Jobs for electrical engineers include design work, collaboration, quality control, analytical thinking and applying theoretical principles to practical challenges. There’s also the potential to specialise in areas that you have a real interest in, whether that’s telecommunications, control systems or even robotics.
But what qualifications or electrical engineering training do you need to progress down this career path? What tasks will your role actually involve, and what skills are employers looking out for when they hire electrical engineers?
This article covers everything you need to know about how to become an electrical engineer.
What is an Electrical Engineer?
An electrical engineer is a type of engineer who designs, creates, tests and maintains electrical machinery, equipment or control systems.
Electrical engineers work across a range of different industry sectors, including robotics, transport, energy and systems engineering. Electrical and electronics engineering are often used interchangeably to describe similar roles, but electrical engineering tends to refer to large-scale systems and machinery involved in producing and distributing electrical power, whereas electronics engineering focuses more on smaller circuits, components and equipment, as well as computers and other similar devices.
The role of an electrical engineer involves knowledge of electrical systems and processes, along with knowing how to apply engineering principles and concepts to plans, projects, data and a range of machinery and equipment. Most electrical engineers work as part of a team that may include other engineers, technicians, and designers. Some roles involve working with clients or more senior members of a company.
What does an Electrical Engineer Do?
As an electrical engineer, you’ll get involved in a wide range of different projects depending on which sectors you work in and whether you specialise later on in your role.
Common responsibilities and daily tasks or jobs for electrical engineers include:
- Identifying and responding to customer or client requirements
- Completing feasibility studies for new projects
- Using software to create circuit diagrams, 3D prototype models and project plans
- Planning and designing electrical systems and products
- Reading and interpreting design specifications or technical plans
- Understanding and ensuring that legal safety and quality standards are met in your work and the systems or products you design
- Applying knowledge of engineering and design concepts and researching additional information to inform new projects
- Estimating project costs and schedules
- Working with other members of a design or project team
- Running system and machinery tests and reporting results or fixing faults
- Conducting system or machinery inspections
- Communicating with team members, clients, contractors and other staff
- Attending meetings or inspections in different locations
- Servicing systems or machinery that has malfunctioned
- Writing reports or reviews for projects, systems and tests or reviews
Electrical Engineer Qualifications
Becoming an electrical engineer requires a lot of studying and training, and you will also require certain qualifications if you want to establish yourself in the field and progress in your career.
If you decide to study for a degree in electrical engineering at university, most courses require you to have got good grades in Maths and English at a GCSE level and have studied Maths, Further Maths or Physics at A-Level. A college course Level 4 and 5 Higher National Diploma in Electrical and Electronic Engineering is the further education equivalent if you don’t decide to study A Levels.
Many universities offer Electrical Engineering as a higher education course, which is one of the best electrical engineering qualifications you can get. A degree in Aeronautical Engineering, Communications Engineering, Electromechanical Engineering, Applied Physics, Computing and Software Engineering, or Mechatronics is also suitable for getting a job in an electrical engineering role.
Many universities offer integrated Masters engineering egress, which means that you have an MEng qualification instead of a BEng. It is not necessary to do a Masters in Electrical Engineering or another, related discipline in order to be a successful engineer, but it does indicate to potential employers that you are dedicated and can increase your job prospects.
If you want to gain a chartered status as an engineer, you will need to study an accredited course by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) or the Institute of Measurement and Control (InstMC).
It is possible to become a successful electrical engineer without a university degree. There are plenty of electrical engineering courses and apprenticeships that offer equivalent qualifications, or you can study a Higher National Diploma (HND) in Electrical Engineering or a related discipline, These routes may mean you have to enter the industry at a lower level than those with a degree, but having relevant work experience can make you much more employable.
Key Skills for Electrical Engineers
If you’re an electrical engineer, the most important skills you’ll need are your technical abilities to design, test, fix and work with electrical systems and electronic components, machines or equipment. Other common skills will benefit you in the role, which many employers desire when hiring new electrical engineers. We’ve outlined the most important below.
Having good knowledge of electrical or electronic engineering concepts and theory is an essential skill for a successful engineer. You will need to understand the range of circuits, systems and machines that your job involves you with, as well as having excellent knowledge of the technical aspects of designing, building and maintaining them.
You’ll also need a good understanding of the mathematical and technical principles that affect electrical and electronic machines and systems.
