Electrical engineering jobs cover a wide range of different industries, using a variety of skills depending on the requirements of the exact role. Equally, the tools and equipment that an electrical engineer may employ also differ.
Electrical engineering jobs include acoustic consultant, aerospace engineer, broadcast engineer, CAD technician, control and instrumentation engineer, design engineer, electrical engineer, electronics engineer, nuclear engineer, sound engineer, and a special effects technician.
Electrical engineers can also be found working as clinical technologists, land-based engineers, machine learning engineers, management consultants, project managers, software engineer, technical authors, and technical sales engineers, among other roles.
With such a wide range of job types, it is time to examine exactly what electrical engineers do.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Electrical engineers design, develop, test and supervise the manufacturing of electrical equipment, such as electric motors, radar and navigation systems, communications systems and power generation equipment.”
Electrical engineers use components such as batteries, capacitors, conductors, coils, diodes, inductors, magnets, resistors, switches and transistors in their designs. The work requires an in-depth understanding of electronic and electrical theory as well as materials and mathematics in order to design circuits to perform functions while meeting safety, reliability and energy efficiency requirements.
Electrical engineers increasingly use computer aided design (CAD) systems to design schematics and circuit layouts. Computer simulations are also used to run virtual tests on how devices and systems will function and computer technologies are also used to model circuits, processers or entire grids, improve drafting times, print circuit board layouts and device blueprints, as well as allowing designs to be modified and rapid prototyping to take place.
Originally, electricity was primarily used for information and energy transmission and while these are still important parts of electrical engineering, the profession has been split into specialised sub-disciplines. Electrical engineers may focus on a single area or work across a number of different disciplines.
Common electrical engineering sub-disciplines include:
1. Control Engineering:
This discipline focuses on controllers that are designed to make systems behave in a desired manner. These systems include everything from aerospace flight and propulsion systems to industrial automation and robotics. Control systems are often designed to provide feedback on performance that can be used to monitor potential problems or inform automated responses from autonomous drones, vehicles, and other systems.
2. Computer Engineering:
Computer engineers focus on the design of computers and computer systems for hardware devices such as desktop and laptop computers, video game consoles, mobile phones, robots, and more. While software engineering is often considered a separate discipline, computer engineers may also work on a system’s software.
3. Electronics Engineering:
Originally known as radio engineering, this form of engineering involved the design and testing of electronic circuits for radios, communications and radar systems, and early television. The field expanded to include modern television and audio systems, computers and microprocessors.
4. Instrumentation Engineering:
This area of engineering is concerned with designing devices to measure physical quantities such as flow, pressure and temperature. This requires a knowledge of physics to create instruments including those used in aviation, automotive or for other industrial uses, such as thermocouples that help ensure a constant temperature in a furnace.
5. Micro and Nanoelectronic Engineering:
These disciplines both deal with electronics on a small scale. Microelectronics includes the design and fabrication of microscopic scale electronic circuit components while nanoelectronics scales this work down to nanometres.
6. Photonic and Optic Engineering:
This area is concerned with the generation, analysis, amplification, modulation, detection and transmission of electromagnetic radiation. Optics uses this for the design of optical instruments like telescopes, microscopes, lenses and sensors. This area is also involved in lasers, fibre-optic communication, and novel metamaterials.
7. Power and Energy Engineering:
This field of engineering involves the generation and distribution of electricity and the design of related devices such as electric generators, motors, transformers and other power systems including electricity grids. These engineers are involved in traditional, nuclear and renewable energy solutions.
8. Signal Process Engineering:
Signal processing involves the analysis and manipulation of both analogue and digital signals. These signals may need amplification or modulation for telecommunication purposes or compressing and error detection if digitally sampled. Working in areas such as communications, broadcasting, biomedical and control, these engineers work with everything from automotive control and audio systems to mobile phones and missile guidance!
9. Telecommunications Engineering:
This branch of engineering focuses on the transmission of communication through cables, optical fibres and the atmosphere via modulation. These engineers design systems for the transmission and receiving of telecommunications.
In addition to the technical work, electrical engineers may need to discuss proposals, prepare budgets and production schedules, manage technicians or other engineers, oversee projects, and create reports and documentation. As a result, engineers require strong organisational and communication skills to excel.
Electrical engineers work in a wide range of locations, according to the nature of their role or specialisations. Much of this work will be done in an office environment – including design work for new systems and innovations. However, there may also be a requirement to work on site to monitor and test electrical systems for buildings, transport systems and power distribution networks.
