While the work of electronics and electrical engineers often overlaps, there are key differences in the scope of these two fields. As a result, there are also differences in the skills each field prioritizes, particularly when considering earning potential.
This article provides a summary of the top five skills for electrical and electronics engineers, exploring skills that are common for each role and highlighting those that have a strong impact on average salary. While this list is not exhaustive, seeking out and promoting these skills in your career search can help to elevate your competitiveness in the engineering job market, and proficiency in some of these specific areas can help you stand out to employers.
The top skills for electrical engineers include a mix of software and programming proficiency, such as AutoDesk and Matlab, knowledge of engineering methodologies, and leadership skills such as project management.
As noted in the skills for electronics engineers section later in this article, C++ and similar programming languages are widely used across many disciplines of engineering, so while not in the top five reported skills for electrical engineers, knowledge in these languages can be highly beneficial for electrical and computer engineering and beyond.
Some of the most popular industries employing electrical engineers include security firms, defense contractors, aerospace, and IT services companies.
According to PayScale, project management has the strongest positive impact on an electrical engineer’s salary — electrical engineers with this skill earn 6% more than the overall average. This is especially important for those hoping to enter senior positions, where they may supervise more junior engineers or lead teams on specific projects.
Engineering design is a methodology for engineers to identify and solve problems. Although it has a small impact on salary, it is a common skill for electrical engineers. Multiple organizations — including the Boston Museum of Science, the Massachusetts Department of Education, and the National Center for Engineering and Technology Education — have created their own engineering design models. What all these different models have in common is their purposeful, iterative approach to identifying a problem, exploring that problem more deeply, and creating solutions to solve it.
Although experience with AutoCAD does not have the same positive impact on earning potential as the other skills listed, it is in the top three most common skills for electrical engineers, according to PayScale. The best CAD software for engineers, however, varies to some degree by their specialization.
Many CAD programs have built-in documentation libraries for certain industries. For example, AutoDesk has a version of AutoCAD with features designed specifically for electrical control systems.
Proficiency with Matlab is a common skill across multiple disciplines, including both electrical and electronics engineering as well as other STEM fields. One of the main components of Matlab that electrical and computer engineers use is called Simulink, which is a graphical programming environment used to model how designs might perform.
For example, power system engineers may simulate the impact of different numbers and voltages of transformers in a system.
Programmable logic controllers (PLC) are computing devices specifically designed to be used in industrial applications such as manufacturing.
While not all electrical and computer engineers need to be adept with PLC technology, it is beneficial for them to have a working knowledge since PLCs are integrated into a wide range of electrical equipment and devices.
For example, PLC technology governs the operation of power relays in energy systems, and it can dramatically improve the efficiency of other types of control systems.
Related Content: Careers as an Electronics Engineer vs. Electrical Engineer
The top skills for electronics engineers are more focused on methodologies for ensuring quality control and assurance, including electronics troubleshooting and test engineering. However, electronics engineers can also benefit from a balance of technical and leadership skills, such as project management and proficiency with C and C++.
Electronics engineers commonly work for government agencies, military organizations, defense and security contractors as well as in aerospace manufacturing.
For electronics engineers, project management has the strongest positive impact on earning potential. This skill is also one of the most popular for electrical engineering managers, highlighting the value it provides for both types of engineers interested in career advancement. Professionals seeking management opportunities may be responsible for overseeing entire product life cycles, identifying areas for process improvement, and mapping the scope of new product development.
In many industries, including aerospace and manufacturing, knowledge of process improvement frameworks like Lean Six Sigma are also important for ensuring that teams operate efficiently with as little waste as possible.
Electronics engineers with engineering design skills show a modest increase in average salary when compared to electronics engineers overall. Similar to electrical engineers, the specific engineering design methodology used depends on the organization and industry where they work.
Building a base level of familiarity with different engineering design models can help create more versatility. This allows electronics engineers to focus on developing in-depth proficiency once they’ve identified a desirable workplace, and hone the skills that are most beneficial to their careers.
PayScale data shows that electronic troubleshooting is the most popular skill for electronics engineers. The difficulty of this skill can vary based on the complexity of the devices that need troubleshooting. With televisions and computers, for example, an engineer may have to test each component individually to ensure they are all functioning correctly.
Test engineering combines skills from quality assurance and quality control — by both implementing processes to ensure quality and looking for opportunities to make those processes more efficient.
Test engineering is another skill that has a positive correlation with the average electronics engineer salary, increasing earning potential by approximately 2%. Although the increase is modest compared to other factors, it is also one of the top five most common skills for electronics engineers, and the average increase for having this one skill can be amplified by acquiring and highlighting some of the other proficiencies on this list. For example, project management and test engineering both have a positive impact on electronics engineers’ salary.
Programming knowledge is beneficial for engineers across many disciplines, especially with the growth in integrated circuits and embedded electronics. Many embedded systems are coded in C, while hardware description language (HDL) is essential for a wide range of electronics engineering because it is used to determine the behavior of circuits.
Both C and C++ were highlighted in IEEE Spectrum’s top programming languages of 2021, placing in the top 5 both for their overall ranking and for how in-demand these languages are among employers.
The University of Arizona’s online M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering program offers advanced practical and conceptual knowledge required in today’s job market while still giving you the flexibility to specialize in an area that aligns with your career interests. In addition to core electrical and systems engineering knowledge, you can gain advanced skills by focusing in one of the following areas:
As one of the top 40 schools for both electrical and computer engineering, according to U.S. News and World Report, the University of Arizona’s online engineering programs offer one of the highest quality engineering educations in the country with the flexibility of online learning. A degree from UA can give you a considerable competitive edge in the career market.
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