September 1957 Radio & TV News
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early
electronics. See articles from
Radio & Television News, published 1919-1959. All copyrights hereby
"Unprecedented openings for non-engineers result from industry growth
and shortage of skilled men." Thus goes the subtitle for a magazine
article pitching the promises of a career in electronics technology.
It came at a time that predated throw-away everything rather than
attempting to repair stuff. It was before the term 'personal device'
(aka 'throw-away') had been coined. It was before placards warning
"No user serviceable parts inside" were routinely stuck on practically
every item purchasable in a department store. It was a time when
people took stuff apart to see how it works, and were actually able
to figure it out because parts were large enough to see and actually
moved, and even printed circuit boards could be deciphered since
trances were on the two outside surfaces and components had leads.
The radar systems I worked on while in the
are a perfect example of the transition between component level
circuit repair and module/board swapping. The 1950s-era vacuum tube
portions with point-to-point wiring required real troubleshooting
and repair skills. The newer 1970s-era transistorized IFF synthetic
radar (the system that puts alphanumeric squawk codes on the air
traffic controllers' displays) were designed to be troubleshot to
the board level, but often if time permitted we to the initiative
and went onto the PCB. We figured if we ever found ourselves in
an actual battle situation with a crippled supply line that it would
be good o have honed the skill. Fortunately, our shop NCOIC had
the same philosophy. Yeah, I know, "Stop living in the past," you
might say. I don't, and I enjoy the benefits of modern technology,
but I do miss some of the simplicity of yesteryear.
Career Opportunities in Electronics
By Walter H. Buchsbaum
Television Consultant. Radio & TV News
Unprecedented openings for non-engineers result from industry
growth and shortage of skilled men.
Prospective field service engineers and technicians for
Remington Rand check and adjust computers and related equipment
under supervision during training period
The most serious obstacle to the current expansion of our technology
is the shortage of technically skilled people. Educators, industrialists,
and government officials are continually deploring the lack of engineers
and scientists, especially in those fields which have grown most
rapidly. The electronic industry has developed so fast since World
War II that the manpower problem is now quite acute.
In this field, the shortage of trained personnel is further aggravated
by the rapid growth of the industry and its branching out into so
many diversified fields. In 1938 the radio-receiver manufacturers
were the major employers of electronic engineers and technicians.
Today aircraft companies, business-machine manufacturers, and others
dominate the employment advertising columns.
It is difficult for one not actively engaged in this gigantic,
many-faceted field to realize the tremendous variety of work going
on. Some old-time radio amateurs are amazed when they see a K-band
radar unit or an industrial heat-sealing machine and realize that,
basically, these devices are related to their own rigs. Hi-fi enthusiasts
are often surprised to learn that amplifier characteristics, similar
to those in their home music systems, are also measured in computing
amplifiers, servo systems, and radar display devices.
The current shortage of technical personnel in the electronics
field cannot be solved overnight by any magic formula. It can be
relieved gradually by increased emphasis on science teaching in
elementary and high schools, by an increase in various scholarships,
and, of course, by further improvement in the salary scale of both
professional and non-professional people. Engineering salaries have
been increased considerably during the past five years and the wages
of technicians have risen similarly. The trend has shown no signs
of petering out.
This chart indicates the wide variety of career opportunities
open to technicians with electronics background and experience
but without degrees. Numbered grades are explained in text.
Much has been written recently about steps taken to increase
the supply of engineers. One of the most practical steps proposed
has been the use of the available engineers in the type of work
for which they are particularly qualified and only in those positions.
This means that posts have to be created for engineering aides,
technicians, and other personnel-people who have some but not necessarily
all of the technical qualifications of the engineer. Many companies
have instituted reorganizations in this direction. The "help wanted"
ads in this magazine are witness to this trend.
