If you have a technical mind and enjoy problem solving, a career as a land-based engineer will be ideal for you

Land-based engineers have highly-developed technical skills and a sound knowledge of science and technology. You'll design, develop and install machinery used in the environmental and agricultural industries. Your role also involves working on any issues relating to the functionality and efficiency of vehicles and equipment.

Businesses in land-based engineering commonly use machinery for agricultural, ground care, horticulture, forestry, construction and sports turf purposes. As well as solving engineering problems, engineers also advise farmers and businesses on agricultural concerns such as sustainable land use and irrigation. Business and management skills are also vitally important.

The three main areas of land-based engineering are:

  • parts
  • sales
  • servicing.

Responsibilities

As a land-based engineer, you'll need to:

  • design, test and develop agricultural, construction and other off-road vehicles, such as tractors, harvesters, loaders, dump trucks and off-road recreational vehicles
  • design, test and develop specialist equipment, such as ploughs, cultivators and sprayers
  • install and modify equipment and systems
  • plan and supervise the construction of farm buildings and associated structures, such as grain silos, greenhouses and controlled environments for livestock
  • advise on soil conservation measures
  • plan, supervise and manage the building of water conservation, irrigation and drainage systems
  • carry out environmental impact assessments - a process of predicting and evaluating the effects of an action (such as building a motorway) on the environment
  • prepare and present reports
  • conduct research
  • teach and lecture in further and higher education
  • provide technical support to dealers and customers
  • offer consultancy services to individuals and companies
  • provide emergency aid, e.g. help to restore electricity and water supplies and reconstruct buildings in the aftermath of wars or natural disasters.

Salary

  • Land-based engineers typically start on a salary of £25,000. With experience this rises to £35,000.
  • With further experience salaries can rise to £40,000.
  • Chartered land-based engineers earn salaries of £60,000+.

Salaries are highly dependent on geographical location and the nature of the work. Overseas work attracts additional allowances.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Hours are generally 9am to 5pm, although it may be necessary to work beyond this to complete specific projects.

What to expect

  • You will usually work from an office, but many jobs involve some field work and site visits. For example, you'll produce designs in an office or workshop, but might carry out some of the test and development work outdoors. Consultancy work and installing equipment will require visits to clients' sites.
  • Self-employment, as a consultant, is possible once enough experience is gained.
  • Although women are represented at every level of the profession, the initiative WISE (Women into Science, Engineering and Construction) actively encourages female entrants.
  • The Institution of Agricultural Engineers (IAgrE) offers membership, which provides a recognised professional status and a range of relevant services.
  • There are extensive openings throughout the UK and lots of opportunities abroad. Many UK-based engineers travel extensively, both within the UK and abroad.
  • Sometimes opportunities arise to work on relief projects on short-term contracts, or permanently.

Qualifications

Employers look for graduates with engineering degrees. A specific agricultural engineering degree is available, but other general engineering subjects will be accepted including:

  • automotive engineering
  • electrical/electronic/mechanical engineering
  • environmental engineering
  • ergonomics
  • mechanical engineering
  • off-road vehicle design.

HNDs in a similar range of subjects to those listed above are acceptable for entry. However, it's likely you'll work at the lower level of agricultural engineering technician. Employers may support further study to degree level to enable you to go on to become a land-based engineer. Entry with a non-relevant degree or HND is unlikely given the specialist nature of the work and the level of technical knowledge and skills required.

Chartered status can be awarded to land-based engineers by the IAgrE. To become a chartered engineer (CEng) you need to have a degree that is accredited by the Engineering Council. You also need to have a relevant Masters qualification and appropriate training and experience. You'll need to have membership at Associate grade with IAgrE to apply for professional qualification.

If you have a HND or foundation degree, you can work towards incorporated engineer (IEng) status but must also have completed further study to degree level.

