An electrical engineer researches, designs, installs, and tests electrical and electronic equipment and supervises its manufacture. Their work involves the generation, distribution and management of all appliances and installations that generate or use electrical energy.
Electrical engineering is often associated with power generation and distribution of power. Power generation involves the generation of electrical power from a variety of sources: hydro-electrical, thermal coal power, nuclear, as well as renewable sources of power such as solar and wind power. Distribution involves transmission lines and sub-stations that are used to distribute electrical energy for power, heating, lighting and other uses.
The fact that there are so many varieties and sources of electrical power means that there are also numerous areas of specialization in the field of electrical engineering. Specialization may also include the design of electrical transmission systems, electric motors and generators, high voltage engineering and power electronics, to name but a few. The nature of the work may include research and design of new products, the writing of performance requirements and the development of maintenance schedules. Electrical engineers test equipment, solve operating problems and estimate the time and cost of engineering projects. Many electrical and electronics engineers also work in areas closely related to computers (see Computer Software Engineer and Computer Hardware Engineer).
There are various similarities, although also differences, between electrical and electronics engineering. Electronics engineering is often referred to as "light current" engineering and electrical engineering as "heavy current" engineering. The difference lies in terms of the storage, retrieval, transfer and processing of information associated with electronics engineering, versus the application of electrical energy associated with electrical engineering, which is now split into heavy and light current engineering. See Electronics Engineer for more details. However, there is some blurring between the two areas in today's world and career handbooks today prefer to describe electronics engineering as a sub-division of electrical engineering.
Electrical engineers work in a variety of work environments depending on the nature of the work. These environments include offices, design centres or laboratories, as well as outdoors in the project management of large constructions and installations, for instance power stations.
Engineering graduates usually begin work under the supervision of experienced engineers and are gradually given more responsibilities as they gain experience. Some engineers with experience and additional education, move into administration or management. Many high-level executives in industry began their careers in engineering.
Electrical Engineering Technician
Electrical engineering technicians are involved in the design, installation and testing of electrical motors, generators, alternators, transformers, cables and switchgears. They often act as a link between the electrical engineer or technologist and the artisan.
Electrical engineering technicians create and assist in the processes which generate electrical energy and with the task of distributing electrical energy to the consumer. They test and maintain equipment linked to these processes. They identify and diagnose the possible causes of electrical problems and then rectify these.
They install new equipment at power plants and test to determine whether it functions effectively. Electrical engineering technicians can be involved in the design of anything from household appliances to power stations. They also supervise their aides, who might prepare drawings of layouts and diagrams showing the required wiring.
Studying to become an electrical engineering technician requires motivation and self-discipline. Electrical engineering technicians should be able to apply their theoretical knowledge practically, once they are in the working environment. They also need to keep abreast of the latest technology in their field.
Electrical Engineering Technologist
Electrical engineering technologists specialize in the heavy and light current fields of electrical systems and are concerned with the maintenance of advanced equipment or control systems.
Electrical engineering technologists can be involved in research projects, complicated designs in the manufacturing field and the testing of equipment and of installed machines.
Electrical engineering technologists design, develop, install and test electrical motors, generators, alternators, transformers, transmission lines, cables and switchgear. Their work entails the generation and distribution of electricity for power, heat and light by means of conventional and alternative energy sources, using the electrical machines and power transformers, electrical protection and power electronics, illumination networks and systems.
Electrical engineering technologists usually work in an office, design centre, or in a laboratory. They also work on the sites of large construction and installation projects such as power stations.
- many areas to choose from, thus working in your field of interest
- solving problems
- opportunity to be creative
- variety and challenge of the work
- good salaries
- working long hours to finish a project
- the long period of preparation and study required to register as a professional electrical engineer
- having to continue your education throughout your career to keep up with the latest technological advances in your field
An electrical engineer should:
- be an independent thinker and able to visualize abstract concepts
- have above average mathematical and scientific aptitude
- show originality and initiative
- be able to make fast and correct decisions during times of crisis
- function well with other people
- be able to manage projects
- have an inquiring, analytical mind
- have good health and physical stamina
- keenness to learn, combined with logical reasoning
- have good problem-solving skills
National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course
National Senior Certificate meeting diploma requirements for a diploma course
Each institution will have its own minimum entry requirements.
Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Sciences
Recommended Subjects: Information Technology, Electrical Technology
Note: The Engineering Faculties of some universities offer a support programme to help students to become self-sufficient and capable of completing the very demanding engineering course. The programme is aimed at students with good marks, from communities which lack proper education facilities.
Degree: The 4-year BEng degree in Electrical Engineering can be followed at the UP, Wits, UKZN, US, UCT, UJ, NMMU, UNISA and NWU. Theoretical lectures are supplemented by tutorial classes and practical sessions that mostly take place in the laboratory.
Diploma: The 3-year N.Dip. Electrical Engineering can be obtained at a university of technology and is presented by the TUT, DUT, CUT and CPUT. These universities of technology now offer a degree in Engineering in collaboration with universities. The course is a minimum of 4 years’ study.
FET College: A National Diploma in Engineering can be followed at the majority of FET Colleges, eg Cape Town, Flavius Mareka, Ekurhuleni West, KZN Coastal, Umgungundlovu, SW Gauteng and Northlink.
After obtaining the diploma and with appropriate practical training and experience, a person can be accepted by the Chief Inspector of either the Department of Labour (DOL) or the Department of Minerals and Energy (DME), as a candidate for the Certificate of Competence for factories or for mines respectively.
To be legally appointed in terms of occupational health and safety legislation, the junior electrical engineer (heavy current) with a degree or a diploma and at least 2 years appropriate post qualification practical experience, must apply to the Chief Inspector (DOL or DME) for acceptance as a candidate. Once accepted, they must pass the two prescribed subjects - Plant/Mining Engineering and Legal Knowledge (different papers for factories and mines). Persons registered as Professional Engineers with ECSA may be exempted from the Plant Engineering paper.
Electrical Engineering Technicians and Technologists
For electrical engineering technicians and technologists, see Engineering Technicians and Technologists.
- Government departments
- Mining industry
- Such organizations as Transnet, Eskom, Mittal Steel, CSIR, Sasol, Kentron, SABS, SABC
- Universities and universities of technology
- Manufacturers of electrical equipment
- Private engineering consultants
- Self-employment, with enough experience and initiative, can work as a consultant or start own manufacturing or engineering company
Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA)
Private Bag X 691
Tel: (011) 607-9500 Fax: (011) 622-9295
South African Institute of Electrical Engineers
Tel: (011) 487-3003/6 / (011) 487-3002
Electrical Contractors Association of SA
P O Box 9684
Tel: (011) 392 0000
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