Electrical engineers design, develop and maintain electrical control systems and components to required specifications. Their work focuses on:

  • economy;
  • quality;
  • reliability;
  • safety;
  • sustainability.

The electrical equipment that they design and manufacture is used across many sectors, including:

  • the building industry and services, including lighting, heating and ventilation;
  • transportation and transport networks;
  • manufacturing and construction;
  • production and distribution of power.

Electrical engineers are involved in projects from the concept and detail of the design, through to implementation, testing and handover. They may be involved in maintenance programmes.

As well as having technical knowledge, electrical engineers need to be able to project manage and multitask. They also need to have commercial awareness. Additional attributes, such as team leadership or management skills, are required as careers progress.

Responsibilities

Most electrical engineers work in a multi-disciplinary project team, which is likely to include engineers from other specialist areas as well as architects, marketing and sales staff, manufacturers, technicians and customer service personnel.

Depending on the employer, electrical engineers may be involved in all parts of the design and development process or just one particular stage. While the work can vary according to the industry, common tasks include:

  • identifying customer requirements;
  • designing systems and products;
  • reading design specifications and technical drawings;
  • researching suitable solutions and estimating costs and timescales;
  • making models and prototypes of products using three-dimensional design software;
  • working to British (BS), European (EN) and other standards;
  • liaising with others in the design team;
  • communicating with clients and contractors;
  • attending meetings on site;
  • designing and conducting tests;
  • recording, analysing and interpreting test data;
  • proposing modifications and retesting products;
  • qualifying the final product or system;
  • servicing and maintaining equipment;
  • preparing product documentation, writing reports and giving presentations;
  • monitoring a product in use to improve on future design.

Salary

  • Salaries for electrical engineers start at around £20,000 to £25,000.
  • Experienced or incorporated engineers can earn between £28,000 and £40,000.
  • A chartered electrical engineer working at a senior level can earn salaries of £40,000 to £60,000 or more.

Salaries vary considerably according to location, the size of the employing organisation and the nature of its business.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours vary and are job-specific but typically are around 40 hours a week. You may need to work extra and unsocial hours to meet deadlines or resolve design difficulties. Some jobs offer flexible working.

What to expect

  • You may be located in a production plant, workshop, office, laboratory, factory or on site, or possibly a mixture of several of these. Depending on the location, conditions can be hot, dusty or cramped.
  • Jobs are available throughout the UK, with those in the manufacturing sector concentrated in industrial areas.
  • Travel within the working day is common. Jobs in multinational organisations may involve overseas travel.
  • Women are still underrepresented in all areas of engineering, although numbers are increasing. Initiatives are in place to encourage more women into the industry including WISE and Women's Engineering Society (WES).
  • Self-employment and consultancy are possible after building up expertise and a reputation within the profession. It would be normal to hold chartered engineer status before entering consultancy work.
  • There are good opportunities for working overseas, particularly in the oil, petrochemical and power sectors, large consulting firms and large building contractors. This could be either an overseas posting with a multinational employer or by applying for a job based overseas.

Qualifications

Most people enter the profession with a degree in electrical or electronic engineering. Entry may also be possible with other engineering degrees, particularly mechanical engineering.

Other relevant subject areas include:

  • aeronautical engineering;
  • building services engineering;
  • communications engineering;
  • computing and software engineering;
  • electromechanical engineering;
  • mechanical and production engineering;
  • physics and applied physics;
  • power and energy engineering.

Entry is possible with an HND or foundation degree in subjects similar to those at degree level.

A number of university courses allow those with an HND or foundation degree to enter directly into the final year of a degree programme. As some employers prefer graduates, it may be worth considering this route.

Those with an HND who also have work or placement experience are slightly more advantaged than those without.

Entry without a degree, HND or foundation degree is sometimes possible but you will need further training or qualifications to reach full engineer level. Some organisations recruit at A-level (or Higher) standard for apprenticeships and select the best candidates for sponsorship on full or part-time degrees.

