Civil engineering covers a vast variety of engineering jobs and careers, with those in this role spending time both in offices and on construction sites. According to the Institute of Chartered Engineers (ICE): “Civil engineering is a professional engineering discipline that deals with the design, construction and maintenance of the physical and naturally built environment.”

what is civil engineering?

Civil engineers plan, design and manage construction projects to create and improve the buildings that make up our world; bridges, roads, railways (such as London's Crossrail project), canals, dams, tall buildings and other large, one-off structures such as the Olympic Stadium. “Civil” engineering was initially called this to distinguish it from military engineering, and so it covers an extremely wide variety of types of construction.

Civil engineers generally operate wherever there is an infrastructure-related project. They could be involved in structural work, such as dams or oil pipelines; transportation, such as roads and railways planning; environmental, including waterways and flood barriers; maritime, working on ports and harbours, or geotechnical - which essentially means mining and foundations work.

Responsibilities are likely to be similar across the disciplines, from planning the site requirements and analysing local survey data to creating build plans and blueprints and feasibility studies, as well as monitoring and directing the build throughout the construction phase. They will usually be involved from the very beginning of a project right to the end.

what do civil engineers do?

Civil Engineer's job is a highly responsible role and requires excellent mathematical, IT and project-management skills. Candidates need to be organised, methodical and able to communicate complex ideas to different people – from site construction workers to senior management who may never set foot on site.

Project management and decision-making skills are also important, alongside a willingness to undertake further professional training. Civil Engineers usually work closely alongside other essential planning and construction employees, such as architects and site managers, and need to be prepared to travel and work both on construction sites as well as in an office.

what are the different roles of civil engineers?

Civil engineers can perform all kinds of tasks in all kinds of sectors, depending on their chosen specialisms and the requirements of individual clients and tasks. What a civil engineer does will generally fall into one of these broad categories:

structural engineering

Involvement in a building project might see you employed as an architectural engineer or a construction engineer. When working on these kinds of jobs, the engineer's job will be to ensure that the building meets health and safety regulations and does not negatively impact the local environment.

They may also be involved with confirming the economic viability of a project - for example, liaising with local businesses as they seek renters for a new commercial structure.

infrastructure engineering

This involves the utilities that underpin everyday life. Think water supplies, electricity and gas works, internet and phone connectivity.

These systems must have contingency plans drawn up to keep operations moving in times of renovation or damage.

transport engineering

Without transport engineers, how would we ever get anywhere? Keeping roads, rail lines and more up to standard plays a large part in this role.

Optimising routes for future traffic management is also key, whether that be to handle population expansion or one-off events.

ecological engineering

Projects must not only consider how they will benefit the human world but also how they will fit in and potentially shape the natural ecosystems within which they sit.

This field is becoming increasingly important as construction projects have more eco targets attached to them.

geotechnical engineering

Before spades go into the ground, it must be investigated properly to ensure that it is suitable to be built upon.

This field sees engineers test and monitor the elements that make up the soil and earth before construction projects take place.

how to become a civil engineer

If you have a strong interest in built environments and want to know more about turning that interest into a career, there are several paths that you can take to become a civil engineer.

what qualifications do you need to be a civil engineer?

Those aiming to be Civil Engineers typically start with a relevant degree, such as a three-year Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) Degree or a four-year Master’s (MEng) Degree in Civil Engineering. Other degree courses are acceptable, though it will take longer to gain the necessary professional certification.

School-leavers can also get their start on the path to civil engineering by signing up for an apprenticeship. This provides theoretical training as well as practical hands-on experience in a work environment.

Those who already work in engineering can study part-time for an HNC or HND or foundation degree, which would lead to a degree in civil engineering. There are often opportunities to train as a civil engineer on a company's graduate training scheme, and then work towards professional status while on the job.

how to gain experience as a civil engineer

Civil engineering degrees will typically include work placements where you may be able to start to develop an interest in a specific area of the practice.

