Automotive Electrical Engineer

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CAREER PROFILE

Duties: Design automotive electrical systems, including the ignition system and accessories and industrial robot control systems used to assemble the vehicle

Alternate Title(s): Electronics Engineer; Automotive Electrical Engineer; Automotive Electronics Engineer

Salary Range: $30,000 to $104,500 (In USD as of Apr 27, 2015)

Employment Prospects: Good

Advancement Prospects: Excellent

Best Geographical Location(s): Most jobs in the automotive field are located in Michigan, although automotive plants in other parts of the country also hire electrical engineers

Prerequisites:

Education or Training - A bachelor’s degree is required for most entry-level jobs

Experience - A solid background in math and science is helpful

Special Skills and Personality Traits - Creative, inquisitive, analytical, good computer skills, and detail-oriented

Licensure/Certification - All 50 states require licensure for engineers who offer their services directly to the public

CAREER LADDER

Electrical Engineering Technician  >>  Electrical Engineer  >> Electrical Engineering Manager

Position Description

Automotive Electrical Engineers design, develop, test, and supervise the manufacture of a vehicle’s electrical system, including the ignition system and accessories, and industrial robot control systems used to assemble the vehicle. Electrical Engineers also design new products, write performance requirements, develop maintenance schedules, test equipment, solve operating problems, and estimate the time and cost of engineering projects.

Engineers are the largest professional occupation in the automotive industry, and play an integral role in all stages of auto manufacturing. Using computers and assorted models, instruments, and tools, Electrical Engineers simulate electrical systems of the vehicle to determine whether each part meets cost, safety, performance, and quality specifications.

Electrical Engineers use computers to accurately and efficiently perform computations and permit the modeling and simulation of new designs. Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) are used for design data processing and for developing alternative designs. New computer and communications systems have improved the design process, enabling Electrical Engineers to produce and analyze various product designs much more rapidly than in the past and to collaborate on designs with other engineers throughout the world.

Most automotive Electrical Engineers work in office buildings, industrial plants, and production sites, where they monitor or direct operations or solve on-site problems. Many work a standard 40-hour week, although sometimes deadlines or design problems mean that Electrical Engineers may work longer hours and experience considerable stress.

Salaries

Average Automotive Electrical Engineer Salaries: 65,000  (In USD as of Apr 27, 2015)

The average annual salary for Electrical Engineers is between $69,640 and $72,090; the lowest 10 percent earn less than $46,210, and the highest 10 percent earn more than $104,500. Bachelor’s degree candidates in electrical and electronics engineering typically receive starting offers averaging $51,910 a year; master’s degree candidates average $63,812; and Ph.D. candidates average $79,241.

Employment Prospects

Electrical engineering graduates should have favorable job opportunities. Although overall manufacturing employment is expected to grow slowly, employment of Electrical Engineers in auto manufacturing should increase more rapidly as the demand for improved cars grows and industrial machinery and processes become increasingly complex. The number of job openings resulting from employment growth and the need to replace Electrical Engineers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force is expected to be in rough balance with the supply of graduates. The need for automotive manufacturers to invest heavily in research and development to remain competitive will provide openings for graduates who have learned the latest technologies. In addition, the automotive industry is less likely to lay off Electrical Engineers, since most work on long-term research and development projects or in other activities that continue even during economic slowdowns.

Employment of Electrical Engineers is projected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations though 2012. The number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in engineering began declining in 1987 and has continued to stay at about the same level through much of the 1990s, and the total number of graduates from electrical engineering programs is not expected to increase significantly. Although only a relatively small proportion of Electrical Engineers leave the profession each year, many job openings will arise from replacement needs. More typically, openings occur when Electrical Engineers transfer to management, sales, or other professional occupations.

Advancement Prospects

Beginning electrical engineering graduates usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers. As new Electrical Engineers become more experienced, they are assigned more difficult projects with greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions. Electrical Engineers may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a staff or team of engineers and technicians. Some may eventually become engineering managers.

To remain competitive, it is important for Electrical Engineers to continue their education throughout their careers, because their value to their employer depends on their knowledge of the latest technology. By keeping up to date, Electrical Engineers are able to come up with the best solutions to problems. Electrical Engineers who have not kept current in their field may find themselves passed over for promotions.

Education and Training

A bachelor’s degree in engineering is required for entry-level electrical engineering jobs. Most electrical engineering programs involve a concentration of study in electrical engineering, along with courses in both mathematics and science. Most programs also add a design course, sometimes accompanied by a computer class or laboratory class, or both.

Graduate training is essential for many research and development programs, but is not required for the majority of entry-level electrical engineering jobs in the automotive industry.

About 330 colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degree programs in engineering that are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). ABET accreditation is based on an examination of an engineering program’s student achievement, program improvement, faculty, curricular content, facilities, and institutional commitment. Some programs emphasize industrial practices, preparing students for a job in industry, whereas others are more theoretical and are designed to prepare students for graduate work. Therefore, students interested in working in the automotive field should investigate curricula and check accreditations carefully before selecting a college.

Admissions requirements for undergraduate engineering schools include a solid background in mathematics (algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus) and sciences (biology, chemistry, and physics), and courses in English, social studies, humanities, and computers.

Bachelor’s degree programs in electrical engineering typically are designed to last four years, but many students find that it takes between four and five years to complete their studies. In a typical four-year college curriculum, the first two years are spent studying mathematics, basic sciences, introductory engineering, humanities, and social sciences. Students interested in electrical engineering spend the last two years taking engineering courses with a concentration in electrical engineering.

Some programs offer a general engineering curriculum; students then specialize in graduate school or on the job. Some engineering schools and two-year colleges have agreements in which the two-year college provides the initial engineering education, and the engineering school automatically admits students for their last two years. In addition, a few engineering schools have arrangements in which a student spends three years in a liberal arts college studying pre-engineering subjects and two years in an engineering school studying core subjects, receiving a bachelor’s degree from each school.

Some colleges and universities offer five-year master’s degree programs; others offer five- or even six-year cooperative plans that combine classroom study and practical work, permitting students to gain valuable experience and finance part of their education.

Special Requirements

All 50 states and the District of Columbia require licensure for engineers who offer their services directly to the public. Engineers who are licensed are called Professional Engineers (PE). This licensure generally requires a degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program, four years of relevant work experience, and successful completion of a state examination. Recent graduates can start the licensing process by taking the examination in two stages. The initial Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) examination can be taken upon graduation; engineers who pass this examination are called Engineers in Training (EIT) or Engineer Interns (EI). The EIT certification is usually valid for 10 years.

After acquiring suitable work experience, EITs can take the second examination, the Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam. Several states have imposed mandatory continuing education requirements for relicensure, but most states recognize licensure from other states. Many Electrical Engineers are licensed as PEs.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Electrical Engineers should be creative, inquisitive, analytical, and detail-oriented, with good computer skills. They should be able to work as part of a team and to communicate well both orally and in writing.

Unions and Associations

Electrical engineers can belong to a number of professional organizations, including the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers or the Institute of Industrial Engineers, Inc.; a few also belong to a union, such as the United Auto Workers.

Tips for Entry

1. Visit Web sites to check out job postings for Electrical Engineers, such as the Web site of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (www.ieee.org).

2. Mail a résumé to top automotive companies where you would like to work.

3. Attend professional conferences (such as the annual IEEE convention) and check out job boards there.

4. Visit your college’s career counseling office for help in identifying companies where you would like to work.

 

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