When he graduated in 2006 with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering, the job market looked like a cherry orchard to Michael Kelly.
An electrical engineering degree is a powerful piece of paper. It says that the holder possesses a technical understanding of the generation and distribution of electric power; the collection, processing and communication of information; and the study and application of electromagnetic phenomena and materials.
And that’s the problem. Electrical engineering is a broad term, and jobs in the field vary widely. Fresh graduates often fall into a career without understanding the alternatives.
Michael found himself working at a mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) consulting firm. At MEP firms, electrical engineers design the electrical wiring (high-voltage) systems for buildings. They must work closely with mechanical engineers because electrical equipment usually drives, measures, or controls mechanical equipment.
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“The coordination aspect, working with engineers and architects, was fun,” says Michael. “What I didn’t like about the electrical side was that you had to know up-to-date electrical code for everything — mechanical, plumbing, fire alarm, lighting, telecom. If you don’t get it right, a small oversight can tumble out of control. It’s an all-or-nothing kind of situation.”
Rather than float in the shallows of electrical system requirements, Michael found himself wanting to dive into one area of expertise that would offer him more design creativity. That’s what led him to low-voltage engineering.
Changing from a Career in High-Voltage to Low-Voltage Engineering
Low-voltage building systems include structured telecommunications (telephone and data) cabling, audiovisual equipment, building access systems, mass communications, and wireless networks. Michael chose to focus on telecommunications systems, specifically for data centers. He found his niche at TEECOM.
When Michael made the move to TEECOM, he was a little worried about a gap in technical knowledge. But he says it wasn’t a huge jump.
“Obviously there was stuff I had to learn on the telecom side, but there are parallels,” he explains. “Basic things, like when you’re bringing conduit for telecommunications pathways to a building, it’s similar to what you have to do for electrical conduits. The questions you ask structural and other engineers are similar.”
In addition, TEECOM provided on-the-job training to assist Michael’s transition. “TEECOM has provided assistance in studying for the ICT,” Michael says. “They provided materials for the RCDD certification. Lots of exposure to training sessions to get me up to speed. Those type of things can be really expensive to get so it’s great that TEECOM is willing to help pay for that training.”
Are you looking to switch from high-voltage electrical engineering to the low-voltage field? Michael offers these insights:
- Find a niche service that you can grow into.
- Don’t be overly concerned with the technical knowledge gap. Find a firm that will actually train you on the job and pay for your certification training, testing, and maintenance.
- Don’t be concerned about a salary gap. Salary is equitable in both fields, but low-voltage is more flexible in terms of work/life balance.