What Is the Difference Between an Electrician & Electrical Engineer?

by Aurelio Locsin

You can watch TV at home, operate computers in the office and watch night baseball games at a stadium because of two professionals. Electrical engineers design the power systems and the equipment that distribute energy. Electricians install wiring and make electrical repairs. They each have differing responsibilities, qualifications and job opportunities.


Electrical engineers design, test and oversee the manufacture 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 engineer 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 2010 were companies that provide architectural, engineering and related services. Other large employers were manufacturers of navigational, measuring, electro-medical and control instruments, and companies involved in electric power generation, transmission and distribution. Electricians typically travel to customer sites to perform their jobs. They might work indoors in homes and businesses, or outdoors at construction sites. As of 2010, their biggest employers were electrical contractors and wiring installation contractors. About 10 percent were self-employed, according to the BLS.


The BLS reports that electrical engineers earned average salaries of $93,380 per year as of May 2012, while electricians earned a mean $53,030. Electrical engineers are expected to see job increases of 6 percent from 2010 to 2020, which is less than half the 14 percent projected growth rate for all occupations. This slower rate is due to the decline of the manufacturing industries in which most engineers worked. Electricians, on the other hand, should enjoy higher-than-average job increases of 23 percent. This is because a growing population will need more homes and businesses, which will create higher demand for wiring installation and repair services.

About the Author

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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