When somebody drives an electric car, uses a smartwatch to track their steps, or controls their lights and heat from a smartphone app, they’re benefiting from the work of electrical engineers. Electrical engineering plays a key role in technological innovations that advance society in countless ways.
Innovation-driven industries have enormous growth potential and offer tremendous opportunities for electrical engineers. Electric vehicles, smart grids, robotics, and consumer electronics are some examples of emerging sectors in which sales are projected to grow 10% or more a year over the coming decade.
For today’s engineering students, then, it’s crucial to explore the future of electrical engineering and understand where opportunity lies. Knowing more about cutting-edge technologies and the kinds of jobs they offer can help students in an engineering degree program decide where to focus their studies and their ambitions for electrical engineering careers.
What Is the Job Outlook for Electrical Engineering?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects electrical engineering employment will grow 2% from 2021 to 2031, while the average profession will grow 5%. But other employment trends are more encouraging, suggesting the future of electrical engineering may include robust demand in a variety of industries.
- Electronics engineering jobs are projected to grow 6% from 2021 to 2031, according to the BLS, reflecting surges in demand for everything from smartphones to autonomous vehicles.
- Many older workers will retire, the BLS projects, resulting in an average of 20,100 job openings a year for electrical and electronics engineers.
- A 2022 survey by the publication Electronic Design found that 76% of employers had trouble finding engineers for open positions due to declining numbers of electrical engineering students.
In addition, two recent federal laws could boost demand for electrical engineers over the next decade.
- The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs (IIJ) Act of 2021 will invest $1.2 trillion in America’s infrastructure, including electric generation and transmission, transportation, and the internet.
- The Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors and Science (CHIPS) Act of 2022 will spend $280 billion to boost domestic production of microchips.
Top Industries for Electrical Engineering Jobs
According to the BLS, a diverse group of industries and sectors employed the highest percentages of electrical engineers in 2021.
- Engineering services, such as designers, contractors, and consultants: 21%
- Electric power generation, transmission, and distribution: 9%
- Medical, navigational, measurement, and control devices: 7%
- Scientific research and development: 5%
- Semiconductor manufacturing: 4%
Top Employment Sectors for Electronics Engineering Jobs
The top employers of electronics engineers in 2021 were also a varied group of industries, the BLS reports.
- Telecommunications: 18%
- Federal government: 15%
- Semiconductor manufacturing: 10%
- Engineering services, such as designers, contractors, and consultants: 8%
- Medical, navigational, measurement, and control devices: 6%
What Are Common Electrical Engineering Careers?
Engineering students who want to be part of the future of electrical engineering should know the types of roles they can pursue in the job market, which are many and varied. For a student studying to become an electrical engineer, some common electrical engineering careers illustrate the broad range of professional options.
At television and radio stations and networks, broadcast engineers maintain equipment used for broadcasting. They also monitor and troubleshoot equipment while a station is on the air. Broadcast equipment can range from consoles in studios and control rooms to transmission towers.
The median annual salary for broadcast engineers was around $65,600 as of February 2023, according to data from the compensation website Payscale.
Substation technicians are crucial to the functioning of the electric grid. They work on the design and maintenance of electric substations which distribute power to homes and businesses. The job requires knowledge of equipment such as circuit breakers and transformers and an understanding of schematic diagrams as well as strict attention to safety.
The median annual salary for substation technicians was around $77,700 as of January 2023, according to Payscale.
Controls engineers design devices that regulate the operations of machines and manufacturing processes in the safest and most efficient manner. The systems can range from electrical grids, to motor vehicles, to aerospace components. Control engineers also maintain, test, and update existing control systems.
The median annual salary for controls engineers was around $81,300 in February 2023, according to Payscale.
Systems engineers design and set up power systems. These can range from systems within a building or complex, to an entire power grid. Systems engineers may also design computer systems, computer chips, or robotics. For such work, an engineer may need a background in other areas of science and technology, such as computer science or programming, as well as electrical engineering.
The median annual salary for systems engineers was around $84,200 as of February 2023, according to Payscale.
Electrical Project Manager
Electrical project managers oversee the design, building, and installation of electrical systems. Those systems can be in homes, commercial or industrial buildings, or electric power construction, such as substations. The work combines electrical engineering knowledge with managerial skills for overseeing staff, budgets, and schedules.
The median annual salary for electrical project managers was approximately $87,500 in February 2023, according to Payscale.
In today’s high-performance computer world, designs are being constantly upgraded. Hardware engineers do the design work, both for computer systems and for their components. They assess user needs, set specifications, test prototypes, and work with software developers to create more powerful machines.
The median annual salary for hardware engineers was $91,300 in February 2023, according to Payscale.
Computer Network Architect
In large companies, communications depend on elaborate and reliable computer networks, such as local area networks (LANs) and intranets. Network engineers design, maintain, and secure those networks. Their duties combine knowledge of electrical engineering and computer science, as well as attention to details such as equipment compatibility.
