The automotive industry has always been fueled by radical innovation. Today’s automotive industry is no different, as we see the stuff of science fiction become reality. Looking at you, autonomous vehicles. These rapid changes bring dynamic opportunities that will advance your career as an electrical engineer, whether you’re already in the automotive industry or interested in joining.
To get the current pulse of the auto world, we sought insight from David Rodriguez, an Aerotek account manager specializing in automotive engineering. Discover the skills, roles and opportunities you’ll want on your radar.
Hybrid and electric cars continue to line the streets, while driverless car technologies start to transform from pipe dreams to reality. And auto suppliers and manufacturers need more electrical engineers to become the latest car tech developers.
If you have a background in avionics, aerospace and maritime, it’s not hard to transfer your electrical skills to the auto industry. You’re in high demand for installing electric engines and the latest features, like automatic high beam control, vehicle-to-vehicle communication for safety and traffic information, automatic emergency braking, collision-warning systems and more.
Job opportunities involve the concepting, designing and building phases of electric, hybrid and traditional cars.
But let’s talk about autonomous vehicles, too — where some basic electrical fundamentals still apply but take on a different form. “With digital processing and cameras, an autonomous vehicle has to map out what's around it at all times so it knows when to stop, go, turn left, turn right and shift gears,” Rodriguez says.
Other popular roles for auto electrical engineers involve 3D design, design verification, electrical distribution systems and circuit engineering.
No matter which way you slice it, though, you’ll need additional knowledge and skills to move up.
To create and maneuver electric and autonomous vehicle technology, the automotive industry needs more experts with technical experience, especially electrification and wireless vehicle-to-vehicle communication skills. Whether you’re already an auto engineer or you’re eager to join an industry that’s pushing into high gear, this technical experience might require more schooling:
You may be thinking: More schooling? But if you want to progress in or transition into the industry, school will get you up to speed on tech.
According to Rodriguez, “Schools do a great job with providing exposure to the way things are now versus how they used to be. You have the ability to take different electives, including electrical engineering courses. Even the people who have been around for five, 10, 15 years have to go out and get more schooling, too.” On top of that, some employers partner with schools to develop curriculum around the skills and expertise they need most.
There’s also a higher chance for better pay, but circumstances can vary. If you get a master’s degree right after a bachelor’s, don’t expect much of a salary increase, though an advanced degree will typically pay off further down your career.
Earning a bachelor’s degree and then getting hands-on experience holds more career value than rushing through more schooling. But those who want to progress into leadership must understand the business side — not just the technical stuff. “Getting real-life experience followed by an MBA could warrant a raise between 5k and 10k, depending on your current salary,” Rodriguez says.
But there are other ways to develop your skills that don’t require as many resources. Attend conferences by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) to learn more about the latest technologies, participate in workshops and join software companies and other tech experts. SAE also offers continuing education courses that train you to work on emerging tech.
What’s more, these conferences are an excellent place to network with professionals already situated at the intersection of technology and automobiles.
SAE conferences are full of — dare we say it — electric energy that bolsters the momentum of this dynamic industry, and you’ll leave equipped with more knowledge to apply on the job.
We know that growing pains come with a drastic change in any field, especially if you’re switching fields entirely. It can take engineers a lot of time and patience to adjust to new skills and roles, but the payoff is joining an exciting, lucrative and fast-growing industry. Consider giving the auto world a go.