Electrical engineering has a bright future even with automation increasing. As an electrical engineer, I’ll outline how this industry will continue to grow.
I’ll dive into the history of electrical engineering. As well, discuss where the industry stands today.
And I know. There’s a lot of talk about machines, robots, and AI taking over the world. I’ve heard it countless times.
Even more, I often hear asked if electrical engineering jobs will soon disappear. To be blunt, the concern comes from misinformation and clickbait articles.
The purpose of this article is to go over the misconception of this future dark reality.
The future impact of automation on the electrical engineering profession
This dystopian future may become a reality one day.
In the distant future, most jobs as we know them today will go poof. They’ll no longer exist.
No one can argue against this if tech continues to advance as rapidly as it is today.
I’m talking about over 200 years from today though. But, until this advanced technological day comes, I see many jobs created through tech.
As a historical example, in the 18th century, we had the industrial revolution. New advanced machines created countless new jobs.
This went against the belief that machines would leave everyone jobless.
Now, just rewind 40 years. No one could have imagined a teenager becoming a millionaire through their TV.
Today, countless teens sit in their parent’s basement playing video games online. The paychecks then start rolling in. How insane is that?!
So, the question today becomes, “what type of new jobs will the future create?”
The advancement of tech requires electrical engineers
Humans today develop and maintain almost all the hardware and software we use today.
As well, new tech endlessly bleeds into every industry. Without a doubt, every industry heavily relies on technology.
In a capitalist-run economy, this alone ignites innovation. Then consider many industries still operate without advanced tech.
So, humans will continue to advance technology with every passing year. Because each and every industry wants to level up.
Keep in mind, machines won’t self-repair themselves anytime soon. Even further distant future are machines singlehandedly developing all components of new machines.
Let’s now switch gears back to electrical engineering.
The below table I created shows the great breadth of the electrical engineering field.
Without question, the field is massive. I’ve even left out many electrical engineering sub-fields too.
|Electrical Engineering Discipline||Types of Work|
|Communications||Designing and improving telecommunication systems|
|Electronics||Designing devices that have electronics|
|Energy Systems||Renewable energy designs, and making designs more energy efficient|
|Instrumentation||Designing flow, level, pressure, and temperature measurement devices|
|Power||Generation, transmission, and distribution of power|
|Microelectronics||Small electronic designs for devices typically using semiconductor materials|
|Photonics||New tech with transmission of photons|
|Signal Processing||Analyzing, modifying, and synthesizing signals such as sound and image|
|Systems and Controls||Designing systems to behave a certain way|
The point is, the influence of electrical engineers is great. The complexities of each of the fields are even greater.
Thus, automation won’t affect the work of electrical engineers anytime soon. At least not any of the creative branches of the field.
This belief is best highlighted through the history of machines and electrical engineering jobs.
A brief history of electrical engineering jobs
By learning history, we can better predict the future job market. So don’t always dismiss history as a pointless pursuit.
The history of electrical engineering I find fascinating. More specifically, how the field rapidly grew over the years.
Electrical engineering evolved from a single focus to a profession with countless specialties. Today, the profession employs 300,000 plus Americans. This according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
I’m sure this figure includes a lot of non-engineers too. But still, a significant figure!
The early history of electrical engineering jobs
In the late 19th century, an electrical engineer worked on the new electric telegraph. This became the first professional electrical engineering profession.
Back then, electrical engineering had limited specialty jobs. But, it had a promising future.
The communication industry had sparked a new job market. Thus, more and more electrical engineers found employment.
Near the same time, Werner von Siemens brought us the industrial generator.
He created a new industry out of thin air. These generators led the way to the formation of power utilities. The mission of power utilities was to bring power to homes and businesses.
As a result, the U.S. power grid began to flourish. People craved electricity no different than how they craved clean water.
Electricity then became plentiful and accessible to everyone. Like the discovery of fire, electricity forever transformed everyday life.
In short, the power grid went from one pocket of America to engulfing almost all of America. This grid expansion in return sparked many new technologies and jobs.
I see this in California today.
Cities and power grid infrastructure grow together. This increased growth then leads to greater maintenance and management. As a result, more jobs!
The discovery of electromagnetic waves
Moving ahead, in 1888, Heinrich Hertz discovered electromagnetic waves. This discovery brought us electronics.
Today, you can find electronics in all parts of your life. Just take a look around you.
The impact is mind-boggling. I’d go as far as to say, society as we know it today would collapse without electronics.
But I digress.
Every product that uses electronics typically has an engineering sub-specialty of its own. This creates even more electrical engineering jobs as more industries become modernized.
Back in the industrial revolution, many companies hired their own electrical engineers. Because they wanted to constantly upgrade their infrastructure with electrical products.
This was the only way to stay in business. The competition was cutthroat as machines had emerged to work with humans.
I compare it to the internet today. If your company has zero online presence, your business will more likely than not fail. No ifs or buts about it.
