Electrical Designers: Connect Your Career to Your Passion
In your spare time, you like to:
- Check out the coolest new construction in your area.
- Tinker under the hood of a ’68 Camaro.
- Build a gaming PC from scratch.
If you’re an electrical designer, your answer might be your best career advice. Here’s why.
With booming construction, increasing automation and expanding innovations in technology, electrical designers are needed in three major sectors.
We talked with Aerotek’s Eric Thurman, a senior recruiter who’s been placing technical professionals in contract positions for more than two decades, to get insights on each sector.
1. Facilities — mechanical, electrical and plumbing design
The most popular path for electrical designers is in building design and construction for mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.
“New construction and renovation are creating demand for skills like power distribution design,” says Thurman. “Commercial buildings, schools, universities and hospitals all want the latest MEP systems.”
- This is for you if … you enjoy working with architects and thinking creatively. You want to be part of big, highly visible projects. “We’ve placed contractors to do lighting for professional football stadiums,” says Thurman. “If that kind of creative challenge excites you, this is the industry for you.”
- You’ll advance by … gaining experience and getting more training. Your associate degree or technical school training can get you to the senior designer level. For more opportunities, consider additional education. “You can have a solid 30-year career in MEP without a bachelor’s degree,” says Thurman. “But if you're looking for higher pay or to work outside of facilities, get a four-year degree.”
2. Technology — printed circuit board design
The tech sector is the fastest-growing field for electrical designers. Computers, tablets, cell phones and auto electronics all need printed circuit boards. And the companies who produce them need electrical designers.
Because of its focus, there are more opportunities for PCB work in established technology hubs.
“A lot of this activity is focused on the West Coast,” says Thurman. “Most PCBs are coming out of areas around Seattle, Portland, LA, Denver and Phoenix — places where tech is a major industry.”
- This is for you if ... you’re passionate about technology. Thurman adds, “If you’ve got to have the latest gadgets — and you’re not afraid to take them apart to see how they work — this is for you.”
- You’ll advance by … getting a bachelor’s degree. While it’s possible to enter the field without one, a four-year degree gives you more opportunities for career growth. “With a bachelor’s in electrical engineering, you can do more than circuit board layout,” says Thurman. “You can move into testing of the total design as well.”
3. Industrial — programmable logic controller design
Industrial needs are like those in facilities, but with some additional requirements.
As more manufacturers automate their operations, they need electrical designers to design, develop, construct and test programmable logic controllers.
“You can do wiring design and PLC work across a wide range of industries — from pet food to oil and gas,” says Thurman. “A lot of companies are expanding or upgrading, which creates opportunities in every part of the country.”
- This is for you if ... you like to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. “In manufacturing, you’ll not only be designing and programming, you’ll also be on the floor doing some wiring as well,” says Thurman. “This is the best track for hands-on people.”
- You’ll advance by … taking on varied roles and responsibilities. Thurman sees opportunities that don’t require additional formal training.“Because the demand is so great, a mid-career designer with an associate degree can transition to a full-fledged programmer. They can end up programming the equipment they used to just design.”
Find what works for you
Experience is one of the best ways to know what's right for you. And the earlier in your career, the better. Contract work can help.
With contracts that average between one and two years, you can get a sense of a sector without committing to it long-term.
Thurman’s final advice? Follow opportunities, not money.
“In this field, the money will come. Look for positions where you’ll be working with the best people and the best organizations. That’s where you’ll develop your skills and grow.”