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 specialisation in the field of electrical engineering. Specialisation 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.
How to Enter
Schooling & School Subjects
- National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course
- National Senior Certificate meeting diploma requirements for a diploma course
Each institution has its own entry requirements.
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.
What to Study
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.
TVET (Technical Vocational Education and Training) Colleges: A National Diploma in Engineering can be followed at the majority of TVET Colleges, e.g. 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.
- government departments
- the mining industry
- organisations such as Transnet, Eskom, Mittal Steel, CSIR, Sasol, Kentron, SABS, SABC, Denel, Portnet, Metro Rail
- 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
P O Box 751253
Tel: (011) 487-3003/6 / (011) 487-3002
Electrical Contractors Association of SA
P O Box 9683
Tel: (011) 392-0000 Fax: (011) 974-9402
- read as much as you can about electricity
- arrange to speak to an electrical engineer about this type of career and seek permission to observe the work
- try to obtain vacation work as an assistant to an electrical engineer