What Is the Difference between a Mechanical Contractor and a Mechanical Engineer?

With machines becoming an integral part of our daily lives, many jobs surrounding their operation and maintenance have emerged in the past decade. Two of these jobs are mechanical engineers and mechanical contractors.

While these jobs may sound somewhat similar, there are distinct differences between the roles, responsibilities, requirements, job outlook, salaries, and certifications of the two. Below, we explain the difference between both professionals.

Who Is a Mechanical Contractor?


A mechanical contractor is a professional specializing in designing, installing, and maintaining mechanical systems. They often provide services for HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems, plumbing, piping, and other mechanical systems in both residential and commercial buildings.

They may also work on specialty projects such as automotive repair or industrial equipment installation. Mechanical contractors usually work with a team of other professionals, including engineers and architects.

Roles and Responsibilities of a Mechanical Contractor

Mechanical contractors may have supervisory or hands-on roles in projects. They are responsible for everything related to the mechanical systems, from designing and installing them to performing maintenance and repairs. They typically do the following:

  • Assign duties to other team members
  • Develop plans and schematics for mechanical systems
  • Install, repair, and maintain HVAC and other mechanical systems
  • Inspect and test mechanical systems
  • Monitor the progress of projects
  • Inspect for safety and compliance
  • Provide estimates for materials, labor, and equipment costs

Which Industries Do Mechanical Contractors Work In?

Due to the broad scope of their knowledge and skills, mechanical contractors can have diverse career options. They may work in many industries, such as:

  • Manufacturing
  • Healthcare
  • Food processing
  • Automotive
  • Retail
  • Construction
  • Hospitality
  • Power and energy

Government institutes and top organizations, such as NASA, also employ mechanical contractors.

What Qualifications Do You Need to Become a Mechanical Contractor?


Most employers require mechanical contractors to have at least an associate’s degree in mechanical engineering or a related field. Additional qualifications may include certifications, such as HVAC certification.

Some employers may also require mechanical contractors to have experience with CAD (computer-aided design) software. Experience in the specific systems and components a contractor will work on may also be necessary.

Mechanical contractors should have excellent problem-solving skills, an aptitude for troubleshooting, and the ability to work in a team. They should also have strong communication and customer service skills.

How Much Do Mechanical Contractors Earn?

Glassdoor data shows that mechanical contractors earn about $67,000 per year. The salary can be higher or lower depending on an individual’s experience and qualifications.

Job Outlook for Mechanical Contractors

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of mechanical contractors is expected to grow by 5% between 2021 and 2031. Most of these job openings are due to the need for maintenance and repairs on existing systems or the retirement of current labor.

Who Is a Mechanical Engineer?


A mechanical engineer designs and manufactures machines, tools, and other mechanical devices. They often work as part of a team to create useful products for industrial and consumer markets.

Some examples of products mechanical engineers design include disk drives, sensors, wind turbines, engine parts, compressors, and prosthetic devices. Mechanical engineers also work in the robotics industry, developing robotic arms and other automated equipment.

Besides designing machines, mechanical engineers are also responsible for testing and maintaining them. They deal with everything from durability and functionality to the aesthetics of their product.

Due to the nature of their work, mechanical engineers often work with metallurgical, aerospace, electromechanical, and civil engineers. They must have a strong understanding of electricity, thermodynamics, structure analysis, and dynamics.

Since the modern world relies heavily on computers, mechanical engineers must be comfortable using computer-aided design and manufacturing software.

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Roles and Responsibilities of a Mechanical Engineer

A mechanical engineer does the following and more:

  • Design mechanical devices and systems using computer-aided design (CAD) software
  • Develop test and production protocols for the mechanical devices they design
  • Analyze and interpret test data to improve the function, performance, and cost of mechanical systems
  • Conduct research on the mechanical requirements of a product or system
  • Supervise technicians and other staff during the creation and implementation of mechanical systems
  • Provide technical guidance to other engineers, designers, and support personnel

Which Industries Do Mechanical Engineers Work In?

Mechanical engineers work in a host of industries, including:

  • Healthcare
  • Automotive
  • Aerospace
  • Manufacturing
  • Engineering consulting firms
  • Government agencies
  • Oil and gas industry

They work with different engines, machines, and tools. Some of them are:

  • Material-handling systems
  • Internal combustion engines and electric generators
  • Robots
  • Aerospace systems
  • Industrial process control devices
  • Optical measurement equipment

What Qualifications Do You Need to Become a Mechanical Engineer?

A degree in mechanical engineering is the primary requirement for this career. You will need a foundation in math and science, such as calculus, physics, and chemistry.

Most people gain experience through internships while in school, and many employers require a few years of experience before hiring you. Additionally, all states require mechanical engineers to become licensed.

As a mechanical engineer, you need problem-solving skills, analytical thinking, creativity, and technical writing. You should also be able to work well in a team, mentor other engineers, and communicate effectively with non-engineers.

How Much Do Mechanical Engineers Earn?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the annual salary for mechanical engineers to be $95,300. The higher an engineer’s experience, the higher the salary. To increase your earning potential, you can pursue certifications or specialized courses in areas such as thermodynamics, robotics, or machine design.

Job Outlook for Mechanical Engineers

BLS data shows that the demand for mechanical engineers will increase by 2% from 2021 to 2031. Although it’s slower than other occupations, the higher salary and potential for growth in various industries make mechanical engineering an attractive career.

How Do a Mechanical Contractor and a Mechanical Engineer Differ?


The main difference between a mechanical contractor and a mechanical engineer is that a mechanical engineer designs and manufactures systems while the contractor installs, maintains, and repairs these systems.

The former focuses on the design, development, and implementation of mechanical systems, while the latter focuses on their application. Becoming a mechanical engineer requires more education compared to becoming a mechanical contractor.

Likewise, there’s also a difference in salaries, with mechanical contractors earning less than mechanical engineers.

The career path to both professions also differs. There are typically more research and development opportunities for mechanical engineers, whereas, for contractors, the focus is on practical application. Furthermore, a mechanical engineer typically works in a laboratory or office setting, whereas contractors work in the field.


Overall, mechanical engineers and contractors both contribute to the development and functioning of mechanical systems, yet their roles are distinct. Mechanical engineers develop the technology while contractors install and maintain it. Both professions require technical knowledge and skills, and the two are often complementary.