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Personal Finance
Working Your Degree
December 22, 2000: 6:38 a.m. ET

Electrical engineering remains a high-paying field that is in top demand
By Staff Writer Shelly K. Schwartz
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - John Wiley has long been fascinated by electronics. The 24-year-old graduate of Purdue University recalls a time in high school when he and a friend ripped apart a collection of sound systems to create a stereo amplifier that was...shall we say... more to their liking.

"We were just messing around one weekend and we increased its power capacity for a bigger speaker," he said. "I've always liked working with computers and just tinkering with electronics in general."

Lucky for Wiley his choice of majors included engineering.

Now a systems consultant for Marshall & Poe, a business solutions provider in Elkhart, Ind., the 24 year old spends his days developing programs and helping to customize software for clients. Like many of his classmates, Wiley had a job lined up well before he graduated.

"We take the programs to the client, sell it and massage the program to make it more useful to them," he said. "I love it. I'm doing exactly what I wanted, which is to help people do things better with computers."

What they do

Electrical and electronics engineers, as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, design, develop, test and supervise the manufacture of equipment including power generating, controlling and transmission devices used by electric utilities.

Other equipment for which they are trained includes radar and navigation systems; computer and office equipment; broadcast and communications systems, and electric motors, lighting and wiring for buildings, automobiles and aircraft.

With 357,000 professionals in the business, the EE field has become the largest branch of engineering.

"This is a hot field," said Laura Holmberg, operations director for the National Association of Radio and Telecommunications Engineers. "It's definitely rising as the information technology arena surges. Any kind of electronics technology job is strong now and the job market ahead looks very good."

Many colleges and universities, these days, lump together in one department their computer engineering and electrical engineering programs. Those who specialize in EE take the traditional courses, including transmission lines and motor mechanics; while students in the computer-engineering programs swap a few of those specialized classes to study programming and hardware technology.

Both EE and computer engineering, however, differ significantly from computer science, which focuses more on computer-system design and software publishing.


Visit CNNfn's Career page every Friday to read "Working your Degree," a column that highlights job opportunities for a different college major each week. Click here for previous profiles on professions including: philosophy, political science, computer engineering, economics, computer science, physical therapy, history and teaching.


Where they land

Unlike other professions, including psychology and history, where a higher degree is a must for advancement within the field, Holmberg notes that opportunities for EE grads with a bachelor's degree are "very good."

At the same time, however, the BLS notes it is still critical that EE graduates keep up with the latest breaking technology throughout their careers to remain competitive.

"Continuing education is important for electric and electronic engineers," the Bureau writes in its latest Occupational Outlook report. "Engineers who fail to keep up with the rapid changes in technology risk technological obsolescence, which makes them more susceptible to layoffs, or at a minimum, more likely to be passed over for advancement."

Despite staggering demand and starting salaries in the $50,000-a-year range, enrollment in EE programs across the country is falling.

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  "Engineers who fail to keep up with the rapid changes in technology risk technological obsolescence, which makes them more susceptible to layoffs, or at a minimum, more likely to be passed over for advancement."  
     
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  Bureau of Labor Statistics  
Tom Drake, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Clemson University, thinks he knows why.

"When the job market is good for everyone, students entering college don't see the need to take the harder courses to become an engineer. They may take English instead," he said. "Engineering is very demanding, so it's only when times are tough that people say, 'I need to study a profession that will essentially guarantee me a job.'"

Drake notes the severe shortage of engineers in this country shows little sign of improvement, even as Congress opens up work visas for international engineers to fill U.S. jobs.

"We live in a high-tech society and there are just not enough engineers to go around," he said. "They are in very hot demand."

Indeed. Job opportunities for electrical engineers are expected to grow 21 percent to 35 percent through 2008. That compares with job opportunities for computer systems analysts, engineers and scientists, which are projected to grow 35 percent or more during the same period.

On the job

NARTE reports EE grads most often work for companies and organizations involved in aircraft, appliance, automotive, biomedical, computer and copier manufacturing. Other major employers include hospitals, scientific instrument makers, the military, oil companies, radio and TV stations, steel mills and stereo manufacturers.

Many, too, including Wiley, work for engineering and business consulting firms, or communications and utilities firms. And for the record, the BLS notes that California, Texas, New York and New Jersey states with many large electronics firms employ more than one-third of all electrical and electronics engineers.

Unlike many other majors, where graduates end up working in unrelated jobs, a whopping 90 percent of EE grads work in jobs that are closely related, or somewhat related, to their field of study, the College Majors Handbook, published by JIST Works, finds.

Paycheck check-up

It should come as no surprise that EE grads rank among the highest in return on educational investment.

A salary survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that bachelor's degree candidates in electrical and electronics engineering this year received starting offers averaging about $45,000 a year; master's degree candidates, $57,000; and Ph.D candidates, $71,000.

  graphic SALARY SAMPLE  
    Electrical engineers earn, on average, 7 percent more than their college-educated counterparts. Click on the salary sample below for a cross-section of how much they make in the 10 largest markets in the country.
  • Engineer's salary sample
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    Overall, the Handbook reveals salaries for all electrical and electronics engineering grads with only a bachelor's degree run close to $52,000, including for those in the work force many years. That's 7 percent higher than the average for all bachelor's degree holders.

    In comparison, the BLS reports median annual salaries for computer engineers were $62,000 in 1998, the most recent year for which data are available.

    According to Wiley, though, a career in electrical engineering isn't just about the money. Any college freshman considering EE as a major, he insists, should look before they leap.

    "I don't know that it necessarily takes a special personality type [to become an electrical engineering major], but my advice is whatever you go into you'd better enjoy it, because it's going to be tough especially engineering," he said. "If you don't like math and science you are going to have a hard time." graphic

      RELATED SITES

    National Association of Radio and Telecommunications Engineers

    National Association of Colleges and Employers


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    Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2018. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2018 and/or its affiliates.