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Electronics Industry Job Descriptions, Careers in the Electronics Industry, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Industry, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Electronic devices are used in every sector of the modern economy. The industry employs over a million people in developing, manufacturing, and selling electronic equipment and devices. Plants manufacturing such equipment are located all over the country, although most of them are in eight states: California, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Jersey, and Texas. About 34 percent of all workers in this field work for companies that make electronic components, such as semiconductors, electronic coils, and transformers or electronic connectors. Computers, communications equipment, navigational systems, and other electronic equipment are sold to the government, businesses, and industries to be used in transportation and data processing and in automated production systems. Television sets, digital cameras, wireless telephones, and personal computers are some of the many electronic products sold to consumers.

The largest group of workers in the electronics industry have formal training in a variety of technical and professional areas. Before an electronic product can be manufactured and offered for sale, a good deal of work goes into research and development. Much of this research is done by scientists, including physicists, chemists, and mathematicians. Engineers apply the scientific research to specific production problems. Electrical engineers make up the largest group of engineers in the industry, but the field also employs mechanical, chemical, and metallurgical engineers. Working with engineers and managers, industrial designers determine what a product will look like. The largest segment of the industry's professional and technical workers consists of computer specialists, who work in areas from the design of new products to programming the computers that control automated manufacturing processes. Other technical workers, such as electronics technicians, drafters, and engineering aides, also assist the scientists, engineers, and designers.

About 31 percent of all workers in electronics manufacturing have plant jobs in production, maintenance, and related areas. The largest group of employees consists of assemblers who put together components and finished products. Assemblers usually use small tools, soldering irons, and light welding equipment and follow printed diagrams or instructions. Less-skilled assemblers perform repetitive tasks on assembly lines that require manual dexterity. As more and more assembly processes are automated, assemblers often supervise the machinery that does the actual assembly of products.

The electronics industry employs more than one million people in developing, manufacturing, and selling electronic equipment and devices. (© Brownie Harris/Corbis.)

Many workers in the industry manufacture semiconductor crystals and wafers that are used in electronic equipment. Crystal growers, crystal grinders, and crystal finishers produce basic semiconductor material. Epitaxial reactor technicians and epitaxial reactor operators use computer-controlled equipment to deposit a layer of this semiconductor material onto a wafer surface. Etcher-strippers then immerse the wafers in chemical baths to etch circuitry patterns onto them. The electrical characteristics of these wafers can be changed by diffusion furnace operators, who use the furnaces to spread chemicals through the wafers.

Other workers in the industry process parts or get them ready for assembly. Tinners and electroplaters, for example, coat metal or plastic parts with a thin coating of metal. Anodizers treat these parts in special baths that leave a protective or decorative film. Silkscreen printers place decorative patterns or instructive diagrams on electronic equipment. Etching equipment operators sometimes etch copper on circuit boards. Other special workers employed in the electronics industry include operators of infrared ovens and hydrogen furnaces, who remove any moisture or foreign matter left on glass, ceramic, or metal parts. Exhaust operators and sealers tend gas flame machines that remove impurities from tubes, take out the gases, and seal up the tubes.

Electronic assembly inspectors check the products after they have assembled them to make sure the products meet the company's standards. Some inspectors are experienced electronics technicians, while others are less-skilled workers. Inspectors and testers are needed at all phases of electronics manufacturing. Maintenance workers, such as industrial machinery repairers and electricians, repair and maintain manufacturing and electrical equipment. In addition, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics are needed to maintain the special temperature-controlled, dust-free rooms found in many electronics plants.

The electronics industry also employs many office workers, from high-level executives to file clerks and typists. Many office workers work in areas such as advertising, personnel, sales, and market research.

Education and Training Requirements

You do not usually need any special training to get a production job in the electronics industry because most plants provide on-the-job training. You may have to pass an aptitude test, however, because many jobs require finger dexterity, good vision, and good coordination. Workers in some skilled trades learn their jobs after many years of experience as helpers. Others train in a three- to four-year apprenticeship program that combines classroom instruction with on-the-job training. Drafters and other technicians are usually graduates of a two-year program in a college or technical school. Engineers and scientists need a bachelor's degree in their field. Those in research and development positions often need a master's or doctoral degree in electrical engineering or a related field.

Getting the Job

You can get a job in the electronics industry by applying directly to plants that make electronic equipment. Sometimes openings for plant workers are listed in newspaper want ads or on a sign outside the plant. Your high school, technical school, or college placement office may be able to give you information about getting a job in the electronics industry. Your state employment office may also know of job openings.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

With experience, plant workers can become supervisors or laboratory assistants. With further training, electronics technicians sometimes advance to other types of positions, such as in engineering. Professional workers can advance within their department or move into administrative or executive jobs.

The job outlook in the electronics industry is poor. Although business, consumer, and government demand for electronic products is projected to grow through 2014, jobs in the industry are anticipated to decline because of competition from imports, outsourcing of jobs to other countries, and productivity increases that are expected to enable companies to produce more products with fewer workers. The demand for engineers, scientists, and technicians is anticipated to decline at a lower rate than the demand for production workers, and the need to replace retiring workers, particularly in the areas of research and development, should continue to provide job opportunities in the industry.

Working Conditions

Working conditions in electronics plants are generally good. Most plants are modern, clean, and quiet. Although the work is not strenuous, some assembly line jobs tend to be monotonous. The workweek is usually forty hours long. Many plant workers in the electronics industry belong to labor unions.

Where to Go for More Information

Electronic Industries Association
2500 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22201
(703) 907-7500

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, AFL-CIO, CLC
900 Seventh St., NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 833-7000

International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers–Communications Workers of America
1126 Sixteenth St., NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 513-6300

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings vary depending on the location and the type of product being manufactured, and for technicians, on their education and experience. Benefits often include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pensions.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesManufacturing & Production