It is not enough to upgrade or relocate technicians and engineers
already employed in the industry. Rather, additional personnel is
needed. Some new employees are often recruited from the graduating
classes of technical schools on various levels, but a great source
of skilled, competent personnel still lies untapped. The circulation
of this magazine, for example, exceeds 250,000 copies a month. In
this vast group alone there will be some qualified individuals who
are not yet employed in the electronics industry. There may be many
others who are working in some branch where their skills are not
fully realized. Those who have some technical knowledge, but for
one reason or another, are working outside the industry; those who
are dissatisfied with their present positions in the industry; those
who want to get ahead; those who are thinking of entering the electronics
field will all find some helpful information in this article.
In the accompanying table, we have tried to show the variety
of career opportunities open to non-graduate personnel in the electronics
industry. Engineering graduates today are in a favorable position
but technicians have generally been wooed much less vigorously and
only by a small segment of the industry. For that reason many qualified
non-engineers feel that their services are not in demand or that
only such popular fields as TV servicing and hi-fi work are open
to them. The table presented here should serve to show the true
possibilities for a career in electronics for other than graduate
By common understanding, a graduate engineer is a person having
at least a bachelor degree in electrical engineering or some related
field. In the table, we have considered only those jobs which do
not require any college degree and which can be filled by persons
with less knowledge and experience. (In some positions, an engineering
degree is preferred but equivalent experience is acceptable. Such
jobs have not been included.) The table of career opportunities
presented here is based on average earnings and average ability.
We know of many instances where non-graduates have achieved high
engineering status by practical knowledge, experience, and outstanding
ability, and now hold top positions in the electronics industry.
The same holds true for civil service, where tests are often substituted
for college education.
To give some idea of technical knowledge and its value in a job,
we have selected eight arbitrary levels of competence. It is assumed
that the knowledge or skills of lower levels are possessed by a
person rated at a higher competence level. When a technician is
capable of simple circuit design, for example, we assume he knows
how to solder, how to read the color codes, and understands basic
Naturally the list cannot fit each individual exactly, nor are
the grades shown under "qualifications" in the table fixed. Often
a person of lower qualifications is accepted for a job because he
shows promise or is concurrently engaged in some study which will
increase his knowledge.
Despite the fact that no absolute classification of qualifications
can be applied in every single case, the following eight-grade breakdown
for electronics personnel who do not have engineering degrees will
be extremely useful in most instances:
Grade 1 - Knows wiring and assembling; can operate simple machine
Grade 2 - Understands circuit diagrams; knows electrical components,
units, and systems of measurement.
Grade 3 - Knows radio theory as taught in trade schools; can
service equipment according to detailed instructions.
Grade 4 - Can construct and test simple devices from circuit
Grade 5 - Can design simple circuits from technical texts; knows
algebra and trigonometry.
Grade 6 - Has graduated from a 2-year course at a technical institute.
Grade 7 - Has 5 or more years experience as a technician in lab
work or servicing or has equivalent military experience.
Grade 8 - Has 3 or more years experience as a junior engineer
in the industry.
TV broadcast technicians and cameramen, as part of their
training, use mobile equipment during a practice pickup.
An engineer pans the camera of a self-contained flying
TV transmitting station built into the cabin of a helicopter.
Pre-flight check of air electronic gear.
A technician in a naval radio station operates code perforating
A sound technician, at work in a studio control booth,
is adjusting program material on a broadcast audio console.
George Bryan demonstrates an experimental model voice-operated
radio transmitter at the Signal Corps Engineering Laboratory.
The impact of the sound waves from a speaker's voice powers
the electronic signal. Jobs involving interesting new equipment
such as this transmitter are open in various branches of
The grade into which an individual falls at this time is not
necessarily a permanent limitation to how far he can go: there are
many ways in which he can improve his qualifications while working
at a particular level so that he may pass on to higher positions,
especially with prevailing conditions in the industry. Many of the
larger manufacturing and developing firms conduct schools for technicians
which, after a few years' work, lead to better positions and even
recognition as engineers. Most electronics companies grant time
off with pay for employees attending evening school. Lockheed Aircraft,
for example, permits qualified technicians to attend college during
two days a week while working the remaining time at regular pay.
