If you’re a newly qualified electrical or electronic engineer, you may be wondering what kinds of career opportunities in electronics and wider electrical engineering exist. This post takes you through the role specifications of both types of engineering and then covers the kinds of jobs for electrical and electronics engineering graduates that are available.
What is an Electrical Engineer?
An electrical engineer studies, works with and develops systems, devices, machinery and equipment that use electricity to function. Their knowledge centres around electromagnetic theory, and they apply this understanding to everything from small projects building simple devices to extended tasks designing and maintaining radar systems.
As well as optimising processes and creating new methods that use electrical technology and systems to optimise infrastructure, electrical engineers also repair and update electrical equipment, design product standards that include safety testing procedures, and develop existing systems and machinery.
General electrical engineers have a broad understanding of electrical systems and processes, along with the ability to apply engineering principles to projects and data concerning electrical items. There are also intersections with other disciplines where an electrical engineer may have more specialist knowledge, working in sectors such as transport, control systems, robotics and energy.
In their role, an electrical engineer will have a range of responsibilities depending on their seniority. The majority of jobs include tasks such as responding to client briefs, designing new electrical systems and machines, updating or fixing outdated equipment, carrying out feasibility studies, reading and writing up design specifications and working with other engineers to meet project deadlines and deliver products and solutions.
What is an Electronics Engineer?
An electronics engineer is actually a specialist electrical engineer who works specifically with electronic circuits and components. They also use electromagnetic theory as the basis for their work, designing, building and refining parts of electronic devices and products.
Whilst electrical engineers tend to work on large scale projects and focus on the bigger picture, those who work in electronics engineering usually work on smaller aspects of tasks or smaller products in general. They may work as part of a team of general electrical engineers and be responsible for a specific aspect of whatever is being created, such as a circuit’s capacitors, diodes, inductors or resistors.
As well as being a sub-sector of electrical engineering, electronics engineers are also often found in roles in other industry areas, particularly those like manufacturing, robotics and medical engineering. Their knowledge tends to be specialist as their career progresses, and they may become an expert in a certain approach to electronic design or a component of electronic circuits and systems.
Electrical engineers usually work in tandem with mechanical, robotics or electrical engineers and software developers to complete different projects. Typical responsibilities include interpreting design specifications, testing circuits and devices, creating product interfaces, designing circuit diagrams, improving existing components and troubleshooting electronic systems.
What’s the Difference?
Before you start considering what jobs you can get with an electrical engineering degree or an electronics degree, it is first important to understand the difference between the two.
The scale of the projects you will work on in electrical and electronics engineering jobs is quite different. Electrical engineers usually develop large systems, equipment or machines that run on electrical power, whereas electronics engineers are concerned with the individual components of electric machines and devices.
To get more specific, the majority of electrical engineering jobs deal with creating methods of producing or distributing electricity. Electronics engineering, on the other hand, focuses on designing and maintaining the systems and circuits within these large systems and ensuring that they transmit and store electrical energy.
Finally, from a study point of view, you can become an electronics engineer with a general electrical engineering degree, but it is harder to become a general electrical engineer if you have just studied electronic engineering specifically. Both disciplines feed into one another, but it will be harder to take detailed knowledge of and experience with electronic circuits and components to jobs that require a wider understanding of electrical systems and machinery.
Jobs in Electronics Engineering
There are lots of different electronics degree jobs available for those who want to work in this sector of the industry, from specific engineering roles to more varied, technical jobs drawing on your electronics experience. Here are some of the most popular jobs.
An avionics engineer works in the aerospace industry and focuses on the electronic systems used as part of the vehicles and machinery produced and used in this sector. It’s a great role for electronics engineers who want to work with aircraft or spacecraft but want to keep their specialism in electrical components and circuits.
Electronic and hybrid vehicles are an ever-growing part of the automotive industry, which means that the role of electronic engineer is in high demand. The majority of jobs will focus on developing, refining and installing different electronic components in a range of vehicles, with some roles involving more practical work than others.
Medical Engineer or Technician
The medical industry is a sector that many electronic engineers don’t think of when planning their job prospects, but it’s one where there are plenty of opportunities. Whether you become an engineer who creates the components for medical devices and equipment or you train as a technician who visits hospitals and doctors to service and fix faults, it’s a role that can be very rewarding to those who want to help others with their work.
Robotics Engineer or Technician
The robotics industry is a very exciting place to be working at the moment, and as an electronics engineer you will have all the skills necessary to design, build and develop robots and robotic machinery. There is also the potential for those with an electronic engineering background to become robotics technicians, which would mean travelling around different workplaces as a specialist in repairs and maintenance.