The introduction of transistors
By now you see how industries influenced by electricity evolve. Nothing remains constant.
One discovery leads to another like dominos. This then leads us to transistors.
In 1947, the world forever changed with the invention of the transistor. Personal computing had become a “thing,” and we were now in a new technological era.
I believe the smartphone best symbolizes the peak of this transistor era.
I see smartphones glued to the hands of both young and old people. It’s fascinating how these small devices connect us to all the world’s information.
Yet, without electrical engineers, we wouldn’t have smartphones.
At the same time, electrical engineers need to continue working to advance the tech. This is how you get better and faster phones that you love so much.
Look at the below Statista data showing the growth of smartphone users in America. Keep in mind, the user count from 2017 to 2022 is only an estimation.
|Year||Smartphone users in millions|
What’s more, this same level of advancement exists in many other industries. Almost every device you see is a sub-industry of its own.
That’s why it’s important to constantly level up your skills. Even specialty skills need constant refinement.
Professions no longer evolve at a tortoise’s pace. They evolve on steroids.
The electrical engineering profession today and moving into the future
Now, we’ll switch back to the 21st century. Let’s take a look at the trending news in the electrical world and mainstream media.
Today’s news circles around the following:
- Renewable energy
- Energy efficiency
And guess who leads the way with these technologies? Electrical engineers!
So again, the demand for electrical engineers will only increase over time. To point out, these same technologies may one day be our own demise.
BUT, that’s an entirely different topic of discussion.
To highlight this increased demand for electrical engineers, let’s look at electric cars. Today, electric cars have become synonymous with Elon Musk and his company Tesla.
Before you tell me, let me quickly point out the resulting job loss from electric cars. The phasing out of internal combustion engine cars will lead to great job loss. I get it.
But, a new industry is quickly growing in its place with electric cars.
In this growing industry, electrical engineers will lead the design efforts. Plus, they’ll support the new sub-industries created by electric cars.
New electrical sub-industries created from electric cars
Let’s go over several of these new sub-industries. This will further highlight the increased demand for electrical engineers.
1) Battery technology
Batteries are the heart of electric cars. For this reason alone, the battery industry is booming today.
Engineers want to increase driving range and reduce battery weight and cost. All the while, improve battery life and safety. This is a huge undertaking with an unparalleled upside.
2) Autonomous vehicle technology
A car driving itself without human support.
In 100 years, young people may not even know what a steering wheel even is. How crazy would that be?!
Today, every major tech and car company is investing in this new future technology.
3) Charging stations
We need electric car charging stations to power our future cars. No different than the gas fuel stations you see sprinkled across cities.
Electrical engineers need to design the power connection to these charging stations. Also, to research how to improve charging station tech.
I’ve found I’ve been designing more charging stations with every passing year myself.
What’s more, charging stations that don’t connect to the power grid still need designers. Imagine a charging station connected to solar panels and batteries.
4) Car interiors
Improving car interiors with the bells and whistles we all love and expect.
Moving into the future, car interiors will advance with electronics too. This will further improve the driving experience for both drivers and passengers.
With every passing year, we’re inching closer and closer to a sci-fi reality.
5) Electric utility improvements
Moving into the future, more cars will connect to the power grid to charge. Also, city infrastructures will need to better accommodate electric cars.
So, we need to upgrade our power grid and city infrastructures. This applies to all 50 U.S. states.
All in all, I only covered several sub-industries influenced by electric cars. You can do this same exercise with almost every other industry.
I believe the electrical engineering profession is in a booming stage now. The field has amazing technological building blocks to stand on. This will lead engineers to innovate even more and create more jobs.
The direction of technology today
Technology has woven itself into everything we know and love today. With every weave, technology creates more specialty jobs.
For this reason, I believe specialty jobs will be staples in the future.
Looking at my life alone, I own a smartphone, laptop, smart refrigerator, smart TV, and the list goes on. Each of these items relies on countless specialty jobs.
On that note, how many people do you know who don’t want faster, smarter, smaller, lighter, and cheaper devices? Few I’d think.
So again, the demand for electrical engineers isn’t decreasing anytime soon.
Power utility job prospects for electrical engineers
Let’s focus on one sub-sector alone to highlight job demand.
I see utility job openings for electrical engineers all the time. I live in Northern California, but I see openings in many states.
With a growing population, our power grid needs to supply power to more people.
We also need to meet California’s bold goal of 100 percent zero-carbon electricity by 2045. This increased demand for engineers doesn’t even account for our outdated power grid.
A lot of our power grid’s electrical equipment needs replacement. This equipment includes transformers, switchgear, switchboards, and so on.
To top it off, most power engineers are nearing retirement age. So, the demand in this one sector alone for electrical engineers is skyrocketing.