These engineers can be found right across industry, from construction and building services to energy, manufacturing, telecommunications and transport, including at fabrication plants, aboard ships, at the offices of consulting firms, in pristine laboratories and a range of other environments.
Most electrical engineers access the profession by taking a university degree course, although it is possible to become an electrical engineer through a college course, an apprenticeship, or working towards the role in a related discipline.
The university route would involve a degree in electrical or electronics engineering, electrical engineering technology or electrical and electronic engineering, although the same basic principles should be taught in all of these engineering programmes. Once graduated, you would either be a Bachelor of Science in Electrical/Electronics Engineering Technology, Bachelor of Engineering, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Technology, or Bachelor of Applied Science, depending on the university and course.
The bachelor’s degree will generally cover areas including computer science, physics, mathematics and project management, alongside electrical engineering topics. You may also be able to specialise in one or more sub-disciplines of electrical engineering.
The bachelor’s degree can be followed by further study at postgraduate level to gain a Master of Engineering/Master of Science (MEng/MSc), a Master of Engineering Management, a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Engineering, an Engineering Doctorate (EngD), or an Engineer's degree.
While a bachelor’s degree is the first step to becoming an engineer, many countries, organisations or jobs will also require professional certification. This involves being able to meet a set of requirements, including work experience, but, once certified, an engineer will be able to use a designation to show you are a Professional Engineer (in the United States, Canada and South Africa), Chartered or Incorporated Engineer (in India, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Zimbabwe), Chartered Professional Engineer (in Australia and New Zealand) or European Engineer (in much of the European Union).
In the United States and Canada you will require certification in order to work, although other nations do not have this requirement. However, even when not required, certification and membership of a professional body such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) will help with your career progression as well as to land better roles.
As with all branches of engineering, the wage expectations for electrical engineers rise with experience.
In the UK, for example, newly trained electrical engineers should expect around £20,000 - £25,000 per annum, while trained engineers can expect to reach £40,000 - £45,000 and senior, chartered or master electrical engineers can earn £45,000+ depending on the location, organisation and job requirements.
The salary and hours of work will depend on where you work, your employer’s requirements for the role and if you do overtime.
(* Salaries collected from multiple industry sources)
An electrical engineer works on projects amd technologies related to the designing, development, testing, deployment and monitoring of all manner of electrical devices and systems.
This encompasses a broad range of industries from satellite communications to power, and the lighting and wiring for building construction to the design of industrial machinery, the smallest household devices and nanotechnologies.
Electrical engineering requires physics and mathematics as well as the use of computers and computer aided design programs for the design of electrical systems. Basic electrical engineering knowledge will be advanced through specialisations depending on areas of expertise. Aside from technical and scientific knowledge, these engineers need to be able to problem solve and communicate their ideas and solutions to other engineers and those outside of the field, as well as manage projects, budgets and schedules.
Is Electrical Engineering Hard?
Electrical engineering can be challenging to study but is worth it if your interests lie in science, mathematics and solving problems that can make a genuine difference to the world around you.
How is Electrical Engineering Applied in Everyday Life?
Electrical engineering is woven through modern life since electricity is integral to how we live today, from power generation to transport and computing and artificial intelligence to medicine, communications and beyond.
Where can Electrical Engineering Take You?
Electrical engineers work in a range of different industries from automotive to manufacturing and transport to utilities. The role can offer you the chance to travel too, depending on your employer’s requirements.
Which Electrical Engineering Specialisation is Best?
There are a number of specialisations in electrical engineering that you can choose according to your interests. Of course, the ‘best’ specialisation will most likely be the one that suited your interests but the highest paid specialisations tend to be as a project engineer, aerospace electrical engineer and an electrical distribution engineer. However, this is just a loose guide as wages will differ according to employer, location and your experience.
Is Electrical Engineering a Good Career?
Electrical and electronic engineering is a good career that offers the potential to work in a variety of fields. The range of work available for electrical engineers means that they are in demand across industry.
Will Electrical Engineering be Automated?
Electrical engineering cannot be fully automated as it requires the ability to design and problem solve. However, these engineers do use automation and artificial intelligence to optimise machines for intelligent functions.
Will Electrical Engineering be in Demand?
Electrical engineering looks set to remain in demand for years to come as we continue to rely on electricity for many areas of our lives. With a worldwide demand, this field of engineering is a practical discipline with many good career opportunities ranging from research and development, engineering services, manufacture, government, technology and more.