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electrical engineering career overview

Electrical Engineer

Electrical engineers work on the production of all types of electrical equipment and machinery, making and testing new equipment, solving operating problems, and remaking or redesigning parts to ensure high quality. Teams of electrical engineers operate and maintain the machinery that supplies electricity from power stations to industries, working premises and private homes. The manufacturing industry depends on electrical engineers, as does the transport industry (railways, ships, aircraft and road vehicles).

Experienced electrical engineers are usually either incorporated engineers who specialise in the day-to-day management of engineering operations or chartered engineers who have a more strategic role, planning, researching and developing new ideas, and streamlining management methods.

The hours worked depend on the project in hand, priorities and deadlines. Electrical engineers sometimes have to work at weekends and at night. They work in offices, factories, workshops, power stations and laboratories.

Salaries may range from around £20,000 to £50,000 a year or more.

Electrical engineers should:

  • have an analytical mind
  • be good at maths
  • have the relevant technical skills
  • be interested in science and technology.

There are opportunities for qualified electrical engineers in a wide range of industries across the UK such as aerospace, marine, chemical, civil, energy and medical.

A degree or equivalent qualification is essential for a professional engineer. There are several routes for entry, but the most popular is to obtain a degree in a relevant subject before starting work. An alternative route to professional engineering status is to begin training for craft or technician-level jobs straight from school or to start with an employer as a technician apprentice. This normally requires GCSEs (A*-C) in English, maths and science or technology. The Diploma in engineering and the Diploma in construction and the built environment may also be relevant.

Following the award of a degree or an HNC/HND, electrical engineers can go on to register with the Engineering Council (ECUK) and work towards professional engineer status as either an Incorporated Engineer (IEng) or a Chartered Engineer (CEng). Electrical engineers are expected to undertake continuing professional development (CPD).

There are promotion routes in all companies for people with the right ability and skills. Some larger companies offer the possibility of overseas work, especially within Europe, Asia and the USA.

An increasing number of chartered electrical engineers now work freelance or on short-term contracts.

 

What is the work like?

Electrical engineers are involved in the research, development and operation of electrical machinery and equipment. They may be concerned with aspects of power generation, transmission, and distribution, including:

  • large power applications, generating and harnessing electrical power
  • researching more efficient power generation systems
  • planning the future development of the electricity supply network
  • examining the advantages and disadvantages of alternative energy sources
  • developing new energy sources such as carbon capture technology (CCT)
  • exploring ways of harnessing the power of the oceans and wind energy.

Electrical engineers also work on the production of all types of electrical equipment and machinery. This involves making and testing new equipment, solving operational problems and redesigning parts to ensure high quality. They may also be involved in servicing and maintaining existing electrical equipment.

Many industries rely heavily on electrical engineers, including the manufacturing industry and the transport industry (railways, ships, aircraft and road vehicles). Electrical engineers are vital in the development of communications, radar and instrumentation systems.

Professional electrical engineers are usually either incorporated or chartered. Incorporated engineers specialise in the day-to-day management of engineering operations. Chartered engineers have a more strategic role, planning, researching and developing new ideas, and streamlining management methods.

Chartered and incorporated electrical engineers may:

  • head a team of engineering staff
  • manage the personnel in a team
  • plan a team's workload
  • be responsible for budget control.

Hours and environment

Most electrical engineers work regular daytime hours, but they have to be flexible. Depending on the project in hand, priorities and deadlines, they may sometimes work at weekends and at night.

The work can take place in almost any environment, including offices, factories, workshops, power stations and laboratories. From time to time they may be involved in outdoor operations involving transport or communications.

Electrical engineers often have to wear protective clothing, including safety equipment, such as boots and hard hats.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • Graduates may start at around £20,000 a year.
  • Experienced electrical engineers may earn around £35,000.
  • The average income for qualified chartered electrical engineers is around £50,000.

Skills and personal qualities

Electrical engineers should:

  • have an analytical mind
  • be good at maths
  • be highly computer literate
  • have a logical approach to problem solving
  • be good with their hands
  • be able to produce and interpret accurate drawings
  • keep up to date with new developments
  • have normal colour vision
  • work well in a team
  • be happy to take on responsibility.

