Civil Engineer Career Facts

Civil engineers work with public infrastructure like roads, dams, tunnels, and buildings. This is considered one of the oldest branches of the engineering, profession, dating back to ancient civilizations.

The work environment

Civil engineers often work for public organizations like cities and counties, but many work for private construction contractors. This is both a practical and a design-based profession, with civil engineers working in all areas of construction, design, and maintenance.

This is an extremely technical job. Civil engineers work in one of the most demanding and diverse forms of engineering. Many civil engineers are specialists in various areas the profession:

  • Structural engineering
  • Water resources
  • Construction
  • Transport
  • Environmental engineering
  • Geotechnical engineering (Soil science)

This very wide range of skills is based on fundamental engineering skills. Specialists develop skills through qualifications and experience in particular areas of civil engineering.

The jobs themselves are equally varied in terms of the types of work and the work environment. Civil engineers, as experts, work in the operational, design, and management areas of their organizations. Their roles may be dual, on-site and office jobs. As technical advisers, however, their jobs are entirely in the professional arena.

A civil engineer's job may include:

  • Site inspections
  • Site supervision
  • Site management
  • Design of structures
  • Contract administration
  • Contract evaluation
  • Advisory support to government and private organizations
  • Management roles
  • Consultancy positions (Independently or as part of an organization)

In practice, civil engineers are the in-house experts in their organizations. Any issues in relation to infrastructure or related areas become the civil engineer's job. On of the most common areas in which civil engineers are involved is infrastructural maintenance. Big structures like bridges and dams have to be maintained regularly and kept in safe condition. This very important work is the province of specialist civil engineers, who have to assess the state of the infrastructure and recommend maintenance procedures. This can involve working with very old structures which require preservation according to heritage guidelines and other highly technical forms of maintenance.

Wages: $45-50,000 at entry level to $110,000. Consultancy fees may apply for senior civil engineers.

Hours: Variable depending on nature of the role.

The career environment

Civil engineers are in one of the boom demand areas of engineering. In the US, they make up a relatively small percentage of the engineering profession, and demand in the coming decade is expected to cause an 18% rise in numbers employed. Even that big demand may not necessarily meet the actual demand.

Each facet of civil engineering projects requires various forms of specialization. That, in turn, dilutes the number of graduates in each specialty. Across the six basic streams of civil engineering, that 18% is unlikely to be spread evenly, which will further increase demand for specialists.

In career terms, that's a positive situation for career progression. Civil engineers are able to be very mobile in their careers if they need to be, so employment options and opportunities are good overall within the profession.

The consultancy role is a particularly important senior role in civil engineering. Experienced specialists with a strong record in their areas can work as independent consultants or in arrangements with major construction firms. These jobs may attract very large fees and commissions.