For registration as either CEng or IEng, you will be assessed for relevant levels of practical and personal skills and abilities. Full details of the competencies required for registration are on the Engineering Council website.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • problem-solving ability
  • ingenuity, to invent new designs or solutions
  • an awareness and understanding of the needs of those who use the equipment, particularly farmers and horticulturalists
  • a flexible approach, with the ability to work unsupervised and to adapt to a variety of different work situations
  • the capability to record and analyse data
  • the ability to work in a team and supervise the work of others
  • an understanding of health and safety regulations
  • good spoken and written communication and IT skills.

Work experience

Pre-entry experience is desirable. Some engineering degrees include a placement year, which helps build up your practical skills.

You may be able to secure an industrial placement with a large manufacturer, if you make speculative approaches to find out what is on offer. Some manufacturers provide sponsorships and bursaries, which may lead to full-time employment. Overseas placements are offered by Engineers Without Borders (EWB).

Employers

There are approximately 3,350 land-based engineering businesses and 22,850 employees in the UK consisting of large and medium-sized manufacturing, sales and service companies, dealerships and smaller specialist firms and consultancies according to Lantra: The Sector Skills Council for the Environmental and Land-based Sector.

There is an increasing demand for land-based engineers, so job prospects are good. General information about land-based engineering careers, including apprenticeships and other training opportunities, is available from Landbased Engineering and The National Land Based College (UK).

Much of the production work is now carried out overseas, but companies still employ UK-based engineers for design, test and development work.

Dealerships active in selling and servicing agricultural and horticultural machinery generally offer opportunities at craft or technician level, although some employ a limited number of engineering graduates at managerial level.

There are opportunities in universities and university colleges to teach or lecture and carry out research in agricultural engineering. Qualified and experienced engineers may be able to spend a period of time teaching or conducting research and then return to a commercial company.

Agricultural and environmental consultancies, such as ADAS, provide some opportunities and run a graduate recruitment programme. Some land-based engineers set up their own consultancy businesses.

Overseas employment is often possible in the European or North American divisions of large manufacturing companies. Openings of a supervisory capacity may be created by the expanding markets in rapidly developing countries, such as China, India and Brazil, for land-based engineers helping with the introduction of modern agricultural equipment.

There are also opportunities for emergency aid work in war torn and developing countries and land-based engineers are sometimes employed on short-term contracts (typically two or three years) by major charities.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

Once in employment, you'll undergo a period of initial professional training to develop the competence you need to carry out the roles and responsibilities of a professional engineer. Advice and information on careers, education and training is available from Landbased Engineering.

Many land-based engineers work towards chartered (CEng) or incorporated (IEng) engineer status through the IAgrE. Gaining chartered status indicates a certain level of expertise and enhances career prospects. The requirements for becoming chartered are set out in the UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence (UK-SPEC).

The title chartered environmentalist (CEnv) is granted to suitably experienced and qualified environment professionals by the Society for the Environment (SocEnv). This qualification may be useful for land-based engineers whose work is concerned with environmental issues. Existing members of the IAgrE will be able to register with the society.

If you're interested in specialist postgraduate study, the following institutions have relevant courses:

  • Cranfield University, including its National Soil Resources Institute (NSRI)
  • Harper Adams University
  • Royal Agricultural University.

You'll need to be committed to continuing professional development (CPD) throughout your career in order to keep up with developing technologies. CPD is also a requirement set out by the Engineering Council for chartered engineers. Training and events which can aid CPD are offered by the British Agricultural and Garden Machinery Association (BAGMA) and the IArgE.

Career prospects

After working for five to ten years for a large manufacturing company it's likely you'll be given the responsibility of managing specific projects or departments. You may specialise in design or testing and development, or move into broader commercial areas, such as product development, sales or marketing.

With smaller employers, opportunities for progression are likely to be limited and career advancement will almost certainly mean moving to another company.

There are often opportunities to work overseas and, even during the early part of your career, you may be able to work at design and manufacturing sites, which are commonly based in Europe and North America. It's also possible to be involved in activities in the developing world, advising on crop failure and production methods. There may be work in countries dealing with the impact of war and of natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods.

Once you've gained enough experience it may be possible to set up your own specialist consultancy business. Or you may wish to become involved in training or research and teaching.