To point out, the demand is for talented engineers. Thus, it’s important you level yourself up as an engineer. Use these resources I’ve written:
Now, here’s a breakdown of the most common industries employing electrical engineers in 2018:
|Industries employing electrical engineers||Number of people employed in 2018|
|Electronic component & product manufacturing n.e.c.||33,706|
|Architectural, engineering & related services||28,449|
|Electric power generation, transmission & distribution||18,338|
|Electric lighting & electrical equipment manufacturing||11,535|
You can see how the power grid type work is listed as #3. I’m sure the numbers are higher today in 2021.
A job search isn’t a cakewalk
I may have made the engineering job search sound too easy. Truth is, like anything worthwhile, it takes effort and sacrifice.
I explain this more in-depth, in the 5 reasons why engineers are jobless.
With globalization and an increasing population, job competition will only increase over time. That’s a given. At the same time, you’ll find greater job opportunities in all corners of the globe.
Every year, more developing nations become modernized. This increases the global demand for electrical engineers.
In short, you may need to move to another state or country. This is on top of working smarter and harder. Yes, it’s not ideal.
But, once you gain experience, you’ll be set on finding your “perfect” job. Plus, the barrier to entry of tomorrow’s jobs will give you greater job security too.
Even more, if you have the entrepreneurial gene you can take an added giant step forward. Start your own tech-focused or even non-tech-related business.
Regardless of the path you choose, you’ll need to constantly learn to stay ahead of your competition. To best drive my point home, let’s look at the work ethic of one of the top athletes who ever lived.
Learning work ethic from the great Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan entered the NBA in 1984. He won his first championship in 1991.
After Jordan first became a champion, he didn’t slow down. He continued practicing shooting free throws and perfecting his footwork. His thirst to stay on top in his field made him practice even harder.
He became even more relentless with his workouts. This is what led him to become the greatest basketball player of all time.
Jordan always fascinates me. Especially one story from his Chicago Bulls’ teammates. They said his practices were more intense than the actual NBA games he played. Crazy!
How I treat my work to stay on top of my craft
I never treat my work as a clock in and clock out. Instead, I always produce the best quality work, even if that means burning the midnight oil.
I became an electrical engineer because of my interest in the field. So, even if it wasn’t about the money, I’d still learn as much as possible.
Now, think about Elon Musk for a minute. Elon didn’t go to school to master the ins and outs of rockets before he started SpaceX.
Rather, he devoured textbooks on his own time. Also, he surrounded himself with the brightest minds in the aerospace field. This way, he could absorb all their knowledge to level himself up.
The point is, don’t allow a job’s responsibilities to limit you to specific actions and habits. If a job requires you to do X, it doesn’t mean you can’t do X and Y together.
So, don’t become comfortable in any job. You need to always adapt to changing times. Otherwise, you’ll fall behind in today’s fast-changing world.
I compare the competition to the animal kingdom. Wild animals migrate for food every year despite predators roaming nearby.
These wild animals hold the pursuit of food above any of their fears. Every day they step outside their comfort zone to eat to survive.
The animal kingdom teaches us survival at all costs.
To level up as an engineer, you need need to bring out your inner animal.
Plus, this will help you avoid age discrimination. A reality many engineers fear and face as they grow older.
Electrical engineering jobs in the future
I’ve discussed how the demand for electrical engineers will only increase over time. Using my own experience, and looking into our past and present, I see a bright future ahead.
The profession won’t disappear anytime in the coming decades.
It’s like saying will people stop eating animal products in the future. It can happen, but the chances are slim.
On that note, you may even make other jobs disappear as an electrical engineer. But, don’t feel too bad as you’ll create more creative jobs in return.
Engineers paving the future path like Rockefeller did a century ago
Most all types of engineering have a bright future. The same goes for the trades that go in hand with these engineering professions. Think of electricians, welders, plumbers, and so on.
I see these engineering and trade jobs only increasing in demand. These jobs will fuel tomorrow’s comforts.
I compare it to how oil advanced America many decades ago.
John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil Company forever changed America. They fed America exactly what it wanted when the nation was becoming a superpower.
Now today, we all want a future sci-fi reality. And electrical engineers will take us there.
By the same token, any engineering degree will give you a lot of flexibility. Look at this abbreviated list of Americans who hold engineering degrees:
- Tim Cook – CEO of Apple
- Jeff Bezos – Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Amazon
- Mary Barra – CEO of General Motors
- Larry Page – Co-Founder, and CEO of Alphabet (Google)
- Michael Bloomberg – Founder of Bloomberg L.P.
It’s clear how an engineering degree is an awesome investment. To maximize your future success though, look deep into the future. Then, mold yourself accordingly.
At the same time, don’t become overwhelmed with the direction of technology. Instead, do your best to join the tech movement to avoid it passing you by.
How do you view the future of electrical engineering? What type of engineering jobs do you foresee in the future?
SUBSCRIBE TO ENGINEER CALCS NEWSLETTER
Author Bio: Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2019 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for well over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, sports, fitness, and our history and future.