Power up your future with a career in electrical or electronic engineering, whose applications span a host of diverse industries
What is electrical and electronic engineering?
In simple terms, electrical engineers deal with power generation and power supply, while electronic engineering is about the way electricity is used to control equipment. However, the very close association of the Institute of Electrical Engineers with the British Computer Society demonstrates that the line between electrical and electronic engineering is blurred.
Modern manufacturing techniques tend to make replacement of a faulty component more cost-effective for the consumer than repairing it. This means that much of the traditional role of the maintenance engineer has changed, particularly in the electronics field, with removal and reinstallation of faulty chips and boards the norm.
Electrical and electronic engineering includes such areas as informatics, control, electronics and communications, power management, manufacturing and science, and engineering and technology. Its associated industries span aerospace, construction, media and communications, medical technologies, railways and road transport.
All three Services have electronic engineering specialists, working on sophisticated and complex instruments, vehicles, engines (including nuclear reactors) and other equipment. Qualifications range from NVQ level 2, through apprenticeships to master’s degrees, with institute membership at the appropriate grade being available to most professional engineers.
Electrical engineering is somewhat different. In general, Forces electricians work on equipment that moves rather than static installations, although Royal Engineers electricians work across the whole spectrum of power supply, from generation to distribution, often in difficult and dangerous environments. The Royal Navy’s engineers are very familiar with electrical generation and distribution on-board ship.
How do I qualify to work in electrical or electronic engineering?
It is necessary to have appropriate qualifications to work in any branch of engineering. The academic ones include degrees, diplomas and certificates, while vocational qualifications include A-levels, apprenticeships, and national and Scottish vocational qualifications (NVQs/SVQs). You will also need colour-normal vision for this type of work.
To become an electrical engineer, you would usually need to complete an HNC, HND or foundation degree, degree in electrical or electronic engineering or related subject (e.g. building services engineering). Many appropriate courses are widely available, in areas including: electrical or electronic engineering, mechanical engineering, aeronautical engineering and building services engineering. With a degree in a relevant subject, you may be able to join a company’s graduate trainee scheme.
To become an electronic engineer, you would, again, normally need an HNC or HND, foundation degree or degree in a relevant electronics subject (e.g. electronic/electrical engineering or engineering technology). An employer may accept qualifications in related subjects if electronics was covered as part of the course. Examples include software engineering, computer science and aerospace engineering.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) website has details of colleges and universities offering suitable courses, as well as advice about applying. (There is more about the IET in the section on ‘Professional organisations’, below.)
For electrical engineering, the basic requirement is the 18th Edition Wiring Regulations. This latest edition was introduced in July 2018 and demonstrates that holders of the qualification know the necessary regulations and how to use them; it is virtually impossible to start in the industry without this qualification. The design of electrical installations has been required to comply with the 18th Edition since January 2019. If you have already passed your 17th edition with the 3rd amendment (usually since 1 January 2015), you can take a one-day update course. Everyone else will need to take the full three-day 18th Edition training course, which costs around £500.
Find out more about this, and other useful information on electrical installation, engineering and maintenance careers in our in-depth look at the building trades here.
The Engineering Council UK is the profession’s lead body and registers all engineers who have met standards of education, training and professional competence. It holds the national registers of:
Chartered Engineers (CEng)
Incorporated Engineers (IEng)
Engineering Technicians (EngTech), and
Information and Communications Technology Technicians (ICTTech).
It also sets and maintains the internationally recognised standards of competence and ethics that govern the award and retention of the above titles.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) is the second-largest professional engineering body in the world. It has active networks of members across the world and five categories of individual membership. You can read about these in detail on its website (see ‘Useful info’).
Enginuity is an employer-led not-for-profit organisation responsible for developing engineering skills to support the future of UK industry. It has developed a series of engineering national occupational standards (NOS) at levels 1 to 5, which underpin the qualifications relevant to study in this field (further information is available direct from Enginuity – see ‘Useful info’).
