The discovery of electricity and the continuous developments surrounding how we can use it have had an enormous impact on our world. As you read this on your computer it is worth taking the time to consider how it is possible to display the text you are reading on screen by ‘playing’ with the movements of atomic particles!
This is made possible by the years of work by both Electrical Engineers (involved in the supply of electricity) and Electronic Engineers (converting this electricity into endless varieties of ‘gadgets’).
Electrical engineers deal with large-scale electrical systems such as power transmission and motor control. They create and design products using scientific principles, combined with natural curiosity, problem solving and innovation.
An electrical engineer can be employed in the design and construction of power lines, in the control and management of power stations, or in the design and installation of electrical systems and machinery, such as transformers, electric motors and power electronics.
Electrical engineers will play an important role in the future development of a sustainable environment. There are a wide range of challenging paths available to an engineer, technologist or technician. Career opportunities include:
- Industrial research and development labs
- Energy supply corporations
- Software and services companies
- Civil service
- Technical monitoring agencies
- Research institutes and educational institutions
Electrical Engineering graduates can work in such fields as computer engineering, energy engineering, transport engineering, communications engineering and media.
Electronic engineering involves the design and testing of electronic circuits that use the electronic properties of components such as resistors, capacitors, inductors, diodes and transistors to achieve a particular functionality. Electronic engineers design, develop, research, test and supervise the manufacture of electrical and electronic equipment. They play a key role in producing new innovations in household equipment, telecommunications equipment such as the mobile phone, PC, i-pod and digital cameras.
Many Electronic Engineers work in areas closely related to computers such as medical devices, artificial intelligence and robotics. The focus of their work is often on designing new products, maintaining and testing electronic equipment and coming up with technical solutions to solve operating problems. Their work can also involve estimating the time and cost of engineering projects.
Electronic Engineering Technicians support engineers in the research, design, development and maintenance of electronic equipment or products. Their work will usually be concerned with the repairs and maintenance of products from digital devices, mobile telephones and personal computers to satellite tracking systems. There are also opportunities in technical sales and technical publications for technicians.
There is evidence of a current shortage of engineering technicians available to industry because the majority of those who qualify at technician level go on to degree level.
Electronic engineering is a significant growth area both at home and abroad. Career opportunities open to electronic engineers, technologists or technicians in this discipline can be found with:
- Electronic component manufacturers
- Telecommunications companies and corporations
- Electrical power utility companies
- Research and education
- Civil Service and government
- Radio and television service providers
Mechatronics (or Mechanical and Electronics Engineering) is the combination of mechanical engineering, electronic engineering and software engineering.
Mechatronics is a new approach to precision engineering, electronic control and information systems, in order to make ‘intelligent’ machine systems ranging from iPods, DVD and CD players, robots and digital cameras, to fully automated factories and manufacturing processes, and smart buildings. It involves the integration of mechanical engineering with electronics and intelligent computer control in the design and manufacture of products and processes.
Mechatronic engineers are also involved in the new field of biomechatronics, concerned with the development of systems for human augmentation and rehabilitation. Examples of these systems include intelligent artificial legs that mimic the person’s good leg and exoskeleton suits that enhance the wearer’s strength and stamina.
Telecommunications engineering focuses on the transmission of information across a channel such as a coax cable, optical fiber or free space.
All the technological changes to modern communications, from blogging to pod-casting, video streaming and SMS messaging, are all possible because of the work of telecommunications engineers in providing the methods to transmit and receive data. The transmission of data is changing the way we live and this makes telecoms such an exciting, challenging, and constantly evolving area to work in.
People are moving from communications used in a fixed environment, to communications on the move, wherever they are. Engineers must meet the constant challenges of customer demand, but also stay one step ahead to predict and produce new technology that will compete in the marketplace.
Telecommunications engineers plan, design, implement and monitor communication systems and services. They work with microprocessor and computer systems, optics and fibre optic cabling, transmission and switching technologies, radio communications and signal processing. This area also deals with the collection and processing of remotely sensed data from satellite, aircraft and ship radars, and it links in with biomedical engineering on development areas such as speech synthesis and recognition systems.
Becoming an Engineer
There is more than one way to become an engineer.
The most direct way into Engineering is to take an Honours Degree (Level 8) Engineering course as offered by almost all third level colleges and universities throughout the Country. You can specialise the engineering areas you are most interested in from the start of the 4 year course.
It is also possible to take a general course in engineering in the first year or two and then choose an area to specialise in. A higher Leaving Cert. grade in maths together with a science subject is normally required for entry to these courses. Selection into the courses is on the basis of Leaving Cert results and the CAO ‘points system’ is used to select applicants.
It is possible to take a Higher Certificate course in engineering at an Institute of Technology without having higher math’s or even a science subject in Leaving Cert. These are two year courses leading to a qualification as an Engineering Technician. Specialised technician courses are offered in many colleges for all of the engineering disciplines outlined. You could opt to work as a technician with this qualification or proceed to an ordinary degree (Level 7) and then to an honours degree (Level 8).
The future prospects for both technicians and professional engineers in all of the above fields look very promising indeed. It is not usual for engineers to move career from one branch of engineering to another. Much of the work that engineers engage in is learned on the job. Their background of study and experience gives them the ability to analyse problems properly and provide technical solutions.
For this reason they find that they can adapt to working in different type of industries. Many engineers move into management roles within 10 years of working as engineers. Continuing education is important for electrical and electronics engineers. Engineers who fail to keep up with the rapid changes in technology are more likely to be passed over for advancement.
Currently, almost 80 per cent of graduates of primary degrees go straight into employment, with almost 15 per cent pursuing further study. The biggest employment area is the manufacturing and non-services sector (engineering, electronics and metal industries) and the second-biggest is construction and civil engineering.
Most graduates start on a salary of approximately 27,000 euro, rising to over 35,000 euro after the first few years. The opportunities for overseas employment are extremely high, with the UK being the first-choice destination, followed by Northern Europe and the USA
There are up to 4,000 Electrical Engineers and 3,500 Electronic Engineers employed in Ireland. Whereas other engineering sectors have shown healthy growth in recent years, there was little growth in electronic engineering positions by comparison. The National Skills Bulletin reports that Engineers were the second most frequently cited 'difficult to fill' (DTF) engineering occupation, with Electrical Engineers for the areas of wind energy high, tension power, and sub-station power engineers specifically listed.
Engineering Careers - Download the 2013 Engineering Sector Overview from gradireland.com
Useful Career Sheets from STEPS to Engineering [pdf files]