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What Is the Difference Between an Electrician & Electrical Engineer?

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You can watch television at home, operate computers in the office and watch evening baseball games at a stadium all thanks to electrical engineers and electricians. Electric engineers design the power systems and the equipment that distribute energy, while electricians install wiring and make electrical repairs. They each have differing responsibilities, qualifications and job opportunities.


Electrical engineers design, test and oversee the manufacturing of electrical equipment, including power generation systems, electric motors, communications devices and navigation controls. They find solutions to electrical problems by modifying current processes or developing new ones. Electricians install, maintain and repair electrical systems in homes, businesses and industrial facilities. They read blueprints and specifications, inspect existing installations, advise customers on the costs and times of repairs, and fix problems using hand and power tools.


Electrical engineers need a minimum bachelor’s degree to enter their profession. This program of study takes about four years to complete and includes training in classrooms and laboratories on digital systems design, advanced math, engineering principles and electrical circuitry theory. An internship can provide practical experience. Engineers interested in offering services to the public need a professional engineering license, which mandates a bachelor's degree, related work experience and passing two exams. Most electricians hold a high school degree or equivalent. They learn their trade through a four-year apprenticeship, where they receive wages for completing at least 144 hours of technical training and 2,000 hours of on-the-job experiences for each year. Most states require licensing for electricians, which normally requires passing an exam.

Work Environments

Electrical engineers plan projects from their offices, test designs in labs and coordinate manufacturing in production facilities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, their biggest employers as of 2014 were companies that provide engineering and other related services. Other large employers were companies involved in electric power generation, transmission and distribution, and manufacturers in semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing. Electricians typically travel to customer sites to perform their jobs. They might work indoors in homes and businesses, or outdoors at construction sites. According to the BLS, about 10 percent of electricians were self-employed.


The BLS reports that electrical engineers earned an average salary of $98,620 per year as of May 2016, while electricians earned an average of $56,650. Electrical engineers are expected to little to no job increase from 2014 to 2024 because of the decline of manufacturing industries where most engineers were employed. Electricians, on the other hand, should enjoy higher-than-average job increases of 14 percent. This is due to a growing population will need more homes and businesses, which will create higher demand for wiring installation and repair services.


Aurelio Locsin has been writing professionally since 1982. He published his first book in 1996 and is a frequent contributor to many online publications, specializing in consumer, business and technical topics. Locsin holds a Bachelor of Arts in scientific and technical communications from the University of Washington.

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