Electrical Engineer

The Job and What's Involved

Electrical engineers are concerned with the research, development and operation of electrical machinery and equipment. They also work with communications systems, as well as lighting, heating and refrigeration equipment for offices, factories and homes.

Electrical engineers work on the production of all types of electrical equipment and machinery, making and testing new equipment, solving operating problems, and re-making or re-designing parts to ensure high quality. They also service and maintain existing electrical equipment.

Teams of electrical engineers operate and maintain the machinery which supplies electricity from power stations, through electricity transmission systems, 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). Communications, radar and instrumentation are also part of this sector.

Experienced electrical engineers are usually either incorporated or chartered.

Incorporated Engineers specialise in developing and applying modern technology, and play a vital role in any organisation which depends on a skilled technical workforce. With their detailed knowledge and understanding of current engineering applications, they have the skills and know-how to make things happen, and often hold key operational management roles.

Chartered Engineers may be involved in research and development or manufacture and installation. They may progress into senior general management - typically as project leaders - and be responsible for teams of incorporated engineers and technicians.

A chartered or incorporated electrical engineer could:

  • Head a team of engineering staff.
  • Manage the personnel in a team.
  • Plan the team's workload.
  • Hold an important post in the team.
  • Be responsible for controlling the budget.

Working hours are based on daytime work, but electrical engineers have to be flexible - the hours worked depend on the project in hand, priorities and deadlines. They sometimes have to work at weekends and at night.

The work can take place in almost any environment - mostly indoors, but sometimes outdoors. Electrical engineers work in offices, factories, workshops, power stations and laboratories.

Starting salaries for graduate electrical engineers may be around £18,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are opportunities for qualified electrical engineers in a wide range of industries. Some of the main ones include aerospace, marine, agricultural, chemical, civil, energy and medical.

Employers include local and central government departments, the Armed Forces, manufacturers in all industries, research and development companies, IT companies, and public utilities (water, gas and electricity).

Manufacturers use electrical engineers in design, marketing, selling and customer support, and opportunities have expanded with the development of computer technology, which requires electrical engineering expertise to produce and maintain it.

There are jobs throughout the UK and the Institution of Incorporated Engineers (IIE) has members working in 128 countries around the world. Vacancies are advertised in electrical engineering journals issued by the relevant institutions, on employer websites, and in the national press.

Education and Training

It is worth getting the highest possible qualifications, and engineers can work towards incorporated, chartered or engineering technician status.

It is possible to begin training for craft or technician-level jobs straight from school with GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) in English, maths and science.

One way to start is with an employer as a technician apprentice. Most apprentices start between 16 and 18, but a start must be made before the age of 25. Applicants need around four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), including maths, English, and science or technology. Some schools and colleges are offering double award GCSE's/S grades in engineering or manufacturing which, together with mathematics and English, can be accepted. Some entrants may start at Advanced Apprenticeship level.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

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 from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

To train directly as an electrical engineer, people need a degree in a relevant subject before starting work. Some employers may offer gap year employment to suitable students, and Graduate Apprenticeships may be available in England and Wales. This is an academic route for those keen to progress quickly to management and research roles with incorporated or chartered status.

There are also Foundation degrees available through some universities.

The IEE offers a number of engineering degree scholarships each year to women in the first year of their A levels/H grades. There are also scholarships for students in the second year of their A levels/H grades who are applying for degree courses.

For degree courses, applicants need at least two A levels/three H grades, normally including maths and a science subject, and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications.

At many universities, students without the necessary background in science and mathematics can qualify for engineering degree courses by taking a one-year Access course before entry to the full degree course.

Degree courses in Scotland normally last one year longer than those in other parts of the UK. Students with A levels applying for courses in Scotland may be able to start in the second year of the course, depending on their grades.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

To qualify as an incorporated electrical engineer, candidates should:

  • Have an accredited degree, or equivalent qualification. (Or they can do an accredited HNC/HND and then further learning, equivalent to one year of study, which can be a combination of work-based learning and full-time, part-time or distance learning.)
  • Gain corporate membership of the IEE or IIE.
  • Complete a period of initial professional development, including practical training and professional engineering experience.
  • Successfully pass a professional review.

The IIE offers a number of awards to help women who are studying for incorporated engineer qualifications.

To qualify as a chartered electrical engineer, candidates must have:

  • Either an accredited MEng degree or BEng Hons degree, plus further learning to Masters level, or other relevant qualifications which, together with work experience, can be individually assessed as equivalent to Masters level.
  • Gain corporate membership of the IEE.
  • Complete a period of initial professional development which includes formal and informal training and professional engineering experience.
  • Successfully pass a professional review with an interview.

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.

Students can join the IEE or IIE as student members.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Electrical engineers should:

  • Have an analytical mind.
  • Be good at maths.
  • Be highly computer literate.
  • Have a logical approach to problem solving.
  • Have the relevant technical skills.
  • Be good with their hands.
  • Have good verbal communication skills.
  • Be able to produce accurate drawings.
  • Keep up to date with new developments.
  • Have normal colour vision.
  • Work well in a team.
  • Be happy to take on responsibility.

Your Long Term Prospects

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 the European Union, Eastern European countries, Asia and the USA.

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

Get Further Information

Engineering Council UK,
10 Maltravers Street, London WC2R 3ER
Tel: 020 7240 7891
Website: www.engc.org.uk

The Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE),
Savoy Place, London WC2R 0BL
Tel: 020 7240 1871
Website: www.iee.org

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

Scottish Engineering,
105 West George Street, Glasgow G2 1QL
Tel: 0141 221 3181
Website: www.scottishengineering.org.uk

SEMTA (Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies Alliance),
14 Upton Road, Watford, Hertfordshire WD18 0JT
Tel: 1923 238441
Website: www.semta.org.uk

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

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