2012-2022)
23,80024,9001,1004.65,200
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

Annual Job Openings

In California, an average of 100 new job openings per year is expected for Electrical Engineers, plus an additional 520 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 620 job openings.

Estimated Average Annual Job Openings
Electrical Engineers
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-
Projected Year)
Jobs From GrowthJobs Due to
Net Replacements
Total Annual
Job Openings
California
(2012-2022)
100520620
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Data for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

A bachelor's degree in electrical engineering is generally the minimum educational level that employers will consider for a position as an Electrical Engineer. Most engineering programs involve a concentration of study in an engineering specialty, along with courses in design, mathematics, physical and life sciences, and hands-on laboratory classes. In addition to the core classes, which often reflect electrical engineering basics, coursework may also include a focus on analog and digital electronics, biomedical engineering, communications engineering, control systems, power engineering, renewable electrical energy, and smart electric power grids. Advanced computer skills are also vital to the Engineer's education.

Experience

Many employers require at least four years of experience in Electrical Engineering, and a professional engineering (PE) license. However, larger companies may offer entry-level engineering positions for college graduates and provide them with formal classroom or seminar-type training. Entry-level Engineers, while under the direction of a licensed Engineer, gain knowledge and experience and are assigned more difficult projects with greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions. Once an Engineer is licensed, they no longer require the approval of a professional overseer and can approve documents directly.

Early Career Planning

High school students planning to become Electrical Engineers should take college preparatory courses such as English, mathematics, chemistry, physics, computer science, and mechanical drawing or computer aided design courses. Students would also benefit from participating in extracurricular science or engineering programs geared toward middle and high school students such as Odyssey of the Mind, Science Olympiad, and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programs.

Work-Study Programs

Some colleges and universities help students find work-study programs or internships. These internships are usually paid and are an opportunity for the sponsoring organization to recruit future employees.

Continuing Education

While continuing education is currently not a requirement for maintaining a professional engineer’s license, most Electrical Engineers stay current with changes to building and electrical codes, such as the California Green Building Standards Code (CALGreen). The various Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Professional Credentials require continuing education units every two years. Contact the U. S. Green Building Council for specific details. Engineers must also keep up to date with the latest developments in their field to properly do their jobs.

Licensing and Certification

Electrical Engineers who approve engineering documents or oversee less experienced engineers must obtain a professional engineering (PE) license. The license must be renewed every two years.

To become licensed, Engineers must first pass the Engineer-in-Training or Fundamentals of Engineering examination which requires at least three years of coursework from a college or university offering an engineering program accredited by Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), or three years of engineering-related experience. The next step in the process is to pass the professional examination which requires a bachelor’s degree in engineering from an ABET-accredited institution, along with two years of eligible engineering experience. Engineers without a bachelor's degree in engineering must possess six years of eligible experience. Contact the agency that issues the license for additional information. Click on the license title below for details.

Some certifications or credentials may be required for Electrical Engineers, such as Energy Manager, Lighting Efficiency Professional, Green Building Engineer, LEED, and Sustainable Development Professional. These credentials are offered by various professional organizations. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

  • Search by Field of Study to find what programs are available and what schools offer those programs. You may use keywords such as: Electrical Engineer and Electrical Engineering.
  • Search by Training Provider to find schools by name, type of school, or location.

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Electrical Engineers are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Semiconductor and Electronic Components 23.9%
Architectural and Engineering Services 16.3%
Electronic Instrument Manufacturing 9.7%
Scientific Research and Development Svc 8.0%
Local Government 4.8%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Direct contact with employers is a traditional means to finding a job as an Electrical Engineer. Jobs may also be found through college placement offices, company recruiting events, job fairs, online job boards, or professional engineering organizations. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at www.jobcentral.com and CalJOBSSM at www.caljobs.ca.gov.

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Electrical Engineers.

  • Consulting Engineers
  • Electrical Engineers
  • Engineers
  • Manufacturing Engineers
  • Power Plant Engineers

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

With increasing experience and skills, the Electrical Engineer may take on additional responsibilities. Some move into supervisory positions where they oversee other Engineers or technicians. Also, numerous professional certifications exist for Electrical Engineers which may offer improved opportunity for advancement to better-paying senior technical or managerial positions. A master's degree or doctor of philosophy degree may lead to teaching opportunities.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Electrical Engineers with links to more information.

OccupationOccupational
Guide
Industry
Report
Occupational
Profile
Electrical and Electronic Engineering TechniciansGuide
Electronics Engineers, Except ComputerGuide
Architectural and Engineering ManagersGuide
Mechanical EngineersGuide
Nuclear EngineersProfile

Other Sources

  • California Board for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors
         www.pels.ca.gov
  • California Department of Consumer Affairs
         www.dca.ca.gov
  • Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology
         www.abet.org
  • American Society for Engineering Education
         www.asee.org
  • American Solar Energy Society
         www.ases.org
  • The Association of Energy Engineers
         www.aeecenter.org
  • The Council of Engineering & Scientific Specialty Boards
         www.cesb.org
  • Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
         www.ieee.org
  • Junior Engineering Technical Society
         www.jets.org
  • National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying
         www.ncees.org
  • National Society of Professional Engineers
         www.nspe.org

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SystemCode
SOC - Standard Occupational Classification17-2071
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Electrical Engineers17-2071.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)IRC