Electrician vs electrical engineer (With salaries)
Updated 4 June 2023
If you're interested in working with electrical equipment, a career as an electrical engineer or electrician might be suitable for you. Both electrical engineers and electricians specialise in creating, installing, repairing and maintaining electrical systems and devices, but there are key differences in the nature of their work. Understanding the differences between these two roles can help you choose the career that suits you best. In this article, we describe the differences between an electrician vs. electrical engineer in terms of their daily duties, average salaries, training, education and typical work environments.
Electrician vs electrical engineer
The key difference between an electrician vs electrical engineer is that an electrician installs, repairs and maintains electrical systems and equipment, while electrical engineers design and develop electrical systems and equipment. Electricians focus on connecting electrical systems to power to ensure they operate correctly and determine that electrical equipment is safe for all to use. Electrical engineers focus on creating ideas for new mechanisms or devices, developing prototypes, testing products and overseeing the manufacture of new products.
Electrical engineers have a full understanding of how electrical systems and devices work and why they work the way they do. They act like architects in the sense that they make blueprints for electrical designs. Electricians are like builders in the sense that they take the designs to create, repair or revise electrical systems. Electricians are also responsible for understanding safety regulations to ensure any electrical work they carry out is in line with the law. Below is more information on the education, salary, duties, environment and skills of these two roles:
Electricians usually require between four and five GCSEs, including maths, English and science, to enrol on a suitable training course. They can take a month-long domestic electrical installer course to qualify to perform basic residential electrical jobs, such as rewiring a house or installing light fittings. To train as a fully qualified electrician and work on a wider variety of projects, electricians take a level-two diploma in electrical installation, a level-three diploma in electrical and electronic engineering or a T-level qualification.
They can then complete further training to specialise in a specific field or industry. Electrical engineers complete a Bachelor of Engineering degree (BEng) to qualify. BEng degrees usually take three to four years to complete. In some instances, electrical engineers take master's degrees (MEng) to specialise their knowledge and expertise. Integrated MEng courses that begin immediately after finishing A-levels are available. This route typically takes between four and five years.
The national average salary of an electrician is £33,708 per year. Salaries vary depending on the nature of the work and experience level, with those who specialise in a particular area or industry capable of reaching higher salaries. The location also plays a role in salary. The national average salary of an electrical engineer is £36,240. Those with an MEng degree can expect to reach higher salaries. As electrical engineers take on more responsibility, such as managing junior engineers and liaising with manufacturing, they can access higher salaries.
Related: How to become an electrician
Electricians often run electrical wiring throughout buildings to supply power to various areas. They may instal switches and lights, frequently run tests on existing electrical systems to assess safety and efficacy and perform repairs and maintenance where necessary. They stay up to date with the latest regulations and codes related to electrical safety, and since they're often responsible for advising customers on electrical safety, they may provide training on the correct use of systems. Sometimes, particularly when installing brand new electrical systems, they may study blueprints provided by electrical engineers or architects.
Electrical engineers design electrical systems and products using computer design software to produce blueprints. They produce prototypes, perform tests, liaise with customers and stakeholders to determine product efficacy and oversee the fabrication of the finished product to ensure correct operation. They may work with electricians when it comes to the installation of the new product or system, and when working in large teams or on big projects they might manage a team of junior engineers.
Electricians often travel to perform electrical work in homes and businesses. Although much of their work takes place during the day between Monday and Friday, they often work weekends and evenings when dealing with emergency repairs. Some electricians work for electrical firms or construction firms, while others are self-employed and source their own customers. Self-employed electricians often have additional responsibilities, such as producing estimates for jobs, invoicing customers and ordering parts.
Electrical engineers work primarily in offices to design products and they adhere to typical nine to five, Monday to Friday office hours. Testing usually takes place in laboratory environments and they may visit industrial facilities or manufacturing plants to oversee the manufacturing portion of projects. Electrical engineers find jobs at companies that deliver services, such as power generation, engineering, transmission or manufacturing. It's rare for electrical engineers to be self-employed unless they provide consultation services after developing many years of experience in a specialist area.
Electrical engineers and electricians share a variety of skills, including:
Problem-solving: electrical engineers often design products to solve problems or fulfil a need facing businesses or individuals. Electricians often respond to emergency calls regarding faulty electrical systems and find solutions as quickly as possible to restore power.
Communication and interpersonal: electrical engineers liaise with a variety of stakeholders, fellow engineers and other colleagues daily to bring projects to completion, which requires strong written and verbal communication skills. Electricians work closely with customers daily while helping to resolve electrical problems, so they benefit from being good communicators with great interpersonal skills.
Attention to detail: it's necessary for both electricians and electrical engineers to pay close attention to detail to produce or instal blueprints accurately. Having a good eye for detail also helps in identifying and repairing faults.
Computer literacy: electrical engineers use software systems daily to design products and benefit from being computer literate, whereas electricians often use digital devices or computers to run tests or to manage paperwork related to their duties.
Technical skills: electrical engineers require knowledge of topics like electrical schematics, circuit design, advanced mathematics and linear systems and analysis. Electricians have more basic technical knowledge of electrical systems and much of their knowledge centres around practical aspects of working with electricity and following safety protocols.
How to choose between being an electrician or an electrical engineer
To decide which career is right for you, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Where would you like to work?
Electricians travel to new environments every day and often multiple times each day, particularly when working on domestic electrical systems. If you're looking for a career in which no two days are the same and that involves plenty of variation in environment, becoming an electrician could be ideal for you. Electrical engineers work in offices the majority of the time, so if you like the idea of a consistent work environment it might be a better career option.
2. Do you like working with people?
Since electricians work closely with customers daily, the career suits those who enjoy interacting with others, delivering good customer service and solving problems for people. Electrical engineers also work with other people on a regular basis, but this tends to be colleagues rather than customers. Teamwork is important in electrical engineering jobs since many people work on projects to bring new products to market. By contrast, electricians often work independently, so the social aspect of the job relies upon forming connections with customers.
3. Do you want an active job?
Electricians have practical, hands-on jobs where they are physically working with electrical equipment daily. Sometimes electrician jobs are somewhat physically demanding as it's necessary to work in awkward spaces, such as underneath floorboards. If you want a career that involves being active, working as an electrician could be ideal. Electrical engineer jobs are predominantly desk-based and sedentary and some people find this type of work more appealing.
4. Is innovation important to you?
Electrical engineers design new electrical systems on a regular basis, which requires innovative thinking and creativity. If you're looking for a career in which you can advance and improve on existing technologies, electrical engineering could be ideal. Electricians instead focus on maintaining and repairing existing systems, although creativity is sometimes needed to find solutions to complex problems.
Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.
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