what is a structural engineer?

As a structural engineer, you will work on infrastructure projects to ensure structures can withstand the stresses and pressures imposed by the environment. 

Your job is to calculate the stability, rigidity and strength of each project. During planning and construction, structural engineers deal with vital calculations related to the structural elements. You have to determine the reinforcing steel necessary for a rigid concrete slab. Sometimes, your tasks involve supervising to ensure suitable materials are used to maintain the structural integrity of infrastructure projects. 

You can work in private or public sectors on residential projects, offices, museums, hospitals, bridges and sports stadiums. 

Would working as a structural engineer suit your skillset? Then read on to find out what competencies and qualifications you need to thrive in a structural engineer role. 

structural engineer roles

average salary of a structural engineer

According to ONS, the average salary of a structural engineer starts at £22,000 annually for entry-level positions, while experienced structural engineers earn up to £70,000 per year. Your wages and benefits depend on your experience and certifications. For instance, senior-level engineers with professional certification earn more. 

Some employers also provide additional benefits, including healthcare allowances, transport and living allowance. When you are an experienced engineer, you can become a consultant.

what factors affect your salary as a structural engineer?

Various factors can influence your compensation package, including your specific work responsibilities, education level, employer and geographical locations. 

If you work for the government, your hourly rates differ from employees in the private sector. 

Working on significant infrastructure projects with a substantial budget also pays more than minor projects with minimal responsibilities. 

Employers in the UK also adjust the wages and benefits based on the cost of living. For example, if you reside in London, the living costs are above the average living costs in the country. Hence, your salary will reflect the higher expenses incurred in the city.



types of structural engineers

To many people, being a structural engineer means working in building construction only. While many in the profession work on buildings, you can branch out to other exciting disciplines, including:

  • aeronautical structural engineer: your knowledge in designing structures that can withstand environmental rigours comes in handy in developing aircraft and space vessels. You will ensure aeroplanes are stable, safe and comfortable to use.
  • nautical structural engineer: a structural engineer working in the nautical field plays a role in creating passenger vessels, boats and cargo ships. The job also involves developing non-moving structures and maintaining equipment used in oceanography.
  • oil and gas structural engineers: in the oil and gas industry, you will work in a range of projects from designing and testing to inspecting equipment used to transport oil. Whether it is a pipeline or rig, the structures are vast and require the expertise of a structural engineer to work as expected.


working as a structural engineer

If you enjoy the challenge of translating architectural designs into structurally sound structures, working as a structural engineer is the perfect job. Let's dive into the typical workday of a structural engineer, career prospects and educational qualifications.

Close up - Smiling male looking away.
Close up - Smiling male looking away.

education and skills

To kick-start your career in structural engineering, you need the following educational qualifications:

  • university: you gain qualifications to become a structural engineer by completing an undergraduate degree in structural, civil or architectural engineering. To enrol for an undergraduate degree, you need 2 or 3 A levels, including maths and science. After a degree course, you can join a graduate trainee scheme to gain experience.
  • college: if you have 1 or 2 A levels, you can complete a Level 5 Higher National Diploma (HND) in civil engineering and work as a trainee structural engineer for on-the-job training.
  • apprenticeship: joining on-the-job training with a construction firm is an excellent way to get your foot in the door. The apprenticeships are open to school leavers above 16 years with 4 or 5 GCSE grades 9 to 4 (A* to C). You are expected to work at least 30 hours a week and attend college. When you complete the apprenticeship degree in civil engineering, you can undertake professional training and become a structural engineer. 
  • certification: gaining certifications in structural engineering allows you to practice as an engineering professional and obtain chartered status. You need a master's degree from an accredited institution, and you can take the membership exam with The Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE).

skills and competencies

Aside from educational qualifications, you need these technical skills, soft skills and competencies for a successful career in structural engineering:

  • organisation skills: you need organisational skills to design a structure and provide a process for actualising the project. With organisation, you can allocate work to the construction crew and ensure the structures are built according to the specifications.
  • analytical skills: when determining the viability of a building project and the environmental hazards, you need analytical skills. The ability to evaluate facts and figures will help you make sound decisions on dealing with some problematic structures. 
  • maths and computer skills: it is essential to have exceptional mathematical skills to calculate the material quantities needed to complete a construction project. Aside from calculation, your job also involves designing using drawing software like AutoCAD and data analysis using spreadsheets. Your computing and maths skills will help you ensure accuracy in your designs by factoring in the environmental elements that could affect structural stability.
  • problem-solving skills: your problem-solving skills come in handy when finding solutions to faulty building plans and existing structures with issues. From studying the underlying cause of the structural problems, you can formulate a solution and recommend the refurbishment needed.
  • leadership skills: as a structural engineer, you will work alongside a construction team, and you need leadership skills to lead the team. Aside from ensuring the projects are delivered within the timeline, you need to keep the crew motivated and supervise to avoid mistakes during construction.



FAQs about working as a structural engineer.

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