Interests

It helps to have an interest in:

  • science and technology
  • new developments in electrical engineering.

Getting in

There are opportunities for qualified electrical engineers in a wide range of industries including aerospace, marine, agricultural, chemical, civil, energy and medical.

Employers across the UK include local and central government, manufacturers in all industries, research and development companies, IT companies, public utility organisations, such as water, gas and electricity and the armed forces.

Electrical engineers can be employed in a range of functions, including design, marketing, sales and customer support. The growth of computer technology has led to an increased role for electrical engineers in this area of work.

There are jobs throughout the UK and opportunities for working overseas are considerable. Vacancies are advertised in the national press, the professional journals of the engineering institutions and on employer websites.

Entry routes

A degree or equivalent qualification is essential for a professional engineer. There are several routes for entry, but the most popular is to obtain a degree in a relevant subject before starting work. It is also possible to start with a foundation degree or HNC/HND. Relevant subjects would include:

  • physics and applied physics
  • maths
  • computer science
  • electrical engineering.

Some employers may offer gap year employment to suitable students. Graduate Apprenticeships may be available and offer an academic route for those keen to progress quickly to management and research roles with incorporated or chartered status.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology offers:

  • undergraduate and postgraduate engineering and IT scholarships to provide financial support for prospective and current students
  • scholarships and work placements provided by the Power Academy and E3 Academy and supported by partner companies and universities - these offer attractive sponsorship packages to power engineering students
  • travel awards to enable students and young professionals to work abroad, participate in international conferences and undertake study tours.

For degree courses, applicants need at least two A levels, normally including maths and a science subject, and five GCSEs (A*-C), or equivalent qualifications. At many universities, students without the necessary background in science and mathematics may be able to complete an engineering foundation year before starting the full degree course.

An alternative route to professional engineering status is to begin training for craft or technician-level jobs straight from school, often through an apprenticeship. This normally requires GCSEs (A*-C) in English, maths and science or technology. Some schools and colleges offer GCSEs in engineering or manufacturing that, together with mathematics and English, can be accepted. The Diploma in engineering and Diploma in construction and the built environment may also be relevant.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer and, from August 2009, will pay at least £95 per week. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available on the Apprenticeship page on this website, from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) offers a Technical Report Route for individuals who do not have the relevant academic qualifications. Applicants need experience in electrical engineering, including responsibility for initiating and managing projects. The scheme involves writing a technical paper and attending an interview.

Training

Following the award of a degree or an HNC/HND, and after further training with an employer, electrical engineers can go on to register with the Engineering Council (ECUK) as a professional engineer - either Incorporated Engineer (IEng) or Chartered Engineer (CEng).

For professional registration as a chartered engineer, candidates should be members of an institution and register with The Engineering Council. Institution members who inform their institution that they are working towards CEng accreditation will receive support throughout the process.

Electrical engineers are expected to undertake continuing professional development (CPD). This can include attending courses, meetings, workshops and seminars.

The IET offers awards to help women who are studying for incorporated engineer qualifications. Student membership of the IET is available.

Getting on

There are promotion routes in all companies for people with the right ability and skills.

Some larger companies offer the possibility of overseas work, especially within Europe, Asia and the USA.

An increasing number of chartered electrical engineers now work freelance or on short-term contracts.

Further information

Apprenticeships website: www.apprenticeships.org.uk

Diploma website: www.direct.gov.uk/diplomas

Engineering Council UK, 246 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EX. 020 3206 0500. Website: www.engc.org.uk

Enginuity careers website: www.enginuity.org.uk

The Institution of Engineering and Technology, Michael Faraday House, Stevenage SG1 2AY. 01438 313 311. Website www.theiet.org

SEMTA (the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies), 14 Upton Road, Watford WD18 0JT. 01923 238441. Learning helpline: 0800 282167 Website: www.semta.org.uk

SummitSkills, Vega House, Opal Drive, Fox Milne, Milton Keynes MK15 0DF. 01908 303960. Website: www.summitskills.org.uk

WISE (Women Into Science, Engineering and Construction), 2nd floor Weston House, 246 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EX. 020 3206 0408 Website: www.wisecampaign.org.uk

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