Electrical Systems Engineering: The Next Generation

It is clear that electrical power systems have a central role to play in putting us on the right path to net zero emissions and to a greener and more sustainable planet more generally. It’s an exciting prospect for the workforce right now, and a growing number of ambitious professionals are engaging in e-learning to prepare for a leading role in what is set to be a game-changer.

the IET Accredited Online MSc in Electrical Systems Engineering from the University of Manchester is an excellent example of high quality, flexible learning designed to be completed alongside daily work in the sector.

Its students come from a wide variety of backgrounds, spanning the breadth of power systems engineering and beyond, and connecting from countries around the world – some working with long-standing and complex systems, and others who build power systems from scratch.

Victoria Nakalembe, currently a student in the program and a system engineer at Eskom Uganda Ltd, says: “My mind opened up to a larger world. By working closely with engineers from countries with more robust electrical systems, I am able to think about how to do things better, understand various software options, and learn from challenges faced by other students in more developed countries.”.

Whatever their reason for taking the course, who they work for and wherever they come from, what all of these students have in common is a commitment to their continued professional development, an appreciation of the value of that improvement for the sector and a progressive outlook for the future of energy.

Integrating studies and work for a richer experience

Studying part-time and online is increasingly popular. With recent advancements in digital teaching and communication tools, it is convenient and can be completed in the midst of a busy professional life.

For many, however, it’s more than a matter of convenience. Working and studying together creates a richer experience of both.

Field experience fuels learning, helping students understand and contextualize concepts; and the learning feeds directly – and often instantaneously – into students’ working methods and problem-solving approaches.

Stephanie Whitehead, an electrical engineer at the Ministry of Defense who is currently studying for the MSc, says: “The fact that I can learn something on a Sunday and bring it to work on a Monday and use it the next day is fantastic! This immediate practical application to my work – seeing knowledge in action – is so rewarding”.

The broad curriculum of this popular course means that students gain a broader understanding of the sector, a better sense of the big picture – and where they fit into that picture. This broader understanding builds their confidence in the workplace and enables them to make meaningful contributions, even outside of their immediate responsibilities.

Alongside more obvious career benefits, such as taking on more responsibility at work or gaining IET charter, the University of Manchester’s online MSc opens up possibilities for the future and prepares graduates to meet the changing needs of the sector.

As Stephanie says:I don’t know exactly where I want to end up, but I know that I always want to be able to seize exciting opportunities as they arise. Upgrading skills is the key to this”.

In an industry that is evolving at such a pace, these possibilities are vast, unpredictable and compelling.

Collaboration in a rapidly changing industry

Power systems engineering is at the pinnacle of change, with the potential to transform obsolete systems for the better and, in doing so, change the course of our planet.

Tim Waugh, recent graduate and senior design engineer at Siemens says:I’m really happy to be part of exciting projects and to be part of the team responsible for implementing renewable energy and reducing our carbon footprint. It’s quite exciting as an engineer to explore new territory and work on something that will really make a difference.”.

In order to make that difference, the workforce must keep pace with the rapid pace of change, through courses like this, and more specifically, through meaningful collaboration between industry and academia.

Another recent graduate, David Bain, who works as a protection engineer for Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN), says: “The industry has been relatively static, but now it’s changing all the time and it will continue to change. Collaboration between academia and industry is more important than ever. We’re starting to see this as the grid evolves from a passive system, using some really cool technologies to implement smart grids and interactive microgrids. It’s too big a job for the industry to do on its own”.

A progressive and agile sector capable of bringing about an innovative new era of electrical power systems requires a strong culture of knowledge sharing between colleagues and students, between research institutes and workplaces, between industries and between nations. .

With this in mind, Victoria is committed to sharing the skills and knowledge of her MSc to help build expertise and confidence in her country and transform its energy systems.

She says: “My MSc puts me in a privileged position. It is my responsibility to pass on my knowledge and hold the hand of young engineers. Together we can build expertise today and for the future”.

There is a real sense of will and motivation amongst online MSc students in Manchester to take on the responsibility described by Victoria and help the sector move forward in response to the challenges it is currently facing.

By pursuing a course that so intimately encourages the interdependence of work and study, these students are well placed to set a precedent for collaboration at all levels. A reciprocal knowledge transfer between academia and industry will drive innovation and galvanize today’s ambitious engineers to make real progress in protecting our planet and enabling its people to thrive.

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