The ICE also runs regular events where you can learn more about civil engineering and get face-to-face with thought leaders and other important figures from the industry.

Internships and short-term placements are also great opportunities to gain exposure to the processes involved in different aspects of the industry. These can also be added to your CV to impress future interviewers as you start to apply for jobs in the market.

What skills do you need to be a civil engineer?

The role of a civil engineer involves combining many – if not all – of the following key skills:

  • Management and communication: Can you lead a team of others, and can you get what you need by managing upwards and getting key stakeholders to buy into your vision?
  • Analytical and critical thinking: Are you able to look at different aspects of a project, promote what will work best and discard what will cause delays or overspending?
  • Technical skills: Are you capable of using the many different programs, systems and devices required in this role?
  • Creativity: Can you bring to life ideas in a way that communicates thoughts and makes them easy for others to understand?
  • Negotiation skills: Can you fight for exactly what you need, whether it is financial resource or a larger team with which to operate?
  • Attention to detail: Can you zoom in on things to find potential weaknesses before they cause problems for the wider project?
  • Good time management: Can you keep to deadlines and make sure that others complete work in a timely manner, too?
  • Commercial awareness: Can you see the bigger picture and see how a project or building will fit into the business goals of certain stakeholders?
  • If you've answered yes to the majority of these questions, it's likely that a career in civil engineering is perfect for you!

is civil engineering a good career?

A poll run by the ICE found that professionals in the civil engineering industry had an extremely high level of job satisfaction, highlighting the following five reasons for their happiness:

  • Varied working: No two projects in civil engineering are likely to be the same. What is required to plan and build a museum will incorporate many different things than if you are working on the creation of a new high-speed rail line. There are also many different directions in which you can take your own career, whether you are guided by pre-existing passions or develop a specific field of interest on the back of your experiences.
  • The creativity of the job: The job involves quite literally creating the world around people, forming the structures and pathways that will shape their lives and experiences for decades. If you're keen to develop artistic and creative skills, bringing to life engineering plans is a great way to do that while also leaving your mark on the world.
  • Working in a team: Civil engineering projects typically involve huge amounts of people. If you like working in big teams and presenting ideas to many different people, it could be an ideal opportunity. As you build up your knowledge base, you may well find yourself leading some of these teams, sharing your wisdom and helping to mould the engineers of the future.
  • Travelling the world: Projects will require your skills and expertise across the globe. Those who are able to carve out a specialism may particularly find themselves able to take on lucrative consulting jobs in many different projects in glamorous locations such as the United States, Australia and the Middle East.
  • Making a difference to the world: Many civil engineering projects are now focused on making the world a more hospitable place and helping human development to go hand-in-hand with the health of our planet. You could well find yourself working on something that protects the planet and all of us who call it home for generations to come.


how much do civil engineers make?

Civil engineers' salaries can vary greatly depending on the location of the job as well as your qualifications and experience.

Whether you are working for a firm as a contracted staff member or consulting on a job can also have an impact, with consultancy fees often highly lucrative.

Junior engineer salaries generally range from £20,000 to £26,000. Those who are not a member of the ICE can expect an average salary of around £30,000. However, it pays to become a chartered engineer, as this could see you earn up to £50,000.

Most employers also provide additional benefit packages including a pension programme, healthcare cover, life insurance and a company car and work phone.

what is a civil engineer's typical employer?

Your employer will depend largely on the kind of civil engineering in which you end up specialising.

For example, if you have an interest in electrical engineering, your employer could be a national grid or a company that assists with the implementation of energy being accessed by the general public.

In construction, you could be employed by a local council, national government, housebuilder, architectural firm or many, many more.

The ability to branch out and become your own boss is also a temptation in civil engineering. You may be able to find work as a freelancer or contractor, picking up new clients along the way. Gain enough experience and you might be able to consult firms and other organisations on their projects.

You may even be able to set up your own firm with enough knowledge, expertise, finance and a big enough client base.

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