Engineering is a popular and specialised industry. As an electronics engineer you could be working with high-level technology in a range of sectors

Electronics engineers design, develop and test components, devices, systems or equipment that use electricity as part of their source of power. These components include capacitors, diodes, resistors and transistors.

You may be involved at any stage of a project including the initial brief for a concept, the design and development stage, testing of prototypes and the final manufacture and implementation of a new product or system. You'll usually work in cross-functional project teams with colleagues in other branches of engineering.

Work can be found in a variety of areas as electronics are used in many things including:

  • acoustics;
  • defence;
  • medical instruments;
  • mobile phones;
  • nanotechnology;
  • radio and satellite communication;
  • robotics.

Types of electronic engineering

You could specialise in a particular subfield of electronic engineering such as:

  • control engineering;
  • instrumentation;
  • signal processing;
  • telecommunications engineering.

Responsibilities

Your exact duties may vary depending on the industry, but in general you'll need to:

  • discuss proposals with clients;
  • work with colleagues to design new systems, circuits and devices or develop existing technology;
  • test theoretical designs;
  • write specifications and technical reports;
  • follow defined development processes;
  • systematically improve the detailed design of a piece of electronic equipment;
  • ensure that a product will work with devices developed by others, can be made again reliably, and will perform consistently in specified operating environments;
  • create user-friendly interfaces;
  • ensure safety regulations are met;
  • carry out project planning and prepare budgets;
  • supervise technicians, craftspeople and other colleagues.

The tasks you're responsible for will depend on the level at which you're working. For example, incorporated engineers have responsibility for certain aspects of a project and day-to-day operations, while chartered engineers have a strategic role, taking responsibility of complete projects and developing solutions.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for electronics engineers are in the region of £21,000 to £25,000.
  • With experience and working at an incorporated engineer level, you could earn £28,000 to £40,000.
  • As a senior engineer salaries can be between £40,000 and £65,000, with chartered engineers earning at the top of that scale.

Salaries vary from company to company, with some sectors attracting higher salaries due to demand.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Hours of work can vary but a 40-hour week is typical. The commercial pressures associated with electronic design mean that extra hours during evenings and weekends may be required at busy times in order to meet deadlines. Contract staff are often recruited to meet peaks in workloads.

Self-employment and freelance work are sometimes possible if you have a good track record and relevant experience. Short-term contract work is possible, and is often arranged through agencies.

What to expect

  • Work usually takes place in a laboratory or office environment, although some projects may require you to work in workshops, factories, or even outdoors.
  • As with all areas of engineering, women are under-represented. Initiatives are in place to help women looking to break into the industry, including Women's Engineering Society (WES) and WISE.
  • Opportunities are usually available in areas with a strong manufacturing or research base.
  • Travel within a working day can be frequent. Overnight absence from home and overseas travel may be required, depending on the employer and nature of the business.
  • There are increasing opportunities to work abroad. Chartered engineers can apply for European engineer status (EUR ING) in order to gain professional recognition in other European countries.

Qualifications

Most electronics engineers have a degree in electrical or electronic engineering. Other relevant subjects for entry into the profession include:

  • aeronautical engineering;
  • communications engineering;
  • computer/software/computer science engineering;
  • mathematics;
  • mechanical engineering;
  • physics and applied physics;
  • production and manufacturing engineering.

If you have an HND, relevant NVQ Level 3 qualification or have completed an apprenticeship, you may be considered for an engineering technician post. This will mean working at a lower level though and you'll need to complete further training to reach the electronics engineer level.

A postgraduate qualification isn't a necessity but it may be useful if your first degree isn't in electrical or electronic engineering. Search for postgraduate courses in electronic engineering.

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

Skills

You will need to have:

  • a high level of technical knowledge and IT skills;
  • strong analysis and practical problem-solving abilities to improve designs;
  • oral, written and diagrammatic communication skills, with the ability to translate complex ideas into clear concepts;
  • creativity, innovation and attention to detail;
  • strategic thinking and commercial awareness of the industry you're in;
  • organisation, project management and leadership skills;
  • the ability to work in a multidisciplinary team with other engineers;
  • an understanding of electrical health and safety legislation.

Work experience

Pre-entry experience is not essential, but carrying out a relevant placement or industry-based project is useful. You might be able to count some of the experience gained during a sandwich placement towards qualifying for CEng status. It can also help to make contacts with future employers.

The IET Power Academy Scholarship is available to electrical engineering students at certain universities. This provides mentoring, paid placements and money towards study aids. More information can be found at Power Academy.

Vacation work, placements and sandwich courses all provide crucial evidence of skills development and commercial awareness, which are increasingly important in this sector.

Employers

You could find employment in a range of industries, including:

  • the electrical and electronics industry, including robotics, digital technology, automotive, telecommunications, electronics consultancies and electronic equipment manufacturers;
  • other engineering industries, such as aerospace, energy, chemical and marine;
  • non-electrical organisations, e.g. helping to implement and maintain computer systems, telecommunications and other technical equipment;
  • utility companies;
  • research establishments, both academic and commercial;
  • the public sector, including the Civil Service, local authorities, hospitals and educational institutions;
  • government departments like the Ministry of Defence (MoD) within specialist areas such as the Defence Engineering and Science Group (DESG) Graduate Scheme.

A number of large companies recruit regularly and often provide opportunities for working abroad. These include:

  • BAE Systems;
  • BT;
  • Philips;
  • Siemens;
  • Sony;
  • Thales;
  • Vodafone.

Employment can also be found with the many small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK.

Look for vacancies at:

In some instances, work in sensitive, security-related industries is not open to non-UK citizens or applicants who have a criminal record. You will need to pass security clearance for work with the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Vacancies at all levels are advertised by specialist recruitment agencies such as:

Professional development

You will usually be offered in-service training by your employer and short courses for specific needs may be available. It's important to check what your employer offers as you might need to seek out opportunities yourself.

Many firms encourage working towards incorporated (IEng) or chartered (CEng) engineer status. These are internationally-recognised qualifications that are awarded by the Engineering Council and achieving them improves your career prospects and earning potential.

You'll need to be a member of a professional body, such as the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and you must be able to demonstrate a certain level of competence and professional activity. For more information see Engineering Council - Professional Registration.

You will be expected to carry out continuing professional development (CPD) throughout your career. If you're a member with the IET you need to commit to keeping your skills and knowledge up to date and should aim to complete a minimum of 30 hours of CPD year.

CPD activities can include training courses, work experience, academic study, volunteering, attending events and self-study. The IET can help with logging and reporting your activities.

Career development

Most engineering careers lead to senior positions managing other staff and/or larger projects and budgets. To progress in the profession it's increasingly important to achieve professional status as an incorporated (IEng) or chartered (CEng) engineer.

If you have CEng status, you may be able to apply for European engineer status (EUR ING) with the European Federation of National Engineering Associations (FEANI). This provides formal professional recognition in other European countries, enabling you to work overseas. For more information see Engineering Council - European Engineer.

As a professionally qualified engineer, you may become a senior manager, or move into other roles within the industry, such as:

  • marketing;
  • recruitment;
  • sales;
  • training.