IT Consultant, Technician or Developer
The majority of IT equipment runs on electronic circuits and systems, so as an electronic engineer you have a huge variety of choices when it comes to jobs in IT. These can range from consultancy positions where you advise on the best components to use in new products to developer roles where you work alongside other engineers and programmers to create new devices.
Jobs in Electrical Engineering
The range of job opportunities for those with a background in electrical engineering is vast. Here are some of the most popular jobs and roles.
Electrical engineers who go into the aerospace industry work with aircraft and spacecraft to refine and develop technology that goes into these forms of transport. The role will focus on creating machines and systems which power aerospace vehicles, as well as working on hybrid ways to fuel these machines using greener technology.
Electrical automotive engineers will spend most of their time working on creating and refining the electrical systems that power automotive vehicles, as well as developing new technology to advance the introduction of electric vehicles across the world. Engineers with an electrical background are sought after in this industry at the moment, so there are plenty of opportunities to choose from.
Transport engineers with electrical engineering experience are particularly valuable to employers who deal with rail transport, as electrical knowledge is beneficial in a range of areas such as signalling, lighting, point heating and power. Test engineers may also be required out in the rail network, and safety specifications for power distribution systems will need writing by electrical experts.
Defense Electrical Engineer
Defence is an industry that recruits many electrical engineers to work in roles focusing on providing electrical power to machinery, developing network architecture and designing or testing a variety of equipment used in defence. You will need high levels of security clearance to work in these roles so they’re not suitable for everyone, but can be very interesting if you’re keen on making a difference with your engineering career.
Energy Electrical Engineer
One of the most common industries that electrical engineers go into after they have qualified is energy, helping to create and maintain large systems that supply power to a variety of sources. You may specialise in a certain type of energy, such as nuclear or wind, or you may focus on working with specific systems of energy distribution.
Industrial employers are another key group who hire a lot of electrical engineers, as electrical systems and machinery are a key part of the majority of industrial processes. As an electrical engineer, you will be responsible for finding electrical solutions to a range of industrial scenarios, from saving energy to maximising efficiency and production.
How Do You Become an Electrical Engineer?
If you want to pursue a career in electrical engineering, the best course of action is to get a degree in this discipline. To study a university course, you will need to have achieved good grades in Maths and English at a GCSE level and have studied a combination of Physics, Maths and Further Maths at A-Level or equivalent.
There are plenty of general electrical engineering university courses available, which is the best qualification you can achieve if you want to go into this line of work. Other degrees that are often accepted for jobs in electronics engineering include Electromechanical Engineering, Mechatronics, Applied Physics and Aeronautical Engineering.
Whilst you don’t need to have a Masters qualification to get employed as an electrical engineer, many candidates for these roles choose to do an additional year of study, and many benefit from it. Those who want to achieve a chartered engineer status will also need to study a course accredited by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) or the Institute of Measurement and Control (InstMC).
You do not need a university degree to start an electrical engineer career however. Electrical engineering courses and apprenticeships with other establishments are available, or you can obtain a Higher National Diploma (HND) in Electrical Engineering. Pursuing jobs through work experience may take longer than the traditional degree route, but it is still a viable option.
How Do You Become an Electronics Engineer?
To become an electronics engineer, the most common career path begins by studying the discipline at university. Again, this will require you to have achieved high grades in Maths and English at a GCSE level, and studied any or all of Maths, Further Maths and Physics at A-Level.
There are fewer electronics engineering courses offered by higher education establishments than general electrical ones, but it is possible to just study the discipline for a full degree. Other courses that will give you the right skills and experience for career opportunities in electronics include Physics, Applied Physics, Robotics, Mechatronics and of course, Electrical Engineering.
Many engineering students decide to study for a Masters as part of their course, but it is not a requirement for the majority of jobs in electronics. It can boost your job prospects however, and candidates with higher qualifications are sometimes offered higher starting salaries.
As with electrical engineering, there are other routes into roles that don’t require a university degree. You can study a Higher National Diploma (HND) in Electrical Engineering or take part in an apprenticeship or work experience that can lead to roles as an electronics engineer, although this may take longer without a university qualification.
Whether you’re a general electrical engineer who wants to work in a specific industry or an electronics engineer who wants to take their passion for developing components into a variety of roles, the career opportunities in both disciplines are vast. Both rely on the same theoretical background before specialising in either large or small scale projects, and both offer all kinds of potential for working with other engineers to develop new products and design systems and processes.
If you’re an electrical or electronics engineer looking for a new role, or an employer in the embedded systems industry that is looking for specialist help with hiring electrical and electronic engineers, get in touch and find out more about how our recruitment agency can help you.