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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
To qualify as an incorporated electrical engineer, candidates should:
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:
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.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
Electrical engineers should:
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.
Engineering Council UK,
10 Maltravers Street, London WC2R 3ER
Tel: 020 7240 7891
The Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE),
Savoy Place, London WC2R 0BL
Tel: 020 7240 1871
The Institution of Engineering and Technology,
Michael Farady House, Stevenage, Herts, SG1 2AY
Tel: 01438 313 311
105 West George Street, Glasgow G2 1QL
Tel: 0141 221 3181
SEMTA (Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies Alliance),
14 Upton Road, Watford, Hertfordshire WD18 0JT
Tel: 1923 238441
SummitSkills, Vega House, Opal Drive,
Fox Milne, Milton Keynes, MK15 0DF
Tel: 01908 303960
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.