How to Become an Electrical Systems Engineer


Although there are other paths to take, the most common way to become an electrical systems engineer is to follow these essential steps:


1. Make sure you have the right personal traits for this profession

2. Pursue a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering

3. Get work experience as a student via internship and co-op opportunities

4. Get an entry-level job in distribution planning after graduation

5. Earn the Professional Engineer designation

6. Advance into senior-level roles, management roles, or consultancy as you gain experience


Below we've expanded on these points to give you a complete idea of what you'll need to become an electrical systems engineer in the United States or Canada. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as what you’ll be doing, what you could earn, and a list of job postings in your area!



What Education Will I Need?

You typically need a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering or a related field to be considered for jobs in this field. Some employers might require a master’s or doctoral degree, particularly for research or teaching positions. 


A degree program in electrical engineering will help prepare you for both the technical and the theoretical aspects of work in this profession. Most electrical engineering programs also have internship or co-op work placements built into their curriculum, so you will graduate with practical experience under your belt.





What Courses Should I Take in High School?

Excelling at math (calculus, algebra, geometry), physics, environmental studies and electronics/electrical studies will serve as excellent preparation for this career while you’re a high school student. Be sure to absorb as much information as you can and get good grades in these areas if you have the opportunity to take any of these courses. 


Success Tip: Excelling at coursework and gaining experience in these areas will help prepare you for the work involved in this career at an early age, and will help you qualify for electrical engineering degree programs!



What Experience Will I Need?

Most entry-level electrical systems engineering jobs don’t require any work experience above what you gain as part of an internship while completing your engineering degree. 


Entry-level jobs may consist of assisting with collecting data on electrical system requirements, determining the efficiency of power generators and conducting field surveys to identify power system problems. 


Mid and senior-level roles often require 3-5 years of experience working in lower level roles, with progressive amounts of responsibility in those roles, as well as Professional Engineer certification. 



What Licensure/Certification Will I Need?

You will need to be licensed as a Professional Engineer (“PE” - United States; “P.Eng.” - Canada) in order to exercise direct control of a public project and to supervise other engineers and engineering technicians. 


You will also need to have the PE/P.Eng. designation in order to sell your own engineering services publicly.


Most entry-level distribution planning engineer jobs won’t require you to have the Professional Engineer designation. In such cases, you would work under the supervision of a licensed engineer.



How to Become Licensed

Licensing requirements typically involve completion of an accredited engineering degree, completion of a set number of supervised working hours, and passing an exam, or series of exams. However, these requirements can vary, so please contact your provincial/territorial/state engineering association for full details on becoming licensed.



What is an Electrical Systems Engineer?

Electrical systems engineers research, design, develop, install and test electrical systems for commercial, residential or industrial use. Their main responsibility is to plan out the wiring architecture and electrical components for these systems. With experience, they typically become more deeply involved in project management.



What Do They Do?

Although their responsibilities and duties can vary from job to job, electrical systems engineers are generally responsible for the following:


• Gaining a through understanding of a client's needs by discussing the project with them

• Preparing technical drawings and specifications of electrical systems, possibly using computer aided design (CAD) software

• Planning and implementing research methods

• Applying findings of research and electrical theory to electrical systems engineering projects

• Investigating customer or public complaints and determining the nature and extent of problems

• Recommending solutions to problems verbally or in writing

• Preparing specifications for purchases of materials or equipment

• Estimating project costs, such as labour, material and equipment rental





Should I Become an Electrical Systems Engineer? 

If you have the following personal traits you'll not only be well suited for the work of an electrical systems engineer, you’ll be a standout:


• You have a natural aptitude in science and mathematics

• You have a keen interest in electrical systems and engineering principles

• You’re interested in seeing a project through from conception to completion and troubleshooting

• You’re committed to staying ‘current’ with relevant technological innovations (no pun intended!)

• You're willing to work overtime when required, and possibly travel for work

• You can work effectively with a small team for the duration of a project

• You approach your work with confidence, and can install that confidence in clients

• You have a client-centered approach to projects 

• You’re mindful of how the total costs to perform services affects company/client decisions

• You’re willing to learn to live by your employers’ values and codes of conduct



What is the Average Salary in This Line of Work?

Electrical Systems Engineers belong to the "Electronics and Electrical Engineers" occupational group. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans working in this occupational group earn a median salary of $95,230 per year. The amount they earn can vary based on numerous factors, including level of education, experience, region in which they work, and many others. 



More About Salary Levels

The salary you could earn as an electrical systems engineer can vary based on many factors, including:


• Your level of education, experience and certification

• The level of responsibility involved in your job

• The size and type of your employer

• The region in which you work

• The industry in which you work

• If you receive any medical, dental, vision, profit sharing, and/or retirement benefits

• Many other factors


Salary - Canada: According to the 2018 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, the overall average salary of Albertans working in the “Electrical and Electronics Engineers” occupational group is $98,528 per year. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available from reliable sources for other Canadian provinces or territories at the time of writing (June 28, 2019).


Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall median salary level of Americans working in the “Electrical and Electronics Engineers" occupational group is $95,230 per year.



Current Job Postings

Our job board below has electrical systems engineer postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, when available:



What Career Advancement Opportunities Are There?

If you’re willing to constantly learn and improve your craft and expand your knowledge, then you'll see plenty of career advancement opportunities.


With a proven track record of success (and possibly additional education and certification) you could move into project management roles, work in research, work in teaching, or become a self-employed engineering consultant.


Success Tip: With additional education, you could also move into closely related and more lucrative fields, such as computer systems engineering.



What Careers Are Similar to This One?

Listed below are careers that are in the same field, or involve many of the same skills, competencies and/or responsibilities as 'electrical systems engineer':


• Circuit Designer

• Computer Systems Engineer

• Electrical Engineer

• Electrician

• Instrumentation & Control Engineer

• Military Engineer



What Relevant Scholarships Are There? 

The “Majors in Our Database Relevant for this Career” section below lists fields of study that are relevant to this profession. You can search for relevant scholarships by finding those majors on our  “Electrical Engineering Scholarships” page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!




Please consult the following resources to learn more about what it takes to become an electrical systems engineer:


• Occupational Profile: “Electrical Engineer.” (n.d.). Alberta Government - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved February 18, 2017.

• Occupational Outlook Handbook: “Electrical and Electronics Engineers.” (n.d.). United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved February 18, 2017.

• Job Profiles: “Electrical Engineers.” (December 6, 2016). National Careers Service. Retrieved February 18, 2017.


Please Note: Much of the information used for this career guide was sourced from actual “Electrical Systems Engineer” job postings, which due to their brief online nature, are not listed here as references. 



Majors in Our Database Relevant for this Career

We have career guides for over 60 university majors in our database. Below we've outlined those that are most relevant to this line of work. Click on the links to see what else you can do with these majors!


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