Some commercial awareness may also be a useful industry-specific skill to certain engineers who are designing products or equipment that will be used in day-to-day life or have a consumer purpose.
The majority of electrical engineers design electronic products, systems, components and devices using computer software. You will need to have strong digital skills and be confident using and understanding a variety of computer software and the functions it carries out, no matter what your role is.
You will also likely have to run simulations and tests using a variety of different computer software, so being able to do this and read and understand the results is also important.
Attention To Detail
No matter the scale of the project you are working on, you’ll need to have good attention to detail in order to make improvements, pick out key pieces of data or research, and fix errors. The ability to narrow down your focus to solve specific problems or break a system down into its component parts to refine and improve it is a key trait in successful electrical engineers, no matter what sector you’re working in.
Electrical engineering is an engineering discipline that involves a large amount of problem-solving. Whether you’re responding to a new project brief, analysing test results to decide on the next steps or fixing an error somewhere in a system or a machine, the ability to look at a problem from different angles and suggest and carry out solutions will be a key part of your work, and something almost every employer will be looking out for.
Written and verbal communication skills are essential to any electrical engineer who wants to succeed in their field.
Everything from recording initial ideas to writing technical briefs and putting together reports requires clear and competent written communication. You may be producing documents that are going to be read by people with less of a technical understanding than you, so being able to concisely explain projects and summarise systems or components is key.
Electrical engineering is also a discipline that requires a fair amount of collaboration and contact with other people. Whether you’re part of a team brainstorming session or having to pitch an idea to a potential client, a key requirement of most electrical engineers jobs is strong verbal communication skills.
The majority of engineering roles involve a mix of independent work and team collaboration, and electrical engineering is no different. As part of a company, you will often be working with other engineers, designers and technicians to develop new systems or equipment, build, test and refine these and sometimes install them as well.
Having strong teamwork skills is a necessary part of being a successful electronic engineer, as the role involves a lot of collaboration. Good team working skills include listening to others, communicating your ideas, delegating tasks fairly, providing support when needed and accepting suggestions or feedback from others.
Electrical Engineer Salary
According to data from Prospects, The average starting salary for a graduate electrical engineer is between £24,000 to £28,000 a year. If you are in a trainee electrical engineer role without a degree you can expect to learn a bit less than this, usually no less than £17,000 annually.
Once you have been working in the electrical engineering field for a while, you can expect your salary to increase. Senior engineers working in the electrical or electronic field often earn an annual salary between £35,000 and £60,000, with those in managerial or director positions earning even more.
Becoming a chartered electrical engineer not only increases your job prospects, but it also increases your salary too. The average annual salary of an experienced, chartered engineer can be up to £85,000, so it’s a job that pays well once you’ve been in the industry for a while.
What qualifications do you need to be an electrical engineer?
To become an electrical engineer, you’ll either need a university degree in either electrical engineering or a related discipline, or an equivalent qualification gained through work experience or an apprenticeship. If you want to qualify as a chartered engineer, you will need to study for a degree with a university that is accredited by either the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) or the Institute of Measurement and Control (InstMC).
How long to become an electrical engineer?
If you decide to become an engineer by following the route of university study, most courses will be 3-4 years, depending on whether you do a Masters degree. Many engineering students also decide to complete a year in industry as part of their degree to get electrical engineering work experience in the field and improve their job prospects, which means it will take 5 years to complete the course.
Becoming an electrical engineer through an apprenticeship or alternate mode of study tends to take between 4 and 6 years.
How much does an electrical engineer make per hour?
According to data from PayScale, the average annual salary for an electrical engineer working in the UK is £32,586. Based on working for 48 weeks a year, with 8 hours of work each weekday as an industry average, the average electrical engineer makes roughly £16.56 an hour in their role.
Whatever your interest, electrical engineers can work in a wide range of different industries and roles that involve everything from focused system design to travelling to new locations to meet clients, inspect equipment and carry out practical maintenance work. Like any engineering discipline, the journey into electrical engineering requires time and a lot of effort, but it’s an incredibly well-paying role that offers a variety of practical and theoretical working opportunities both independently and as a team.
If you’re an electrical engineering candidate, or an employer looking to hire this role, Samuel Frank can help. To find out more about how a specialist recruiter can make a difference for your company or career, get in touch and speak to a member of our team.