If you had a passion for Lego or Meccano when you were a child (or still do!) then a career in civil engineering could be your perfect calling. It’s an incredibly varied job that offers a huge amount of job satisfaction; your work will quite literally improve the way we all live our lives.
What do Civil Engineers do?
Simply speaking, a civil engineer’s job is to help create the buildings and structures that allow us to live a modern, urban life. Almost every part of what we do on a day-to-day basis involves the skills of a civil engineer in some way, including the building of:
- Roads, airports, railways, ports, harbours and other elements of the transportation network
- Environmental structures such as dams, pipelines and sea defences
- Mines, earthworks and other geotechnical constructions
There are two types of civil engineer: a consulting civil engineer that focuses on the design phase of a project and a contracting civil engineer who focuses on overseeing and managing the building phase and beyond. During these phases, a civil engineer will liaise with many other experts such as builders, architects and surveyors to make sure the project is successful. Some of the key tasks a civil engineer will undertake include:
- Judging the viability of a project
- Estimating the costs needed to complete a project
- Considering the relevant planning requirements and solving any issues
- Assessing potential risk to the environment
- Preparing and submitting bids for tender
- Overseeing the project once building has commenced
- Maintaining the building or structure once it has been completed.
Civil engineers are usually well recompensed for their services. Graduates entering the profession generally earn between £17,000 to £25,000; with seniority and experience salaries can reach £80,000 per annum.
From £17,000 to £25,000 depending on employer (National Careers Service)
Around £28,000 (PayScale)
Up to £80,000
To become a civil engineer, you will need to possess:
- An excellent understanding of maths and physics
- The confidence to make decisive decisions
- In-depth computer skills
- The ability to clearly communicate designs and plans to clients and colleagues
- The ability to absorb large amounts of information in a short space of time
- An eye for money-management and budgeting
- The ability to work under pressure and to meet deadlines
- Excellent team-working skills
Qualifications and Entry Requirements
The path to a successful career as a civil engineer is a long one and requires many years of studying. The first step is to achieve top grades in maths and physics at A-level plus an A-level in a compatible subject such as chemistry, geography, design technology, further mathematics or a modern foreign language.
The next challenge is to gain a place on an engineering degree course at university. There are two choices of course to take, namely either a bachelors of civil engineering (BEng) which is a 3 year course, or a master’s degree of civil engineering (MEng) which is a 4 year course. Many students choose the master’s degree in order to increase their job prospects after graduation, since the course usually includes a placement with a civil engineering firm. Bear in mind that both these courses are highly sought after, so straight A’s in A-levels are often a necessity.
Another potential route is to apply for civil engineering apprenticeships. Many of the large civil engineering companies such as Balfour Beatty offer dozens of places each year for suitable candidates, although competition for a position will again be strong. Through part-time study, apprentices can then attain an HNC/HND or foundation degree followed by a degree in civil engineering.
Career Prospects and Development
Graduates entering a graduate training scheme with a firm will normally continue learning for another couple of years whilst working. A mentor is usually appointed to oversee and support the graduate until he or she becomes a fully-fledged civil engineer.
Ultimately, the goal for most civil engineers is to reach incorporated or chartered status. As well as the personal reward for achieving one of these ranks, it is also valuable in terms of better work opportunities and remuneration.
The Engineering Council, which oversees standards for the profession, defines these ranks as follows:
Chartered: ’’Chartered Engineers develop appropriate solutions to engineering problems. They may develop and apply new technologies, promote advanced designs and design methods and introduce new and more efficient production techniques, or pioneer new engineering services and management methods. The title CEng is protected by civil law and is one of the most recognisable international engineering qualifications."
Incorporated: "Professional registration as an Incorporated Engineer (IEng) recognises your proven competence, commitment, skills and experience. It is an important milestone in the career of any engineer or technologist. In particular, IEng registration shows your employer and peers that you have demonstrated a commitment to professional standards, and to developing and enhancing your competence."
Whilst both are highly regarded, CEng is arguably held in higher esteem. These professional certifications are open to anyone who can show "the required professional competences and commitment." Generally, but not always, this means possessing either an accredited Masters degree (MEng) or Doctorate (EngP) for chartered status and a Bachelors degree in Engineering or technology for incorporated status.
According to the National Careers Service, there are expected to be 1,771,000 jobs in the science and engineering sector (of which civil engineering is part) by 2020. At present, the vast majority of workers in this sector are employed (80%), with 11% self-employed and 9% working part-time. These figures indicate that it is clearly a growth industry.
It isn’t an easy profession to get into, but if you work hard at your studies, there’s no reason why you won’t be helping shape a better world in the not too distant future!