Tuition for relevant courses is paid for entirely by many employers,
while others pay a portion of it.
Positions Not Listed
The positions listed in the table are by no means all that are
available in the industry, but rather the most common and most accessible
jobs have been selected. There is an entire range of jobs open in
the electronic sales field, for example. Here the important qualifications
include sales ability and some technical knowledge of product. The
salesman for a parts distributor will have to know something about
electronics in order to understand, at least roughly, what the various
parts are. When selling relays, the salesman should really know
something about relays as well as sales. Usually an alert person
can learn enough about a product in a short training period and,
if he has sales ability, can do very well.
Another area in the electronics industry in which many chances
occur is that involving various clerical and administrative functions.
In each instance, a knowledge of at least some branch of electronics
is helpful, but the major qualifications are of a different nature.
The expediter or general office worker who has some background,
say, in amateur radio, will easily fit into the purchasing, administrative,
or stock-control department of an electronic firm. Such positions
generally pay slightly better than general office work but, since
they are not really of a technical nature, we have omitted them
from the table. We have also omitted those positions which are found
in any other manufacturing or servicing firm, such as accountants,
office managers, carpenters, painters, machinists, and electricians.
In the table we have listed most of the active fields in the
electronics industry and have shown what positions, duties, and
approximate wages are offered in each. We have used the field of
"Electronic Equipment Manufacturer" to illustrate in some detail
the various positions available with companies making such specialized
electronic equipment as business machines, radio, hi-fi equipment,
etc. The "Electronic Equipment Manufacturer" may be a firm specializing
in making test equipment for other manufacturers, an aircraft firm
now engaged in developing its own electronic flight control equipment,
or a division of a locomotive factory engaged in making railroad
electronic gear. It is impossible to list all types of firms which
have some electronics department, but it is a safe bet that almost
every sizable manufacturer in any field either has or soon will
have one. We know of textile firms which have electronic labs and
cigarette manufacturers, glass makers, lumber companies, food processors,
breweries, and practically every other industry have connections
with electronics today. In addition to the fields listed in the
table, any other company which has an electronics department will
have jobs for technically qualified personnel, but usually those
companies cannot offer the inexperienced person as much training
or advancement as the type of organization listed in the table.
A few words might be said about the annual income given in the
table for various positions. These figures are average and do not
take into account regional variations, overtime, travel pay, relocation
allowances, and other benefits. In general, the fringe benefits
offered are very similar throughout the industry. Hospitalization
policies, insurance, vacation, and sick leave are universal. In
many places, tuition, retirement funds, and additional insurance
There are two important occupations which require some knowledge
of electronics, but also lean heavily on other talents. One is that
of the technical writer, who is presently in short supply. This
position requires some technical knowledge and an ability to write
factual accounts. Straight forward exposition is more important
than ability at fiction or poetry. The other is that of draftsman.
This usually requires that the person has taken a course in drafting,
at least. Some background in mechanics often is helpful to obtain
promotions from draftsman to designer, a job usually performed by
mechanical engineers in most manufacturing setups.
How to Get Training
Enticing as the various career opportunities in the electronics
industry are, they cannot be achieved without some training. In
general it is safe to state that the more training a person has,
the better his job and the higher his pay will be. It is, as was
shown before, often possible to get additional training while working
in the industry. However, in order to start, some previous background
is important. We know of one young man who started 12 years ago
as an assembler, being taught on the job how to use a soldering
iron, and gradually, through correspondence school and, later, evening
college, obtained a master's degree. He now is a department head
at a large military electronics firm. Such careers are open to the
ambitious and able person in almost any field, but the rapid growth
in the electronics industry tends to encourage such advancement.
