Though their titles sound similar, there are big differences between electricians vs electrical engineers when it comes to the duties they perform, the education and training necessary for their jobs, where they typically work, and how much each occupation makes.
If you are considering a career working with electricity, it may help to compare electrical engineering vs electricians to get an idea of what each job is like. Depending on your interest and current skill set, you might find yourself drawn to one role over the other.
What is an electrician?
Electricians install, repair, and maintain electrical systems for residential and commercial customers. They help provide power to lights, appliances, heating and cooling systems, theft alarms, and other equipment that make people’s lives and jobs easier and more comfortable.
The work of an electrician requires many skills and duties, including:
- Reading blueprints and technical diagrams
- Installing, maintaining, and repairing wiring, appliances, or electrical systems
- Inspecting electrical components to assess their safety
- Identifying electrical issues through testing
- Following state and local regulations
Electricians may work independently but often collaborate with other contractors and professionals. For example, an experienced electrician may be consulted by an architect or engineer when designing an electrical system in new construction.
What is electrical engineering?
Electrical engineers design, develop, test, and supervise the manufacturing of electrical equipment. They work on equipment and systems that touch all parts of people’s lives, from electric motors and power generation to systems that assist with communication and navigation.
An electrical engineer typically:
- Designs new ways to use electrical power
- Develop or improve electrical products
- Supervise the manufacturing, installation, and testing of electrical equipment to ensure it is safe and meets compliance codes
- Investigates complaints about electrical products or systems, evaluates problems, and recommends solutions
Electrical engineers often work with others. For example, many electrical engineers work with project managers to ensure that projects are completed to plan on time and within budget.
Electrical engineering vs. electricians: Key points
If you are deciding whether to become an electrician vs an electrical engineer, you may want to also consider these key differences between the occupations:
Education & training
Electricians must complete an apprenticeship to become licensed in the trade. A high school diploma (or equivalent) is often enough to apply for an apprenticeship. However, some programs may require you to get an electrical technician certificate through a trade school or community college first. A solid understanding of basic math is necessary to work as an electrician.
Electrical engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in electronics engineering, electrical engineering, or a related engineering field. After graduation, you may work as an intern to start earning work experience. Electrical engineers must master advanced mathematics (algebra, trigonometry, and calculus) and have a solid understanding of physics.
Electricians do on-site installations, maintenance, and repair work. They work in various environments, from residential homes and businesses to construction sites and government facilities.
Electrical engineers typically work in white-collar settings. They may draft designs in an office and test those designs in a lab. They might also visit manufacturing facilities to quality-check products and ensure they are electrically sound.
On average, electrical engineers earn more than electricians (according to the most recent data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics):
- The annual average salary for Electrical Engineers is $107,890
- The annual average salary for Electricians is $63,310
Of course, salary expectations vary from state to state and between different industries. Electricians in Illinois, for example, have an average yearly salary of $83,140.
Your job title and work experience also factor into your paycheck. Some electrical engineers earn closer to $62,000 per year.
Bureau of Labor Statistics data projects steady job growth for both electricians and electrical engineers between 2020 and 2030. During that period, the number of jobs for electricians is expected to grow by 9% and by 7% for electrical engineers. This is as fast as the average growth for all occupations.
However, aspiring electrical engineers may face more employment competition than electricians based on these numbers. Projected job growth for electricians translates to 66,100 jobs, but only 20,400 for electrical engineers.
Is an electrician an engineer?
No, an electrician is not considered a type of engineer.
Put simply, an engineer designs products and systems that need electricity to work. An electrician puts those designs into action. Electricians and electrical engineers may sometimes work together during the installation and setup of a system or piece of equipment.
Electrician vs. electrical contractor: Are they the same?
While ‘electrical contractor’ is sometimes used to refer to an electrician, they are technically two separate roles. Electrical contractors perform specialized construction work related to an electrical system’s design, installation, and maintenance.
Electrical contractors are typically classified by the work they do:
- Outside or “line” contractors – Work with high-voltage power transmission and distribution lines at power plants and substations.
- Inside contractors – Provide electricity to any building or structure within a property’s boundary lines.
- Voice/Data/Video (VDV) or Integrated Building Systems (IBS) – Primarily work with low-voltage systems, such as climate controls, telecommunications, security systems, and backup power.
Electrical contractors may hire electricians to help them complete certain types of work.
Take charge of your future
Electrician and electrical engineer are two promising career paths. Both help improve people’s lives by making their living and working conditions more comfortable. Each job requires a special set of skills and personality traits, so you should carefully consider which role may be for you before enrolling in a university program or applying for an apprenticeship.
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