Relevant industry experience and an accredited degree can significantly increase your chances of getting a job as an electrical engineer
As an electrical engineer, you'll design, develop and maintain electrical control systems and components to required specifications. Your work will focus on:
The electrical equipment that you'll 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.
You could be involved in projects from the concept and detail of the design, through to implementation, testing and handover. You may also work on maintenance programmes.
It's likely you'll work in multidisciplinary project teams, which can include engineers from other specialist areas as well as architects, marketing and sales staff, manufacturers, technicians and customer service personnel.
The work can vary according to the industry and your employer, but typically you'll need to:
- identify customer requirements
- design systems and products
- read design specifications and technical drawings
- research suitable solutions and estimate costs and timescales
- make models and prototypes of products using three-dimensional design software
- work to standards, including British (BS) and European (EN)
- liaise with others in the design team
- communicate with clients and contractors
- attend meetings on site
- design and conduct tests
- record, analyse and interpret test data
- propose modifications and retest products
- qualify the final product or system
- service and maintain equipment
- prepare product documentation, write reports and give presentations
- monitor a product in use to improve on future design.
- Graduate starting salaries are around £24,000 to £28,000.
- Average salaries for experienced senior engineers range from £35,000 to £60,000.
- Salaries for specialist or chartered engineers can reach £85,000+.
Salaries vary widely according to location, the size of the employing organisation and the nature of its business.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
You'll typically work 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 or factory, or 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.
- 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. You'll usually need to have chartered engineer status before entering consultancy work.
- There are good opportunities to work 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.
It's common to enter the profession with a degree in electrical or electronic engineering. Other subjects that are also relevant 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.
When choosing a degree course, check your qualification is accredited by a relevant professional body such as The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) as this can help you 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.
You can also become an electrical engineer with an HND or foundation degree in subjects similar to those at degree level, but you may enter at a lower grade and will need to work your way up. You'll increase your chances of success if you also have relevant work experience. A number of university courses will allow you to enter directly into the final year of a degree programme if you've got an HND or foundation degree. As some employers prefer graduates, it may be worth considering this route.
If you don't have a degree, HND or foundation degree, you'll 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.
You don't need a postgraduate qualification to get a job. Employers will be more impressed by your enthusiasm to gain professional status and by relevant industrial experience. However, a relevant Masters can help with career progression.
You'll need to show:
- relevant technical knowledge and up-to-date sector knowledge
- project management skills
- the ability to multitask
- commercial awareness
- an analytical and problem-solving approach to work
- oral and written communication skills to make technical information easy to understand for non-technical audiences
- flexibility in order to adapt to evolving technologies
- planning and organisational skills, such as time and resource allocation
- the ability to work in a multidisciplinary team
- leadership and management skills to help with career progression
- a commitment to continuing professional development (CPD) throughout your career.
A second language may be useful when applying to international companies.
Some work, for example 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.
Any relevant work experience through a vacation placement, work shadowing or industrial year out is valuable. Some degree courses will include a year's paid industrial or commercial placement as part of the degree. This provides the opportunity to develop your professional experience and to build a network of contacts, which can be useful when looking for a job after you've graduated. For more information on the types of work experience and how to get it, see IET - Work experience.
Student membership of one of the engineering institutions such as the IET provides up-to-date sector information, including new developments in the industry, regular newsletters and access to networks and contacts. Active membership will help you consolidate and learn from any work experience you do.
If you're on an accredited electrical or power engineering degree, you may be able to get financial support and workplace mentoring from the Power Academy, run by the IET.
Electrical engineers work in many sectors. Employers range from multinational, multifaceted companies that cover a variety of industries, to small and medium-sized specialist enterprises (SMEs). They include:
- power and renewable energy companies
- manufacturing and industrial production organisations across a range of products
- the construction and building services industry
- transport organisations, including road and rail networks
- 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 you 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:
Specialist recruitment agencies, such as Matchtech, handle contract vacancies, particularly for experienced engineers.
Some companies offer a structured training programme that includes on-the-job training and CPD. Smaller employers may be unable to provide such a broad training experience, so it's worth checking what arrangements are in place when applying for jobs.
Larger organisations may offer graduate training schemes, which involve a rotation of posts in the first two to three years in order to help you gain the necessary competencies and experience across the business.
You may also receive training in core business skills, such as project management, report writing or presentation skills.
Many electrical engineers 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'll ideally have an accredited undergraduate degree along with a Masters, or an accredited integrated MEng degree.
You also need to demonstrate that you're working at a particular level and have the required professional competencies and commitment, as set out in the UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence (UK-SPEC). Find out more at Engineering Council - Professional Registration.
Having membership with a professional body is valuable for providing support throughout your career. For instance, the IET runs workshops, webinars and professional development courses and gives access to networks of others working and studying in the field. Membership also offers advice and support for gaining professional status or for furthering your career in other ways. See IET Career & Learning.
There's no set route for career progression and your prospects will depend to a certain extent on how you choose to develop your career and your preferred specialist area. As you gain experience, you may decide to stay in an engineering role or work in research and design (R&D). Alternatively, you may choose to:
- go into project management
- take on a management role
- pursue an academic career
- become a consultant or contractor.
Professional status and membership of a relevant professional body, for example the IET, is essential for successful career progression. 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.
Some electrical engineers choose to develop their careers abroad. UK engineering qualifications are recognised in most countries, although in some you'll have to take additional tests. Most overseas organisations will expect chartered engineer status. Check with your professional institution and the country where you intend to work for further details.
Find out how Ciaran became an electrical engineer at BBC Bitesize.