How to become an engineering contractor

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Sarah Henderson
15 Feb 2022 @ 10:56 am
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If you are studying for or seeking to start your engineering career in the not-too-distant-future, you may have been giving some thought to self-employment and becoming an engineering contractor. It might seem like a daunting proposition but, hear us out, there are some real pros to being self-employed. 

For starters, you can set your own rates which means you can charge clients what you know yourself to be worth, rather than what an employer deems your work to be worth. It also means that if you’re a specialist in a particular area and have a niche set of skills then you can charge accordingly. This often results in earning more while working less hours, which leads us to our next benefit: the ability to set your own working hours. Don’t want to work Fridays? Don’t. Only want to work after 10am? That’s up to you. And that demonstrates one of the best things about self-employment: the flexibility it affords. If you need to work around childcare or other responsibilities, this doesn’t have to be approved by anyone – you just need to make it happen. Being self-employed can really help you address your work-life balance. 

But how do you set about becoming an engineering contractor? We have a few ideas for you to think about. 

Consider the engineering field you want to work in  

Engineering is a fairly broad spectrum and includes several different fields. These include: 

  • Civil engineering – a field that includes a lot but can loosely be described as the design and build of infrastructure, such as bridges, waterways, roads and structures 
  • Mechanical engineering – this includes working with mechanical systems and components, such as automotive, nuclear and marine 
  • Chemical engineering – chemical engineering deals with transforming raw materials into innovative products, such as petroleum 
  • Electrical engineering – designing things such as computer circuits, power grids, power supplies and others within the field of electricity and electromagnetism 
  • Aerospace and aeronautical engineering – while this technically falls under mechanical engineering, it’s so specialist it is often considered a field in its own right 
  • Computer engineering – computer engineers merge the fields of electrical engineering and computer science to design and prototype computer hardware and software. 

If you’ve not already decided on a field to work in, make sure you consider it and research it thoroughly to find the field that best suits your skills and interests. 

Qualifications you need as a self-employed engineer  

Exactly what qualifications you need will depend on the field and role you are pursuing and you will need to tailor your studies or training to suit that. However, in general, there are a couple of routes open to you in terms of qualifications. 

One of the most common routes is to study for an engineering degree at university, either for three years to gain a Bachelor of Engineering (BEng), or four years for a Master of Engineering (MEng). To do this you will usually need A-Levels in maths and science subjects. 

Another possibility is an engineering apprenticeship. This usually involves completing a national diploma while doing on-the-job learning with an engineering company. Depending on the apprenticeship, you will at least need GCSEs and, in some cases, A-Levels as well. 

Once you have qualified and are working as an engineer, you also have the option of further professional qualifications. Both the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) offer these. A further option that can boost your earning potential is to become a Chartered Engineer (CEng).  

Open a limited company 

Once you’re qualified and ready to become self-employed, you should start your own limited company through which to find work. This involves several steps such as choosing a company name, registering on Companies House, registering for VAT, working out how to manage your accounts and much more. Thankfully, there is a lot of help and guidance out there, including this article by Kingsbridge, designed to help you make those first steps into becoming a limited company contractor.  

Don’t be put off by the seemingly huge list of tasks to get yourself set up. It doesn’t take as long as you think it will, most of it is very straightforward and once it’s done, it’s done and you can enjoy that contractor life. 

Get your contractor insurance in place 

One last step that’s crucial for anyone starting out as an engineering contractor is to set up your business insurance. Most recruiters and end-clients won’t take you on without it and, in most cases, it’s a contractual requirement, but it’s still important to remember it. When it comes to engineering, you’re dealing with high stakes, high cost projects and it could cost you an eye-watering amount should you make a mistake.  

A contractor insurance package such as Kingsbridge’s will give you all of the main cover you need, including public liability and professional indemnity, to get you started. Contact our expert team for more information or get a quote online.  


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