Electronics Careers Outlook
Approximately 1.3 million Americans were employed in the computer electronic equipment manufacturing industry in 2004. Overall employment in this industry is projected by the U.S. Department of Labor to decline by 7 percent through 2014. The greatest employment declines will occur in the following industry segments: computer and peripheral equipment (–17.5 percent), and semiconductor and other electronic components (–11.7 percent).
Manufacturing and reproducing magnetic and optical media is predicted to decline by 0.2 percent. Contributing factors to the decline include the continuing automation of manufacturing processes and the trend for U.S. electronics companies to move their production and assembly operations to lower-wage countries, such as those in the Pacific Rim. Only one industry segment—navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments (+4.2 percent)—is expected to experience employment growth through 2014.
Growth will also vary among the different types of jobs in the industry. More growth is expected among the professional specialty occupations, such as scientists, engineers, and computer systems analysts. This is because of the increasing sophistication of technology and manufacturing processes as well as the competitive nature of the industry, which leads to strong efforts in research and development. Production positions will decline due to increasing technological advancements in manufacturing and outsourcing of positions to plants that are located in foreign countries.
The electronics industry is extremely susceptible to economic conditions, both within the United States and around the world. Global competition is increasing, and many U.S. manufacturers are joining in partnerships with foreign companies, most notably Japanese companies, in order to succeed. The environment is extremely competitive and is expected to remain so in the future.
Employment opportunities within individual companies will be significantly affected by those companies’ efforts to remain competitive. Many companies reduced their workforces during the 1990s in order to have leaner staffs and less operating expenses. Radical changes are not unusual as a company drops one product line, adds another, or gears down after a large project. For example, a large company may lay off a large number of workers in one area of the company, while at the same time it may hire new employees for a different area. Electronics professionals can expect to change jobs and companies several times during their careers. In order to succeed, professionals will need to acquire multiple skills, have a strong technical foundation, and stay up to date on changing technologies.
The use of electronic components in automobiles has been growing steadily since the early 1990s. In the late 1970s, electronic parts made up only about 1 percent of the total cost of an automobile. Today, depending upon the make and model, electronic components account for between 8 and 15 percent of an automobile’s cost.
Electronic navigational systems are also being used by the automotive industry, as well as many other industries. These systems are based on technology developed by the Department of Defense for its global positioning system, a satellite-based navigational system used for military purposes (and now also available to the general public). Some automobiles are now equipped with electronic navigational systems that use satellite-tracking systems to guide them to their destinations. Equipment includes a computer screen and both visual and audio prompts.
Another electronic navigational technology being developed is an enhanced vision system that allows airplane pilots to “see” through weather through the use of electronic sensors that create high-resolution radar imagery.
Home theater products represent another rapidly growing area of consumer electronic products. Many U.S. households have the basic equipment for a home theater: big-screen TV, VCR or DVD player, and stereo system. Projection televisions with screens as big as 70 inches are popular items, as are combined television/ VCR/DVD products. Larger screens are expected in the near future. Another recently developed personal audio/ visual product is the HDTV (high-definition television). HDTV uses digital technology to produce twice the picture resolution of the traditional televisions. HDTV can also display computer graphics and show movies in their original widescreen height-to-width ratio. This industry sector continues to evolve rapidly.
The computer industry is a leader in creating technologically advanced products. There are now more than 227 million Internet users in North America, with 55 percent of Internet users having broadband access at home or work. Computer and semiconductor companies are constantly working on developing lighter, smaller, and more efficient electronic components that can be used in computers and related products. Before a product even comes out, engineers and scientists are working on creating a faster and better version. One of the new products being developed is a graphics/multimedia chip that will offer full-screen, full-motion video, DVD-quality sound, and 64-bit graphics.
Software developers and electrical and electronics engineers have created new products that allow electronic banking and electronic shopping. Other technological innovations include electronic printing. Digital printing technology, first developed in 1993, allows information to be transported electronically and reduces many of the equipment and material costs associated with printing.
There should be increased opportunities in the development of military electronics. The Defense Appropriations Bill for fiscal year 2005 provided $355.4 billion in new discretionary spending authority for the Department of Defense, $38.2 billion more than was made available for 2001. Portions of the budget have been earmarked for surveillance and reconnaissance, missile defense systems, and development of new fighter aircraft, all requiring the expertise of electronics scientists, engineers, and computer specialists.
Careers in Electronics:
- Aeronautical and Aerospace Technicians
- Aerospace Engineers
- Appliance Service Technicians
- Audio Recording Engineers
- Avionics Engineers and Technicians
- Biomedical Engineers
- Broadcast Engineers
- Cable Television Technicians
- Communications Equipment Technicians
- Computer-Aided Design Drafters and Technicians
- Computer and Electronics Sales Representatives
- Computer and Office Machine Service Technicians
- Computer Programmers
- Electrical and Electronics Engineers
- Electronics Engineering Technicians
- Electronics Service Technicians
- Energy Transmission and Distribution Workers
- Industrial Engineering Technicians
- Industrial Engineers
- Instrument Makers and Repairers
- Instrumentation Technicians
- Laboratory Testing Technicians
- Mechanical Engineering Technicians
- Mechanical Engineers
- Metallurgical Engineers
- Metallurgical Technicians
- Microelectronics Technicians
- Robotics Engineers and Technicians
- Semiconductor Technicians
Related Career Fields:
- Computer Hardware
- Computer Science
- Computer Software
- Music and Recording Industry
For More Information:
- Computer Science Careers
- Electronic Components Industry Association
- Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)
- Technology Student Association