RF engineers hold about 52,300 jobs, making this one of the smallest segments of the engineering community. This number is expected to increase 9% by the end of 2019. An increasing number of RF engineers are employed on a contract basis - some of whom are self-employed - working independently as consultants (<8%). Consulting opportunities for RF engineers should grow as businesses need help designing, developing, implementing, upgrading, testing and customizing increasingly complex radio products and RF systems. Software defined radio skills are in incredible demand by both commercial and defense sector suppliers.
RF Engineer Salaries
RF engineer salary range for the middle 50% is between $69,820 and $118,550. RF engineer salaries for the lowest 10% are less than $52,410. RF engineer salaries for the highest 10% are more than $145,630. Median annual RF engineer salary in the industries employing the largest numbers are:
Computer, networking and office equipment: $88,780
Engineering contract services (government clients): $80,120
Professional, defense and consumer products: $91,470
RF engineer starting salary for BSEE degrees (89%, 11% other degrees) that decided to pursue a career in RF engineering average $65,320. New MSEE graduates have an average starting salary of $71,830; and new PhDs have an average starting salary of $92,940 nationwide.
The highest RF Engineer starting salaries are on the west coast (CA), many in the high $80s -- mainly due to higher cost of living. The highest consistent offers are concentrated in CA, DC, VA, MD, NY and TX. Many employers offer premium incentives (starting bonus) for advanced degrees. A starting bonus for BS level new hires is not uncommon, as well as a year end performance bonus (usually both for well experienced candidates).
Stability and salary for RF Engineers has improved consistently over the past 9 years, and is forecasted to continue through 2019. Defense and commercial companies are seeking experienced hands-on RF engineers and RF engineering managers that have specifically architected, designed and developed systems --- rather than having spec'ed, used or maintained them.
RF Engineering Employment Outlook
RF engineer opportunities are projected to grow steadily through 2019 - in terms of both salary and number of job opportunities.
Rapid growth in RF product development should result in opportunities for experienced RF Engineers that have hands-on experience developing products. All indicators point to continuing strong requirements for RF engineers that are keeping their skills current.
RF engineer employment is expected to increase much faster than the average for most non-engineering and engineering occupations - as companies continue to adopt and integrate new technologies. In addition to employment growth, many openings will result annually from the need to replace workers who move into managerial positions, transfer to other areas (research, sales or marketing), or who leave the labor force.
As RF requirements in consumer products, telecom, networking, instrumentation, biomedical, government, defense sector and other settings continue to become more complex and feature rich - companies will require a growing number of qualified RF engineering professionals who can keep them competitive. Consulting opportunities for software engineers concentrating in RF applications (like software defined radios, Radar, antenna design) also should continue to grow as firms increasingly need outside help on a short duration basis to enhance their products, and integrate new technologies and standards.
Another strong growth area is a subset - development of RF design tools that help other engineers visualize the performance of radio-frequency blocks. Capitalizing on two trends: the popularity of all things wireless and the availability of more-powerful computing platforms that are able to simulate the performance of much larger complex circuits. Complicated by multiple modulation schemes and constantly changing industry and government standards, RF tools have become proficient at simulating behavior on an architectural level. Any RF engineer with a background in both hands-on RF design and software development will continue to be in high demand.
A major growth factor will be companies in the defense sector, working on long term contracts for the federal government. Military and intelligence agencies, including homeland security, are increasingly outsourcing RF research, design, testing and development to private sector defense companies. With 22 federal government departments, and the United States military, contracting RF design to private sector companies, coupled with the increased demand for secure short and long range communications, RF engineering opportunities abound. Current national contracts range from VLF to SHF and microwave.
An RF Engineer with a Secret or Top Secret clearance, and can typically add a salary differential of about 5 to 6% to reported salaries.
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