The Electrical Contracting Industry’s Joint Industry Board regulates relations between employers and employees, including productivity, skills levels and wages. It also runs the Electrotechnical Certification Scheme (ECS), under which people are issued with cards that show their overall level of competence, specialisations and qualifications (see box).
Use your ELC
Under the ELC scheme, a wide range of learning can be taken, provided it is offered by an approved provider listed on the ELC website and is at level 3 or above. For full details of how to make the most of your ELC, refer to our in-depth features elsewhere on the Quest website.
TRANSFER YOUR SKILLS
If you have the following skills and abilities, a career in electrical or electronic engineering could be for you:
imagination and vision
an innovative approach
a keenness to learn, combined with logical reasoning
an aptitude and liking for mathematics
ability to work independently as well as part of a team.
To succeed as an engineer, you must be able to identify a problem and then try to find the best solution as quickly as possible – and at the lowest cost. And, sometimes, finding the optimum solution will call for ‘unlogical’ thinking.
THE ELECTROTECHNICAL CERTIFICATION SCHEME (ECS)
An ECS card is instantly recognisable within the electrotechnical industry and allows you to demonstrate your credentials to others – from employers and clients to business contacts and colleagues. The card displays your qualifications and main electrical occupation, shows you have been H&S assessed and proves your identity on site.
You will find it increasingly difficult to get employment on building sites without one because many UK employers specify that holding the appropriate ECS card is compulsory for those working with electricity on their sites.
Once in a role, you may benefit from on-the-job training courtesy of your employer. In any case, it is important that you continue to develop your skills and knowledge throughout your career, through continuing professional development (CPD). Membership of a professional body like the IET or Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers will give you access to CPD schemes, news on industry developments and opportunities for further training. If you have a relevant degree, you may be able to join your employer’s graduate training scheme.
You could also improve your career prospects by working towards incorporated (IEng) or chartered (CEng) status. To do this, you should register with your relevant professional body and apply to the Engineering Council. You can find out more on the Engineering Council website (see ‘Useful info’). As an incorporated engineer, you would specialise in the day-to-day management of engineering operations. At chartered level, you would have a more strategic role, planning, researching and developing new ideas, and streamlining management methods.
The most highly qualified people (degrees and above) generally plan and manage electrical and electronic engineering projects, with the next level of expertise supervising their implementation, and the least skilled people actually doing the work. Experience leads to bigger and better jobs, while gaining academic and vocational qualifications will make it possible for you to develop and move up the career ladder.
ELECTRICAL AND ELECTRONIC ENGINEERING APPRENTICESHIPS There’s a wealth of apprenticeships available to help ease the way into a role in this field. Use your favourite search engine to find out more, or click here to browse options near you.
Finding a job
When looking for your first job, it may help you to have some work experience. You can gain this through a work placement as part of a course or by arranging your own placement with a relevant company.
In the electrical engineering industry, projects are usually contracted and then subcontracted to many different entities. Most people start out in the field as an electrician’s mate or work for a contractor for a minimum of two years to gain experience. Once they have worked for a while on a number of projects, and have a good reputation and the necessary qualifications, they can set up on their own. All contractors must inspect and test their own work. They may also inspect and test other electrical work for landlords, insurance companies and major builders.
As this is such a wide-ranging industry, the following figures can give only a very rough guide to salaries in this sector.
Adult trainee electricians aged 21-plus will probably start on about £17,000, with improvers on around £20,000 and approved electricians on about £25,000. They will also receive shift pay and overtime. The estimated starting salary for a graduate electrical engineer is £20,000.
EngTechs might expect to earn around £28,000, while IEngs could start on £20,000, rising to £35,000 as they gain experience, and up to £50,000 for senior people. CEngs are the most qualified people, starting at about £25,000, and with an upper limit that depends entirely on the type of work done, the contract terms, the seniority of the individual, and the company. The average income for a qualified chartered electrical engineer is £50,000.
In general terms, experienced electrical and electronic engineers can earn between £25,000 and £40,000 a year, and senior electronic engineers between £40,000 and £55,000.
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