what is an electrical engineer?

As an electrical engineer, you design, create and manage electricity and electrical components that help power the world. You apply your mathematical and electromagnetic knowledge to large-scale or small-scale electrical and power systems to process information and transmit energy. You work with various  electronic devices, from small pocket devices like phones to large power stations and supercomputers. Aside from creating electrical systems, you also fix or upgrade the existing systems to improve their functions. You may specialise in electrical systems designs or installing and maintaining power systems.

which industries do electrical engineers work in?

Most electrical engineers work for large-scale electrical systems manufacturers or power generation and transmission sectors. You develop systems to assist with motor control and power transmission as an electrical engineer.  For instance, electrical engineers complete electrical wirings for lighting buildings and telecommunications systems. Aside from working in power generation and distribution centres, electrical engineers are innovators who develop electrical systems and circuits for mobile devices and computers.

Electrical engineers are technically proficient and aren't limited to the traditional power generation or microelectronics sectors. Some work in renewable energy sectors or create machines for mining and mobile networking. Other exciting fields for electrical engineers include robotics, sophisticated medical technology, space projects and Global Positioning System (GPS) technologies.

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average electrical engineer salary

The median salary of an electrical engineer is $95,000 per year. Entry-level electrical engineers take home a starting salary of $63,000 annually. The remuneration package increases with experience and qualification levels. Hence, an electrical engineer with many years of experience takes home a salary of over $110,000 per year. Aside from the base salary, some employers include benefits in the remuneration package. For instance, some electrical engineers enjoy medical and life insurance benefits from employers. In contrast, others earn bonuses annually and overtime pay for working additional hours. Annual leave days and sick leave are also common elements of remuneration packages.

what factors affect the salary of an electrical engineer?

As an electrical engineer, your salary fluctuates based on your expertise, work experience and industry sector. Generally, the greater your knowledge, the higher your earnings. Your area of expertise may also influence your remuneration. Working in specialised areas like robotics and microelectronics will likely increase your salary prospects due to the additional skills required.

The location is also a significant determinant of remuneration packages for electrical engineers. Working in large metro areas typically correlates to a higher salary due to the high cost of living. Local demand for electrical engineers may also push the salary upwards.

Close up - Smiling male looking away.
Close up - Smiling male looking away.

types of electrical engineers

Some of the sub-disciplines that electrical engineers specialise in include:

  • electronics engineering: as an electronics engineer, you create and test electronic components and systems used in telecommunications or control and instrumentation. Electronics engineers specialise in designing and creating smaller parts of electrical systems like capacitors, transistors and electronic circuits.
  • microelectronics engineering: you specialise in small electronic designs and circuit components. Due to the minuscule size of the details, you use specialised skills and equipment. For instance, you rely on wire bonding and other techniques to design smaller and faster devices. Most microelectronics engineers create mobile phones and other small electronic devices.
  • power engineering: as a power engineer, you specialise in a subfield of electrical engineering associated with power generation, transmission and distribution. You devise ways to distribute and utilise electric power and design electrical equipment such as generators, transformers and motors.

working as an electrical engineer

You design and develop new electrical systems and equipment to solve people’s technical problems as an electrical engineer. The complexity and hands-on nature of the role require specialised training and skills. Here are electrical engineers' specific duties, work schedules and working environments:


education and skills

Some of the educational qualifications of electrical engineers include:

  • bachelor's degree: to become an electrical engineer, you should complete a bachelor's degree in engineering. Most employers prefer candidates with a bachelor of engineering majoring in electrical engineering. Usually, the entry requirements depend on NCEA results. 
  • master’s degree: to become an electrical engineer, you can also complete a master’s degree in electrical engineering. Some employers prefer candidates with a master’s degree.
  • work experience: before working independently as an electrical engineer, you should gain at least four years of work experience.

electrical engineer skills and competencies

Some of the skills for success in electrical engineering include:

  • analytical and problem-solving skills: as an electrical engineer, you rely on analytical reasoning to solve technical problems or apply theoretical and practical knowledge to electrical systems. Strong analytical problem-solving skills help you identify issues in a system and find solutions.
  • communication skills: as an electrical engineer, you follow a client's directives and discuss the project requirements with them. You require good communication skills for articulating ideas and explaining technical concepts in simple terms.
  • innovation and creative skills: as an electrical engineer, you are an innovator. That means you require creative skills to develop ideas for designing machines that make life easier.

FAQs about working as an electrical engineer

Here are the most asked questions about working as an electrical engineer:

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