Becoming a chartered or incorporated engineer after starting a graduate job

CEng or IEng – a professional qualification shows that you are a competent engineer and is a big career boost. You’ll work towards becoming a chartered engineer or incorporated engineer while in a job, typically via an accredited graduate scheme.
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A chartered engineer or incorporated engineer qualification shows that you have achieved a benchmarked level of competence. It is useful to have on your CV, particularly as UK engineering standards are recognised internationally. Achieving professional status often brings a salary increase and increased responsibility.

Different engineering professional bodies and levels of membership

Professional institutions set and maintain standards for a profession. In engineering, they are overseen by the Engineering Council, which sets the UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence (UK-SPEC). The Engineering Council licenses professional engineering institutions to assess candidates for inclusion on its Register of Professional Engineers and Technicians.

There are four categories of registration: engineering technician (EngTech), ICT technician (ICTTech), incorporated engineer (IEng) and chartered engineer (CEng). Graduate engineers tend to aim for either incorporated or chartered engineer status.

Should I become a chartered engineer or an incorporated engineer?

Is it better to aim for incorporated or chartered engineer status? The Engineering Council defines the two levels as follows:

  • ‘Chartered engineers (CEng) are characterised by their ability to develop appropriate solutions to engineering problems using new or existing technologies, through innovation, creativity and change. They might develop and apply new technologies, promote advanced designs and design methods, introduce new and more efficient production techniques and marketing and construction concepts, or pioneer new engineering services and management methods. Chartered engineers are variously engaged in technical and commercial leadership and possess effective interpersonal skills.’
  • ‘Incorporated engineers (IEng) maintain and manage applications of current and developing technology, and may undertake engineering design, development, manufacture, construction and operation. Incorporated engineers are variously engaged in technical and commercial management and possess effective interpersonal skills.’

While both are highly regarded, the CEng is the higher of the two and places more emphasis on driving new developments and on leadership activity.

In practice, the professional qualification you work towards is often determined by the graduate employer you join. Many require their graduate engineers to aim for a particular level (generally, but not always, chartered engineer), and have systems and training in place to support them in doing so. In such cases, the employer may make possessing the relevant academic qualifications a requirement for graduate applicants (eg an MEng, or BEng plus MSc, to follow the chartership route – see below).

Incorporated engineer and chartered engineer salary comparison

One key difference between chartered and incorporated engineers is their average salaries. According to the Engineering Council’s Survey of Registered Engineers 2010 (published in January 2011), among their chartered engineers surveyed, the median annual total earnings in 2010 (including bonuses, overtime pay etc) was £55,000; the mean was £67,714. For incorporated engineers, the median was £43,300, while the mean was £49,412.

What’s particularly interesting is that the gap between chartered and incorporated engineers’ salaries widens the further up the pay scale you go. Among participants in the survey, chartered engineers on the 10th percentile (ie who had higher earnings than 10% of their fellows but earned less than the other 90%) had total annual earnings of £36,000. For incorporated engineers on the 10th percentile, the figure was £30,000, giving a gap of £6,000 between incorporated and chartered engineers.

By the 90th percentile (ie for participants who had higher earnings than 90% of their fellows), total earnings for chartered engineers were £105,000, while for incorporated engineers the figure was £75,000: a gap of £30,000.

Making career decisions solely on the basis of salary statistics isn’t recommended. However, if climbing to a senior position and receiving a salary to match is a key motivation, it’s worth keeping these figures in mind.

Academic qualifications needed for incorporated engineer or chartered engineer status

For chartered status, the fastest route is from an accredited MEng degree. To become an incorporated engineer, the traditional route is from an accredited bachelors degree in engineering or technology, but it’s also possible to start with an HND or foundation degree and pursue further learning, or take an NVQ4 or SVQ4 that's approved for this purpose by a professional engineering institution.

How to become a chartered engineer with a BEng degree

There are several options available if you have a BEng but want to become a chartered engineer. These include:

  • completing an accredited MSc or engineering doctorate (EngD) before starting work
  • taking the Engineering Council’s MSc in professional engineering, currently offered through five universities, designed to be studied while in employment
  • submitting a technical report, based on engineering experience and demonstrating an understanding of engineering principles.

If you feel unsure about your academic eligibility or need to explore non-standard routes, contact the relevant institution for your discipline. A list of all licensed professional engineering institutions and contacts is available on the Engineering Council website.

Working towards engineering chartership – or IEng status – in your graduate job

Once in the workplace, graduate engineers aiming for IEng or CEng qualification start initial professional development (IPD), which involves demonstrating professional competences in the following areas:

  • Engineering: analysis, problem-solving, design and operations.
  • Technical and commercial skills: efficient management of resources to achieve engineering objectives in a safe and appropriate way.
  • Personal skills: effective communication and interpersonal skills and commitment to professional ethics, sustainable development and lifelong learning.

Initial professional development leads through to professional review, which is organised through the professional engineering institution that you are joining. The professional review is a demonstration of competence, knowledge and understanding required for registration, and typically takes the form of a review of documentary evidence and an interview. The process varies between professional institutions and some may set an extended essay or formal examination as well as a portfolio assessment.

Choosing the right engineering graduate scheme to help you become qualified

Becoming professionally qualified is easiest if you can find a graduate scheme that is approved by the appropriate professional institution. Find out how you will be supported and how you will gain the right breadth of experience through your IPD. At interviews and employer presentations, ask recruiters about numbers of people on the scheme, pass rates and the average time it takes for a graduate to qualify.

You may find a job in an organisation that doesn’t have an accredited training scheme – for example, a smaller engineering organisation. It’s still possible to work towards professional qualification but requires more effort. You will need to develop a profile of competence and professional activity to prepare for registration. The relevant professional engineering institution will be your sources of guidance and advice for this.

Support from a mentor

Graduate engineers are often matched with an experienced engineer who acts as their mentor to help achieve professional qualification. If you aren’t assigned a mentor by your employer, your professional institution should be able to put you in touch with members who take on mentoring roles.

To find out more about professional qualifications, visit the Engineering Council website, where details of UK-SPEC, professional institutions and accredited courses are available.