As an electrical engineer your journey will certainly include solving complex engineering problems and the application of technical expertise to address any number of practical challenges. In most cases you will work as part of a multi-faceted project team and as your career launches, you will find yourself contributing to the design of electrical systems, processes or products. The scope of an electrical engineer can vary quite broadly and the projects you can get involved in might include smaller scale projects like the design of a household appliance to quite large scale system designs, including electrical power stations and telecommunication systems. Your role might include the design of lighting, generators, reticulation, uninterrupted power supplies, fire detection and evacuation, access control and this might be for a home or for a large commercial or industrial building. You may even find yourself in a team of engineers pioneering cutting edge technologies for a world class sports stadium, airport or hospital. Your expertise may be required for the design of process control and instrumentation systems or for navigation systems and radars. In addition to the design focus that forms part of the role of an electrical engineer, your focus will generally also extend to evaluation, analysis, research, development, construction, production, testing, quality assurance and maintenance. Electrical engineers have all the possibility of being both innovator and implementer in a world where the application of ideas involving physics and mathematics and the evolution of technology seems limitless.
For more information, please go to the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers.
What will I do in this role?
Though the sectors in which you may end up working could vary quite significantly, your role as an electrical engineer may typically include the design of electrical products, circuits, systems and processes. You will normally need to work closely with your colleagues to make engineering projects come to life and will need to prepare detailed designs, drawings, specifications of electrical systems and offer technical advice. Your team may likely extend beyond colleagues to other engineering disciplines involved in multi-disciplinary projects, to contractors, suppliers and not least of all to your client. Building a positive, respectful relationship with your client is essential to ensuring effective project completion and sustainable opportunities going forward. Meeting standards and customer requirements and ensuring compliance with specifications and codes underpins the work that you do. As such you will participate in technical design reviews and work towards value engineering goals, thereby making sure your work meets performance standards, is of high quality, reliability and safety, while taking cost factors into account. Your technical report writing skills remain important throughout your career and similarly, you may be required to document and present very technical topics to different audiences. Your understanding of the need for detailed calculations and your proficiency therein, both from a first principles perspective and with the use of software, will stand you in good stead in your career.
As an electrical engineer your responsibility may include attending site meetings and doing site visits and your outcomes include assuring quality, conducting tests, recording data, proposing modifications and solving challenges. All engineers need to keep up to date in the evolving knowledge and new technologies available to their profession and so find new solutions to unique engineering problems. A fundamental understanding of project management principles and skills in project planning, stakeholder management, quality management, project risk identification and mitigation, procurement, budgeting and human resource management will take an electrical engineer to the next level of their career.
What can I expect?
You will likely be based in a professional office environment though regular site visits to construction environments or to factories, plants and workshops will generally also form part of your work circumstances. This might be both urban and rural, depending on where your projects are based. Where you are required to visit sites, travel may be quite extensive and you may also find that you regularly travel across borders for work.
Working hours typically extend beyond normal hours, though weekend or shift work is not usually necessary.
Though you may probably need to work for an employer to gain the relevant experience at the start of your career, self-employment for qualified engineers who have established their reputation is also possible.
A typical day at the office will require a lot of communication, meetings, much autonomy to make decisions and will be fairly unstructured. The use of computers, software, hardware and technology is key to effectively functioning as an electrical engineer.