The median salary for computer network architects was $124,300 a year as of February 2023, according to Payscale.
What Are Some Electrical Engineering Innovations of the Future?
Because electrical engineering’s future is so closely tied to innovation, the outlook for electrical engineering careers is strongest in innovation-driven industries: ones that are developing new technologies to improve quality of life, energy efficiency, global business success, and environmental sustainability.
A number of cutting-edge industries and products that show strong growth prospects will depend on electrical engineering innovations.
The market for electric vehicles (EVs) has been surging in the U.S., as the motor vehicle industry attempts to cut climate-warming tailpipe emissions. Sales of plug-in vehicles were up 47% in January 2023 compared to a year earlier, according to Argonne National Laboratory. EVs accounted for almost 8% of all light duty vehicles sold.
Those numbers could increase substantially over the coming decade, as automakers ramp up production. S&P Global Mobility projects that EVs will make up 40% of new vehicle sales by 2030.
Electrical engineers are needed for several aspects of designing and developing EVs, including their engines, batteries, and electrical systems.
Electrical engineers are also involved in creating networks of charging stations for EVs to make long-distance travel practical. The IIJ act will invest $7.5 billion of federal money into constructing 500,000 charging stations, up from 147,000 at the end of 2022.
But that figure may be just a start. S&P Global Mobility projects that by 2030, the U.S. will need 2.3 million public charging stations to service a fleet of 28 million EVs.
Wearable technology has come a long way since 2000, when the first Bluetooth headset hit the market. Global sales of all types of wearable technology are growing 12.8% per year, according to Allied Market Research, which projects they’ll hit $184 billion by 2031.
The top categories of wearable technology relate to lifestyle, according to Allied Market Research, and all of them involve electronics engineering in their designs.
- Health and fitness devices can monitor health indicators, like heart rate, while tracking physical activity like steps.
- Smartwatches do much more than just tell time. They can communicate via voice, text, and email; keep track of vital signs; and make electronic payments.
- Smart glasses offer voice-controlled access to the internet, with services like search, communications, video streaming, and augmented reality.
- Smart clothing incorporates sensors that can measure biometric data and share it with apps. Smart clothing, for example, can track heartbeat and respiration to adjust personal workout plans.
Homes and buildings use 75% of U.S. electricity. By communicating with the electric grid, users can consume more power when demand is low and less when demand is high, cutting both costs and the need for new power plants. For example, a community in Hoover, Alabama that uses smart electric meters uses 44% less energy than all-electric communities with conventional meters, according to Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Since 2007, the federal Smart Grid Investment Grant program has led to $8 billion in combined public and private investments in smart grids, much of it to utilities for installing smart meters.
The IIJ Act will invest another $3 billion in smart grids and smart buildings, and in developing a wider range of technologies. This will include technologies such as solar photovoltaic cells, electric battery storage, and advanced control measures for adding and removing load to and from grids. Electrical engineers will be key to designing the equipment and computer systems to make these technologies function.
Robotics, Automation, and Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Automakers have long used robots to help assemble cars. In recent years, automation has expanded into other areas of manufacturing, such as pharmaceuticals, food, plastics and rubber, and semiconductors. Grand View Research reports that the worldwide market for industrial automation and control systems was $172 billion in 2022 and is growing 10.5% annually.
The incorporation of AI is making automation more powerful and efficient. It enables robots to learn from experience, performing ever more precise and complicated tasks. Electrical engineers help design both the algorithms that make AI possible and the electrical systems and sensors that make automation possible.
The combination of automation and AI can also enhance safety. By interpreting data from sensors in machinery, smart manufacturing systems can spot malfunctions and shut down production lines. Remotely operated drones can survey hazardous situations, like downed power lines, before workers go in.
Internet of Things (IoT) Devices
The Internet of Things (IoT) embeds computer chips and sensors in equipment, allowing them to communicate and be controlled over the internet. Such devices can also be programmed to take independent actions, such as changing temperatures, without human direction.
IoT equipment can range from household devices like refrigerators and thermostats, to industrial tools. Electrical engineers are involved in many aspects of their design, including the circuits inside them and the networks that connect them.
Fortune Business Insights expects the global IoT market to grow from $478 billion in 2022 to $2.5 trillion by 2029. On the industrial side, the biggest users will be health care, manufacturing, telecommunications, and financial services.
Explore the Diverse World of Electrical Engineering
The future of innovation is the future of electrical engineering, as electrical engineers play crucial roles in designing and improving new technologies that drive our world forward. Earning an advanced degree — like the online Master of Science in Engineering at the University of California, Riverside — can help students position themselves for success in this field. With its electrical engineering concentration, the program can prepare you for a range of electrical engineering careers in a variety of industries.
The coursework covers an array of high-level and advanced technologies, such as smart grids, power semiconductor devices, and robotic and industrial automation systems. Find out how the University of California, Riverside can help you create the electrical engineering innovations of today and tomorrow.