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The Differences Between Electricians and Electrical Engineers

Discover the contrast between electricians & electrical engineers. Understand their roles & expertise. Choose the right career path today!

Electricians and electrical engineers both work closely with electrical systems and components like wiring, circuits, and power transmission. 

However, they play distinct roles when it comes to the installation, maintenance, design, and innovation of electrical infrastructure. 

While these two careers overlap within the electrical domain, there are major differences between them in areas like day-to-day duties, work settings, education, certification, and career outlook.

This article will provide an in-depth exploration of electricians and electrical engineers. 

We will compare and contrast these two electrically oriented professions across factors like on-the-job responsibilities, training requirements, licensing, earning potential, and job growth projections. 

Whether you are weighing these careers or just want to learn about the electrical field, let's shed light on the vital distinctions between electricians and engineers.


Differences Between Electricians and Electrical Engineers

Here is a table summarizing some key differences between electricians and electrical engineers.

Category Electricians Electrical Engineers
Work Duties Installation, maintenance, troubleshooting, and repair of electrical systems Design, testing, and development of new electrical equipment and technologies
Work Setting Client locations like construction sites, factories, homes Offices, laboratories, engineering firms
Education 4-5 year apprenticeship program 4+ year engineering bachelor’s degree (or higher)
Training Type On-the-job and vocational Academic and internships
Expertise Practical and hands-on Theoretical and conceptual
Licensing Required in all states PE license optional
Median Salary (2021) $56,900 $103,000
Projected Job Growth (2021-2031) 8% (Faster than average) 4% (About average)

Overview of Electricians

Definition and Work Responsibilities

Electricians specialize in installing, maintaining, and repairing electrical systems and components. Their mastery over practical electrical work ensures buildings, factories, and homes have properly functioning power systems.

A Hands-On Career

  • The daily tasks of an electrician involve a good deal of hands-on work. Here are some examples:
  • Installing and connecting wiring, circuits, breaker boxes, and outlets
  • Inspecting electrical systems to detect faults or safety hazards
  • Testing circuits to ensure adequate power flows to all connected devices
  • Troubleshooting issues and outages, then making necessary repairs
  • Upgrading outdated electrical systems to meet codes or increased capacity needs

Electricians must have superb technical skills along with physical stamina and dexterity. They rely extensively on hand tools and must follow safety protocols when working with live electrical systems.

Typical Work Settings

Electricians predominantly work on location at their clients' sites, including construction zones, factories, and private homes. 

Their work requires being comfortable using hand tools and electrical testing equipment while handling live systems.

Education and Licensing Requirements

Most electricians begin their careers by completing a multi-year apprenticeship program. 

These combine paid on-the-job training under experienced professionals with technical classroom education. 

This immersive training covers areas like:

  • Electrical theory, codes, and regulations
  • Working safely with electricity
  • Installation, troubleshooting, and repair techniques
  • Proper use of tools and test equipment

Upon completing an apprenticeship, candidates must pass an exam to obtain their state license permitting independent electrical work. 

Some states have separate licenses for Journeymen and Master electricians. Regular continuing education helps electricians stay current with National Electrical Code changes. 

Voluntary certifications in specialties like fire alarms, generators, or workplace safety training can boost career advancement.

Job Outlook and Earning Potential

The job outlook for electricians is very promising, projected to grow 8% from 2021 to 2031 - faster than the average occupation. 

Homes and businesses will continue needing qualified electricians to install wiring in new constructions and upgrade older electrical systems. 

Those working in the construction sector generally earn the highest wages in this field. The median salary for electricians was $56,900 in 2021. 

With overtime, six-figure incomes are possible in some markets.

Overview of Electrical Engineers

Definition and Work Responsibilities

Electrical engineers drive innovation through designing, testing, and overseeing the manufacturing of electrical equipment. 

Their deep theoretical knowledge underpins the development of new technologies and solutions.

