Electrical & electronics engineering: what's the difference?

Find out how these two types of engineering differ, the career prospects & decide which one is the right fit for your graduate career.
Team GradAustralia
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Overview of electrical and electronic engineering

The electronics industry is usually thought of as including the businesses and factories that produce consumer products with electrical components. However, for the purposes of this article, we will take a broader approach, and consider all the roles, across numerous industries, that graduates with appropriate electrical training can fill. Electrical, electronic, and computing engineers, as well as electricians and specialist technicians, are vital to many industries and sectors, including entertainment, transport, infrastructure, manufacturing, health, government, and mining. They build, maintain, develop, and troubleshoot electrical devices and systems, working on everything from advanced medical robots to the stadium lighting at major sports events.

What’s involved?

Electrical engineers are responsible for the equipment, machines and systems that we use for the generation, distribution, utilisation and control of electric power. By contrast, electronics engineers focus on electronic components, circuits, and systems. Electricians are tradespeople who install and repair wiring in buildings, equipment, and machines.

Where do people in this sector work?

Electronics engineers work for various organisations, from engineering firms to mining companies. Victoria employs 40% of Australia’s electronics engineers, with NSW employing a third, and the share of the remaining states ranging from one to ten per cent. Electrical engineers are similarly distributed across organisations, with NSW employing the largest proportion (39%), followed by Victoria and Queensland. While electrical engineers often work at a desk, both roles can involve extensive travel and site visits to attend meetings and inspections or to inspect equipment, ensure that it complies with relevant standards, and carry out maintenance.

Entering the electronics sector

There are various organisations that hire electrical and electronics engineers through dedicated graduate programs. These include Arup, BAE Systems, Honeywell, and Cochlear, as well as the public service and a range of consumer businesses such as Sony, Philips, and Hitachi.

Career prospects for electrical and electronics engineers

While the number of electronics engineers is set to decline slightly over the next five years (from 4,100 to 3,900 says the Australian Government’s Job Outlook site), competition for available workers has historically ensured a strong employment rate within this profession. There are many more electrical engineers (around 18,800) and the government predicts that ‘new jobs and turnover from workers leaving may create approximately 6,000 job openings over the next five years.

Recent data from the University of Adelaide has shown that electronic, electrical, and computing engineers find better-paying jobs faster than other graduates, with 78% securing a full-time job within four months of graduating. How can I take advantage of my STEM background? Your STEM background will be indispensable when pursuing a career that involves electronics or electrical systems. In fact, you will require a degree in electrical or electronic engineering, with additional study of physics, maths, and computing often recommended. Electrical engineers who wish to work as a chartered professional must also complete an Institute of Engineering and Technology accredited master’s degree.

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