Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Green Jobs Series: Careers in Electric Vehicles [Installment Two]

Workers who design and develop electric automobile technology include engineers, engineering technicians, and drafters; software developers; and industrial designers. This installment of The Daily Leap's green job series describes some of the most common jobs in design and development.

Occupations in Design and Development

Design and develop work is the link between scientific research and commercial applications. It takes place in offices, laboratories, or industrial plants, where teams of engineers, designers, scientists, and industrial production managers collaborate to create new processes or devices for the manufacture of electric vehicles—or to improve existing ones.

Job Duties

Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry to design or improve equipment or to devise processes for manufacturing chemicals and products. Because the batteries of electric vehicles store power through chemical processes, chemical engineers are responsible for developing new battery designs and improving current battery technologies. They are also vital in designing equipment and processes for large-scale manufacturing and in planning and testing the methods of battery manufacturing.

Electrical engineers design, develop, test, and supervise the manufacture of electrical components. They are responsible for designing the electrical circuitry that allows a gas engine to charge the battery and distribute the electricity from the battery to the electric motor. Electrical engineers also might work on the heating and air-conditioning systems, vehicle lighting, and visual displays.

Electronics engineers design, develop, and test electronic components and systems for vehicles. These engineers are primarily focused on the control systems and additional electronic components for the vehicle.

Industrial engineers determine the most effective ways to use the basic factors of production—people, machines, materials, information, and energy—to manufacture vehicles. Because many electric vehicles require original manufacturing plans, industrial engineers design innovative manufacturing processes and retool plants that formerly made different models of cars.

Materials engineers are involved in the development, processing, and testing of materials used in electric vehicles. Materials engineers may also incorporate environmentally friendly materials that are derived from plant-based materials or recycled materials.

Mechanical engineers design, develop, and test the tools, engines, machines, and other mechanical devices in electric vehicles. These devices may be components of electric vehicles, or machines that are used in the manufacture or repair of these vehicles. These engineers may focus on engines, electric motors, or other mechanical devices, such as transmissions, drivetrains, or steering systems.

Mechanical engineering technicians assist engineers with solving technical problems in research, development, manufacturing, construction, inspection, and maintenance. They may also help engineers or scientists to make prototypes of newly designed equipment or assist with computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) equipment.

Mechanical drafters prepare detailed drawings, or visual guidelines, that show how to assemble machinery and mechanical devices. Most drafters use CADD systems to prepare drawings.

Software developers design and create software that controls the on-board computers in hybrid and electric vehicles, which produce and distribute the proper amount of electricity or gasoline to power the vehicle in given conditions, as well as when to use the engine to recharge the battery.

Commercial and industrial designers are responsible for the style, function, quality, and safety of vehicles. The designers prepare sketches or diagrams, usually with the aid of computers, and work with engineers and other designers to improve a design.

Education and Training

Engineers typically enter the electric vehicle industry with a bachelor’s degree or higher in engineering. However, some positions require previous experience or an advanced degree. Entry-level engineers may begin their career as an assistant to a more senior engineer until they develop the skills needed to work independently. Engineers are also expected to complete continuing education courses to keep up with rapidly changing technology.

Engineers are usually required to be certified in specific systems and technologies, depending on the systems used by a particular manufacturer. Licensure as a professional engineer (PE) is highly desired by employers and is often required for anything higher than an entry-level position.

Engineering technicians and drafters usually have an associate’s degree or certification from a community college or a technical school. Technicians and drafters participate in on-the-job training and are closely supervised by engineers.

Software developers typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related discipline, combined with experience in computer programming and software design.

Commercial and industrial designers also typically have at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering or industrial design, and they usually receive some on-the-job training.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have wage data specific to the electric vehicle industry. The table shows wages for selected engineers, mechanical engineering technicians, drafters, software developers, and commercial and industrial designers in the transportation equipment manufacturing industry group for May 2010. The wages shown are median annual wages for the United States as a whole; wages vary by employer and location.

Occupation Median annual wage
Chemical engineers $97,480
Electrical engineers $87,580
Electronics engineers, except computer $100,450
Industrial engineers $77,160
Materials engineers $89,000
Mechanical engineers $81,290
Mechanical engineering technicians $52,950
Mechanical drafters $53,840
Software developers, applications $94,680
Commercial and industrial designers $67,790

For more detailed information on design and development occupations in the electric vehicle industry, follow the Occupational Outlook Handbook link.

Thursday's electric vehicle industry series installment: Occupations in Manufacturing

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