To young people of high-school age we would advise, if possible,
attendance at a vocational high school. If this is not feasible,
at least take as many physics and mathematics courses as possible
in the school you are attending. Correspondence courses in radio
and TV theory are invaluable in getting started in this field, although
they are of less value to an employer if the applicant does not
have any practical experience to go with the theory. Today many
firms realize that a person who takes a correspondence course and
then actually starts servicing radio and TV sets shows not only
technical ability but aptitude and determination which recommend
him for further training. Such courses are a good start for an electronics
career, but should be backed up with practical experience as soon
An alternative to correspondence courses or supplementary to
such training is attendance at a trade school teaching some branch
of electronics. At the present time, there are a number of technical
schools that offer a six-month course in radio and an additional
three-month course in TV, coupled with construction and testing
of actual receivers. Such courses are particularly valuable for
the person who did not graduate from high school or whose aptitude
for any form of mathematics is slight.
Technical institutes offer, in addition to shorter courses, a
full two-year course which is equivalent to at least two years of
college work. This type of education is just a little short of an
actual engineering degree in that it gives the student sufficient
theoretical background to understand almost all engineering literature
and permits him to use manuals and references for actual design
of electronic equipment.
The graduate from one of these two-year technical-institute courses
will find ready employment and excellent prospects for advancement.
It should be pointed out, however, that this type of training introduces
the student to basic calculus, algebra, vector analysis, and complex
numbers as well as to electromagnetic theory, physics, and some
In addition to technical institutes, there are also junior colleges
which offer two-year courses, some giving a degree of Associate
in Science at graduation. Another means of getting a technical background
at a higher level is provided by the engineering colleges which
offer part or all of their curriculum by mail, usually with some
provision for a short residence at school prior to graduation. Such
training is generally not accepted as equivalent to a full four-year
engineering college, but it will qualify the graduate for many good
positions in the electronics industry.
Many states sponsor or offer vocational training in some branch
of electronics and, depending on the length of study, the person
graduating from such a school will be qualified for various ones
of the career opportunities listed in the table. The electronics
training offered in the armed services is rather specialized, but
gives a good background and often serves as the stepping stone to
further training and better jobs. In some instances, it is possible
to utilize military training to the fullest by working for a firm
which makes the type of equipment for which the service training
was given. We know of quite a few technicians, field service engineers,
and junior engineers who are currently working for a civilian contractor
on the same type of radar gear, fire control systems, or other devices
which they were taught to operate during their military service.
Whatever the origins of a person's technical knowledge may be,
unless this knowledge is kept up-to-date, it can quickly become
useless. The old-time radio amateur will hardly recognize some of
the subminiaturized components, novel circuitry, and plug-in assemblies
which make up transmitters today, even though basic radio theory
has not changed. Probably the best way to keep abreast of new developments
is by reading. Keeping up with technical magazines, books, and manufacturers'
literature is indispensable for everyone in such a fast-moving industry.
This is recognized by management and it is customary to circulate
periodicals and other literature to all technical personnel. Most
fair-sized companies maintain technical libraries, and reading up
on something is not considered a sign of ignorance but rather an
indication of professional procedure. The value of studying textbooks
at home, over and above any courses, cannot be over estimated. Anyone
in the electronics industry who wants to get ahead should devote
at least a few hours every week to reading some technical literature.
Aside from the direct information it presents, it also trains the
reader in the logical thinking required in any technical work.
In conclusion, we would like to urge those with some qualifications
who are not yet a part of electronics to enter it professionally,
and also encourage those who are in it already to investigate the
possibility of advancing themselves, for their own good and for
that of the industry. Our investigations indicate that your present
work is not making full use of your abilities and that you are ready
to advance into more difficult but also more satisfactory work.
Support for this conclusion is provided by the personnel manager
of a well-known electronics firm: he confides that 90 percent of
all job applicants under-rate themselves as far as technical ability
is concerned. His estimate is substantiated by the face that practically
all technical people in his organization have achieved substantial
promotion during the first year. While increasing technical knowledge
is important to career development, the environment for acquiring
while working in the industry could not be more favorable than it
Editor's Note: Readers of this article
will also be interested in "Employment in the Computer Field" and
"The Men We Hire," which appear elsewhere in this issue.
Posted May 7, 2014