An electrical engineer deals with the production and distribution of electricity; usually when it concerns power supplies on the large scale. An electronics engineer deals with smaller, sometimes micro, scales such as household appliances, consumer electronics or even electronic systems in spaceships. Both of these professions are in great demand as companies aim to develop new devices and technologies, while governments try to find replacements for finite fossil fuels in order to provide power in the future.
It is possible for school leavers with good GCSE results to enter the industry straight away through an apprenticeship, but it more usual to complete a full education up to graduate or postgraduate level. In order to gain entry to an electrical or electronics engineering degree you should have at least two or three A-levels, or equivalent, in maths, physics or design as well as five GCSEs, or more, including maths, science and English graded A*-C. There are many different types of electrical and electronics degrees available; some involve a year of placement in the industry while others are joint courses where your chosen subject can be studied at the same time as a related course such as design. If you are unsure whether your ultimate career lies in electrical or electronics engineering there are a number of universities that offer the same teaching on the first year before allowing you the option of choosing between the two for the following years.
As an electrical or electronics engineer you should have an analytical mind and be good at solving problems. It is also important that you do not suffer from colour blindness as this will prevent you from carrying out the tasks required of you in this role. Being an electrical or electronics engineer you should have strong inter-personal skills as you will be required to liaise with many other professionals while you work together on a project. Being highly computer literate, good with maths and having an interest in the ever-changing world of technology are also important elements of this demanding career.
As well as gaining a classroom based education it is a great advantage to find experience in the professional work environment. This may be during a part-time job while at college or as part of a sandwich course at university. Many employers offer open days or work experience programmes that will hold you in good stead with them once you have qualified.
Many of the top electrical and electronics engineers become members of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) which is an internationally recognised qualification. There are two main types of membership; corporate member and chartered member. To become a corporate member you must first complete a bachelor degree in your chosen subject (BEng Electrical/Electronic Engineering) before moving on to work in a professional environment. After you have gained experience in the work environment you can apply for a professional review from the IET where you will be set an exam before becoming a corporate member.
Becoming a chartered member of the IET involves much the same process but is only available to those who have completed a postgraduate degree (MEng). Most corporate members specialise in applying the uses of technology to their chosen field whereas chartered members typically specialise in the development of technologies and managerial roles.
An entry-level salary for a recent graduate is typically around £21,000 which may rise slightly with experience. Once you are a corporate member of the IET your typical salary should rise to around £36,000 whereas a chartered member can expect to earn £50,000 or more.