A postgraduate qualification is not needed to gain employment. A potential employer will be more impressed by enthusiasm to gain professional status and by relevant industrial experience. However, a relevant Masters can help with career progression. Search for postgraduate courses in electrical engineering.

It is useful if your qualification is accredited by a relevant professional body, such as the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET), as it can help you to achieve the status of incorporated engineer (IEng) or chartered engineer (CEng) at a later date. Details of accredited courses are available at Engineering Council - Accredited Course Search.

Any relevant work experience through a vacation placement or industrial year out is valuable.

Student membership of one of the engineering institutions, such as the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), provides up-to-date sector information, including new developments in the industry, regular newsletters and access to networks and contacts.

Financial support and workplace mentoring is available for students on accredited electrical, electronic and power engineering degrees from the Power Academy, which is run by the IET.

Some work, e.g. in defence-related and nuclear power industries, has security implications and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) may debar applicants who have a criminal record, are not UK citizens or do not pass security clearance.

Skills

You will need to show evidence of:

  • commercial awareness;
  • oral and written communication skills;
  • an enthusiasm for your subject and up-to-date sector knowledge;
  • planning and organisational skills, such as time and resource allocation;
  • the ability to work in a multidisciplinary team.

A second language could be useful when applying to international companies.

Employers

Electrical engineers work in a range of sectors. Employers may be multinational, multifaceted companies that cover a variety of industries, or small to medium-sized specialist enterprises. They include:

  • transport organisations, including road and rail networks;
  • manufacturing and industrial production organisations across a range of products;
  • the construction and building services industry;
  • power and renewable energy companies;
  • specialist engineering and consultancy firms;
  • telecommunications companies;
  • petrochemical industries in production and distribution;
  • research and development companies in the defence-related industries;
  • the armed forces, mainly the technical corps.

This range gives applicants a large choice of entry points into the profession and a variety of organisations in which to gain experience and build a career.

Look for job vacancies at:

Recruitment agencies sometimes advertise jobs and often handle contract vacancies, particularly for experienced engineers.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews

Professional development

Training varies according to the size of the employing organisation. Some companies offer an established training programme that includes on-the-job training and structured continuing professional development (CPD).

Other, smaller employers may be unable to provide such a broad training experience. It is worth checking what arrangements are in place when applying for jobs.

Some organisations offer graduate training schemes, which involve a rotation of posts in the first two to three years in order to help gain the necessary competencies and experience.

Employers may also offer training in core business skills, such as project management, report writing or presentation skills.

You may wish to work towards gaining professional status at either incorporated engineer (IEng) or chartered engineer (CEng) level. Both qualifications are awarded by the Engineering Council and provide recognition of expertise and a higher earning potential.

To gain professional status you need to be a member of a relevant body such as the IET so that you can apply through them. The process of becoming incorporated is more straightforward if you have a relevant accredited degree, or an accredited HND plus appropriate learning to degree level.

To become chartered, you will ideally have an accredited undergraduate degree along with a Masters or an accredited integrated MEng degree.

You also need to demonstrate that you are working at a particular level and have the required professional competences and commitment, as set out in the UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence (UK-SPEC).

Career prospects

There are no set or easily defined routes for career progression for electrical engineers. It can be a matter of choice and preferred specialist area. You may decide to stay in an engineering role or work in research and design (R&D), but other options include:

  • going into project management;
  • taking on a management role;
  • pursuing an academic career;
  • becoming a consultant or contractor.

Professional status and membership of a relevant professional body, for example the IET, is essential for successful career development.

This will enable you to keep up to date with developing technologies, establish contacts and network with other engineering professionals in your field, and related fields, at conferences and regional meetings.

Professional status is available at different levels such as incorporated engineer (IEng) or chartered engineer (CEng). Professional registration involves demonstrating competencies so it is likely to take four to six years after graduation to build up the necessary experience. Registration requires a commitment to continuing professional development (CPD) throughout your career.

UK engineering qualifications are recognised in most countries, in others you may have to take additional tests. Most overseas organisations will expect chartered engineer status. You are advised to check with your professional institution and the country where you intend to work for further details.