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Civil engineering is one of the most interesting and well-paid career paths a young person can choose and is a highly sought after profession. It's also one of the most important, too; after all, without civil engineers we wouldn’t have roads, dams, buildings, and bridges. As a result, civil engineering is one of the most popular disciplines for engineering students.
If you aspire to be a civil engineer, here are some of the qualities you're going to need to possess to set you above the competition...
1. Management skills
As you progress through your career, gaining more and more responsibility, it's likely that, eventually, you're going to end up as a manager of a project, sub-team or even entire division. To be successful in this position you will need to develop management and leadership skills, including the ability to manage different personalities and backgrounds on important projects. It also includes knowing how to motivate your team and utilising their strengths, especially if there are time and/or financial constraints. Likewise, you must also know how to discipline someone professionally and to give them credit when it’s deserved.
2. Analytical thinking
All good engineers possess excellent analytical skills and are strong at devising ways to make particular aspects of a project work better. They are naturally inquisitive and like to solve complex problems.
3. Technical skills
A skilled civil engineer should have an affinity for mathematics and physics, in order to identify and solve complex engineering problems. Any mistakes could lead to a catastrophic and potentially fatal problem further down the line, so it's vital that they know what they're doing.
They also need to be skilled in various design techniques, as well as working with maps, drawings, models, blueprints and CAD software. They must efficiently predict any possible future problems and implement solutions to prevent them.
4. Communication skills
Yes, communication skills are essential in any job role, but civil engineers have to work alongside and constantly interact with any number of stakeholders, including construction managers, architects, investors and other stakeholders. They must be able to clearly get across any technical issues, as well as take on board the ideas and suggestions of others in the team.
5. Critical thinking
Civil engineers are often confronted with challenging problems and must be able to devise the most effective and reasonable approach when dealing with them. In order to do this, they must have the ability to think precisely and be able to apply concepts and rules to specific problems.
6. Leadership skills
Civil engineers must lead by example; they are ultimately in charge of surveyors, construction managers, technicians, contractors, architects, urban planners, transportation engineers as well as maintaining the trust of governmental planning authorities. To keep a project on time and budget, they must be able to successfully lead all members of their team.
7. Creative mind
To develop and implement new projects, the ability to ‘think outside of the box’ and be creative is an essential skill. You are expected to devise innovative solutions and follow them through.
8. Negotiation skills
You won't necessarily acquire negotiation skills at university, but they are important if you want to be a successful civil engineer. You must be able to bring others together and reconcile differences, especially if conflict arises within the project team. You must also be able to negotiate deals with suppliers to reduce the cost of any one project.
9. Attention to detail
Another key skill is possessing attention to detail. Yes – this is mentioned in every job description, but, as already mentioned, when it comes to civil engineering it’s crucial! Every small part of designing and implementing infrastructure needs to be precise. If there is one piece of the puzzle missing you can kiss your career goodbye.
10. Time management
One of the most important skills for a civil engineer to have is good time management. “Complex construction projects require effective organisation and time management if they are to be delivered to budget and on time,” says Nigel from Target Jobs. “Every team member has to keep to schedule. Deadlines mean you can’t afford to let things slip.”
11. Problem solving
Problem-solving is used on a daily basis in the construction industry; nothing is plain sailing. You’ll have to deal with unexpected problems like burst water pipes, material delivery delays or staffing issues. The key here is getting all stakeholders involved to solve the problem in a timely manner.
12. Visualisation skills
The ability to visualize is a top priority when thinking of becoming a civil engineer. While the architect is responsible for the aesthetic design of the project, you must be able to bring the picture to life and imagine how the concept would functionally work and what it would look like.
As Fiona Dixon, an experienced civil engineer based in London, explains, being a team player is a significant personal characteristic to have. "It's a very rewarding job – there's a great sense of teamwork that comes through creating something and facing challenges together. If you enjoy working with people to help solve problems that affect wider society, then go for it. The industry is all about jumping in and trying new solutions."
14. Passion for learning
One of the most underestimated characteristics - and one that will make you a better all round professional - is an ongoing thirst for learning. It’s important in any profession to continue learning and constantly expanding your knowledge while new methods develop. That way you will always stay at the cutting edge of your industry, as well as cultivate professional growth and add desirable skills to your CV.
15. Enthusiasm and commitment
To survive in this challenging industry you must be fully committed. The working hours are not your standard 9-5 and you may find yourself working at silly hours of the night through to the morning in order to reach your deadlines. To remain sane, you must keep motivated and always have a rewarding end goal in sight.
Most of these skills are gained through experience and, as discussed in point 14, voluntarily expanding your knowledge. As a newcomer to the industry, be sure to try and develop as many of these skills as you can on placements, internships and on any work experience you can secure during the early part of your career.
Do you feel like you possess the right skills and want to follow this career path? If so drop us a comment below…
This article was originally published in March 2015.