Despite the similar sounding names, there are significant differences between electricians and electrical engineers in terms of salary, duties and daily tasks. To be clear, electricians deal with electrical problems and equipment malfunctions. Meanwhile, electrical engineers help design and install large electrical systems by applying engineering principles.
In terms of their training and education, different career paths apply to electricians and electrical engineering professionals. Electrical engineers typically complete a four-year bachelor's degree, while electricians may pursue on-the-job training, apprenticeships or certificate programs at trade schools. The range of jobs can change due to different levels of education.
An electrical engineer is different from an electrician. Let's take a closer look at what it means to be an electrical engineer and what they do.
Electrical engineers design, install and manufacture electrical equipment, control systems, motors, distribution networks, generators and other accessories. They typically work with electrical system manufacturers, distributors and project-based companies.
A day in the life of an electrical engineer may include:
An electrician helps repair, troubleshoot and connect electrical systems, accessories and wiring. Every residential, commercial or industrial establishment that relies on electricity may need the services of an electrician.
An electrician's daily duties may include:
Not only do electricians and electrical engineers differ in terms of job roles and educational requirements, but the two careers also differ significantly in terms of career paths, salaries, job prospects and specializations. Let's compare these two careers to better understand their differences.
If you want to build a rewarding career as an electrician or electrical engineer, these are the steps you must follow.
After completing your high school diploma/GED, you must enroll in a four-year electrical engineering degree. Make sure your program is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) or a similar accrediting body.
During your bachelor's degree, you will take courses in advanced mathematics, electronic circuits, electrical products, digital systems, electrical system design, power distribution networks, industrial automation, control systems, and more. Your program will include classroom lectures, laboratory work, and hands-on internships. After completing the required credits, you will earn your degree and apply for entry-level engineering positions.
Or, you can enroll in an associate degree after high school and then pursue a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering technology.
Every electrician training program includes theory lectures, lab time and on-the-job training. However, unlike degree programs, hands-on training is an important part of an apprenticeship. A typical program may include approximately 1,000 classroom hours and 9,000 on-the-job hours.
Upon completion of your training, you will be eligible to apply for an electrician's license. As an entry-level employee, you will be able to assist with any project, but may not train apprentices, lead teams, or apply for licenses.
Electrical engineers who want to join the workforce after earning a bachelor's degree must first pass the Fundamentals of Engineering exam to become an engineer-in-training. With four years of experience, you can apply for the Professional Engineer exam and be fully qualified for any job. If you are interested in teaching or research, a master's degree in electrical engineering will help you develop further.
Again, most states require you to pass a certification exam after your apprenticeship to become a licensed electrician or journeyman. The Association of Electrical Contractors of America certification exam is a certification exam accepted in most states. Electricians must answer questions related to the National Electrical Code, building codes, and safe electrical equipment and wiring installations.
After two years of experience as a journeyman, you can apply for Master Electrician certification. With Master Electrician status, you can advance to higher positions in your field. You can then lead apprentices, apply for licenses and lead teams of junior electricians.
The BLS projects that the number of jobs for electricians will grow at an annual rate of 9 percent from 2020-30, adding about 66,100 new jobs for electricians. Similarly, the employment of electrical engineers will grow by 7 percent, creating 12,700 new electrical engineering jobs.
Electrician specialties include a home installer, instrumentation electrician, machine repair, maintenance electrician, and highway electrical system repair. Additional certifications in solar photovoltaics, electrical power production, electronic equipment repair or lighting systems can help electricians advance their careers.
Similarly, engineering professionals can take advanced certificate programs in coding, embedded systems, computer design software, radio and communications equipment, non-renewable systems, energy management and more to work in specific fields.
Let's start by examining the advantages that both fields offer.
Electrical engineers typically enjoy higher salaries and a safer work environment than electricians. In addition, electrical engineering jobs offer more opportunities for innovation and growth.
Electricians usually don't have to spend much on their education, which allows them to leave with less student debt. You can also earn a significant income early in your career without a college education. Since most of their training is hands-on-oriented, aspiring individuals do not need to learn complex subjects and advanced topics. Electricians can also work independently and provide on-call services, allowing them to enjoy a higher level of flexibility.
Because electrical engineers work in a high-risk environment, they can face significant work stress. They may also spend more time on the job to meet deadlines and complete their projects.
Although electrical engineers may have good salary prospects, their job growth is often limited. In addition, entry-level positions in electrical engineering are highly competitive. Therefore, even after earning your degree, you may need to spend time upgrading your skills, obtaining certifications or applying for higher education to get a decent entry-level job.
While attending technical school isn't as expensive as earning a degree, apprenticeship programs can be very time-consuming. Some training programs may require 4-5 years of practice after earning a high school diploma.
Electricians may perform physically demanding and dangerous electrical work. Lack of safety measures can lead to electrocution or injury. Because this work requires physical labor, it is not easy to maintain as you age. If you work with a contractor, you may have to attend troubleshooting at odd hours of the day. You may also receive fewer benefits, such as 401k, than an electrical engineer.
While technical training will only allow you to work as an electrician, an associate degree in electrical technology can help prepare an electrician for a bachelor's degree in electrical technology. After completing your degree, a former electrician can go on to work as an electrical engineer.
An associate degree provides you with more than the typical electrical apprenticeship and "pedestrian electrical" training program. The training provided will also help you gain a basic understanding of electrical science in a variety of industrial applications. During your degree, you will learn advanced industrial and manufacturing concepts through a two-year degree and gain valuable hands-on experience in these areas.
A career as an electrician or electrical engineer may be a rewarding career choice for students. If you enjoy working hands-on in a dynamic environment, you may want to pursue a career as an electrician. Or, if you love the science behind electricity and desire to develop complex electrical systems, you may want to consider becoming an electrical engineer.
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