An Office-Centric Career

  • A typical electrical engineer's responsibilities include:
  • Designing electrical components like semiconductors, navigation systems, and power generators
  • Creating circuit layouts and diagrams for electrical equipment and systems
  • Running simulations and tests to refine electrical designs prior to production
  • Working with technicians, technologists, and project teams to prototype and manufacture new products
  • Writing technical documentation, reports, and manuals for electrical designs and products
  • Overseeing manufacturing processes and quality evaluations of electrical equipment

While testing and evaluations may occur in laboratories or production facilities, the bulk of an engineer's work takes place in offices. 

They collaborate with other professionals to bring electrical designs from concept to reality.

Typical Work Settings

Electrical engineers predominantly work in offices, research laboratories, engineering firms, and manufacturing plants. 

They may visit field sites or production facilities occasionally to provide oversight.

Education and Licensing Requirements

Becoming an electrical engineer requires rigorous academic preparation. A bachelor's degree in electrical engineering or electrical engineering technology is the standard minimum education. 

Some research and development roles require a Master's degree or Ph.D.

Obtaining a Professional Engineer (PE) license demonstrates competency and mastery of engineering principles. The PE licensing process entails:

  • Earning an accredited undergraduate engineering degree
  • Passing the Fundamentals of Engineering exam
  • Gaining at least 4 years of professional work experience
  • Passing the Professional Engineering exam

Continuing education helps electrical engineers stay updated on the latest advancements in technology, equipment materials, regulations, and industry standards. 

Voluntary certifications in subfields like electronics, robotics, or nanotechnology are also available.

Job Outlook and Earning Potential

The job growth outlook for electrical engineers is estimated to be 4% from 2021 to 2031, closely matching the average for all occupations. 

Demand will be driven by emerging technologies such as smart grids, renewable energy, 5G networks, robotics, and biomedical systems. 

However, candidates should expect strong competition for open positions at engineering firms.

The median annual salary for electrical engineers was over $103,000 in 2021, significantly higher than for electricians. 

Those with advanced degrees and expertise in high-demand disciplines can command salaries above $185,000 per year.

Detailed Key Differences Between the Roles

Work Duties and Environment

Electricians spend their workdays out in the field installing, maintaining, troubleshooting, and repairing electrical systems at client sites. 

They focus on executing hands-on electrical tasks correctly to ensure buildings have functioning power.

Conversely, electrical engineers primarily work in offices, laboratories, and other indoor settings where they design, develop, test, and improve electrical equipment and systems. 

Their job revolves around innovation - creating new products, technologies, and solutions through applied science and engineering principles.


Electricians gain expertise through vocational apprenticeship training and years of real-world experience. 

This imparts them with specialized practical knowledge related to working safely with electrical systems, interpreting building plans, mastering tools, following codes, and delivering reliable installations.

Electrical engineers build expertise by completing rigorous bachelor's and graduate-level university engineering programs. 

Their education provides profound theoretical knowledge about electrical engineering concepts like circuit design, electromagnetics, microelectronics, power transmission, and control systems.

Education and Training

Electricians typically enter the field after a 4-5 year apprenticeship combining paid on-the-job training with some classroom technical instruction. 

They must pass exams to obtain licenses permitting their work. Continuing education keeps their skills current.

Becoming an electrical engineer requires earning an accredited engineering bachelor's degree which takes 4-5 years. Many engineers pursue optional advanced degrees like a Master's which can add 1-2 years more. 

Continuing education is crucial for engineers to stay updated given the field's rapid advancements.

Income Potential

The median annual salary of electrical engineers is nearly double that of electricians - $103,000 versus $56,900 based on 2021 data. 

Engineers in top positions can make over $185,000, especially those with niche expertise. 

Electricians' earning potential still remains decently high given their shorter training period. 

Those working on construction projects often outearn other electricians.

Job Outlook

The job growth outlook remains strong for both professions over the next decade. Electricians are forecast to see 8% growth by 2031, faster than average. 

