So you want to work in electrical and electronic engineering?

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Electricity and electronics are all around us. Not only everyday products, such as mobile phones, DVD players and household appliances, but also areas such as food production, railways and medical equipment, all rely on electrical and electronic engineering. This is a fascinating and truly diverse area of work. In this booklet you will learn about a wide range of opportunities in this field, in sectors such as energy and power, manufacturing, the service industries, transport, communications, aeronautical and scientific.

Electrical or electronic? What's the difference?

Both concern electricity. Electrical engineering comes first because it includes the generation of power, without which we could not survive. Electric power is generated at power stations and is usually high voltage power which has to be transformed into lower voltages for industrial, commercial and household/domestic use.

Electronics on the other hand involves much lower voltages obtained via transformers or from batteries. Your computer is electronic because it transforms a normal 250 volt current down to what it needs.

Nanotechnology is an area still under development. The continual search to increase the performance of computers requires the 'switches' and 'wires' inside computer chips to be miniaturised to nanoscale dimensions. This brings new challenges, such as understanding how electrical signals behave in such a tightly packed environment.

Who works in electrical and electronic engineering?

Over 600,000 people are working in 18,000 engineering companies across the whole of the UK. Each year employers in this sector spend over £2 billion a year on training their staff. A large proportion of these people work in electrical and electronic engineering.

Operators undertake routine jobs such as assembly or checking. Operators are vitally important in manufacturing processes. With study to NVQ/SVQ Levels 1 to 3 they can go on to become trained and experienced Craftspeople whose skills are recognised by vocational diplomas and certificates. They form the backbone of the profession and increasing numbers of them go on to become technicians and engineers.

Technicians are involved in many areas of engineering from senior supervisory jobs in manufacturing to management positions. Usually at NVQ/SVQ Levels 3 to 4, they install, commission, maintain and operate electrical plant and machinery. The Engineering Council, professional institutions and employers are actively promoting the importance of technicians. With qualifications at NVQ/SVQ Level 4 or equivalent, technicians are encouraged to apply for the EngTech qualification which assures them of professional recognition.

Engineers are at the top of the profession. They may be graduates who have taken engineering degrees or engineers who have worked their way through the system and have NVQs/SVQs at Level 4 or 5, or the equivalent. At senior levels, there are incorporated engineers who are responsible for the performance of a team, and chartered engineers with overall responsibility for major projects.

Are there many opportunities for women?

Almost half the people profiled here are women, so it is no longer true to say that engineering is a man's world. The trend is continuing with plenty of encouragement from government and employers who support organisations such as the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology.

What qualifications do I need?

At school, vocational GCSEs/S grades in engineering and manufacturing and Advanced GCEs in engineering are now available, offering young people a route into either an Apprenticeship or a fulltime BTEC course. With an Apprenticeship you train while working for an employer, and at the end gain a vocational qualification (eg an NVQ/SVQ). You can also go to college on a part-time basis to study for a BTEC or City & Guilds, allowing you to earn some money while you learn useful skills.

You can also start at university. Degree courses are usually three years long, but can take up to five years if they are sandwich courses. This means that there are periods of work experience 'sandwiched' into the academic parts. Bursaries and undergraduate scholarships and awards are available to student members of the Institution of Electrical Engineers.

More significant perhaps, is the area of work you choose, and this is where the young people featured here are worth close study, as many of them emphasise the importance of relevant work experience.

What are the prospects for the future?

This is a fast-moving industry with unlimited horizons. Electronic engineering in particular is subject to rapid change and you must be adaptable to succeed. Probably the most likely area of expansion will be in the field of engineering services. From the aerospace industry to railways to communications an increasing number of engineering jobs are to be found in the areas of design, production and implementation.

Our case studies include an engineer working in Antarctica. With qualifications in this sector you could work anywhere in the world.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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