Home and business construction projects will drive demand for their wiring expertise. For electrical engineers, job growth is expected to be about 4% over the next 10 years. 

Advances in technologies like robotics, renewable energy, biomedical devices, and communication networks will spur the need for engineering innovations.

Which Career Path Is Right For You?

Choosing between becoming an electrician or an electrical engineer depends foremost on your talents, interests, and professional aspirations.

Electricians can launch their careers more swiftly through vocational training. Their services will stay in high demand, providing financial stability. 

Those who enjoy hands-on work and interacting with clients can find electrician work rewarding.

For individuals seeking to push innovation and enjoy tackling complex technical challenges, electrical engineering offers an intellectually stimulating career. 

While the educational route is more intensive, engineers earn excellent compensation.

Ultimately, electricians and engineers both make invaluable contributions to the electrical domain. 

A passion for the field, matched with targeted training and education, can set you up for success in either profession.

Key Takeaways

  • Electricians install, maintain, and repair electrical systems. Electrical engineers design and develop new electrical products and solutions.
  • Electricians enter the field through apprenticeship training and licensing. Electrical engineers must complete an engineering undergraduate degree.
  • Electricians earn a median pay of around $56,900. Electrical engineers earn a median pay of around $103,000. 
  • Job opportunities look bright for both careers over the next decade.
  • Electricians focus on electrical work at client sites. Electrical engineers primarily work in office settings.


As we have explored in-depth, electricians and electrical engineers both work in the electrical realm but have crucial differences across their duties, work settings, training, income, and job outlook.

Electricians focus on the installation, maintenance, and repair of electrical systems and components like wiring, circuits, and electrical transmission. 

Their hands-on work and vocational apprenticeship training give them practical mastery of electrical contracting, safety codes, troubleshooting, and delivering reliable power. 

Engineers concentrate on innovating new electrical technologies and equipment through their academic education and knowledge of complex electrical engineering principles. 

Their office-based work emphasizes creating leading-edge solutions through design, testing, and development.

While their distinctions are many, electricians and engineers both offer rewarding careers for those passionate about the electrical field. 

With the right blend of education, licensing, experience, and skills, both professions allow individuals to gain expertise in electrical power, infrastructure, and technology. 

As electrical systems and innovations continue evolving to meet society's needs, there will be ongoing demand for both electricians' practical abilities and engineers' penchant for discovery.

FAQ: Differences Between Electricians and Electrical Engineers

What is the difference in daily work between electricians and electrical engineers?

Electricians focus on hands-on electrical installation, maintenance, troubleshooting, and repair tasks at client sites. Electrical engineers concentrate on the design, testing, analysis, and optimization of new electrical equipment and technologies in office settings.

Can an electrician transition to an electrical engineering career or vice versa?

Yes, with additional education and training, electricians can potentially transition into electrical engineering careers, and vice versa. Electricians may need to gain more theoretical knowledge by completing an engineering degree. Engineers may need practical experience through apprenticeships or vocational programs.

How does each profession contribute to the electrical field?

Electricians play a vital role in ensuring safe, functional, and code-compliant electrical wiring and power systems. Electrical engineers contribute by driving innovation and discoveries in areas like electrical power generation, transmission, efficiency, renewable energy, electronics, and robotics.

Do electricians need licensing to work?

Yes, electricians must pass an exam and carry a license to legally practice electrical contracting and wiring work. Licensing requirements differ by state but help ensure safety standards are met.

What degree do you need to become an electrical engineer?

To begin working as an electrical engineer requires earning at minimum an undergraduate bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, electrical engineering technology, or computer engineering from an accredited university program. Some engineering specialties need advanced education like a Master’s degree or Ph.D.

What industries commonly employ electricians for electrical contracting services?

Major employers of electricians span sectors like construction, manufacturing, utilities, telecommunications, healthcare facilities, commercial businesses, and homes. Their electrical installation and servicing expertise is indispensable across many industries.

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