Civil Engineering Career Advice
If you are wondering how to become a civil engineer, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers in this area of engineering, as well as job prospects in the UK.
The Job Description
Civil engineers plan, design and manage projects. These can range from the relatively small-scale, for example bridge repairs, through to large national projects, like the Channel tunnel.
Civil engineering is a broad term covering several specialist fields of engineering, so as a civil engineer you could be employed in any one of the following branches:
structural – dams, buildings, offshore platforms and pipelines
transportation – roads, railways, canals and airports
environmental – water supply networks, drainage and flood barriers
maritime – ports, harbours and sea defences
geotechnical – mining, earthworks and construction foundations.
discussing specifications with the client and other professionals, such
as architects, surveyors and building contractors
analysing survey, mapping or materials-testing data with computer modelling software
drawing up plans and blueprints, using computer-aided design packages
judging whether projects are workable by assessing materials, costs, time and labour requirements
assessing the environmental impact and risks connected to projects
preparing bids for tenders, and reporting to clients, public agencies and planning bodies
managing, directing and monitoring progress during each phase of a project
making sure projects meet legal guidelines, and health and safety requirements.
The key personal attributes of good civil engineers include:
excellent maths, science, and IT skills
the ability to explain clearly design ideas and plans
the ability to analyse large amounts of data and critically assess solutions
confidence in decision making
excellent communication skills
project management skills
the ability to work within budgets
good teamworking skills
a comprehensive knowledge of relevant legal regulations.
How to become a civil engineer
To become a civil engineer you will normally need a three-year Bachelor of Engineering degree (BEng) or four-year Masters degree (MEng) in civil engineering. These qualifications are important if you want to gain incorporated or chartered engineer status later in your career (see Training section for more details). You can take other engineering-related subjects but it may take you longer to fully qualify.
For a degree course in engineering, you will need at least five GCSEs (A-C) and two or three A levels, including maths and a science subject (normally physics), or equivalent qualifications. Colleges and universities may accept a relevant Access to Higher Education award for entry to certain courses. Please check with them for their exact entry requirements.
You can also work your way up to become an engineer if you are already in the industry, for example, working as an engineering technician. By studying part-time or on the job for a BTEC HNC/HND, foundation degree or degree, you could eventually qualify.
Training and Development
You will usually start your professional life as a civil engineer on a company's graduate training scheme. These schemes give you the chance to get involved in projects under the supervision of a mentor, and are designed to develop your technical knowledge and business skills. Over time, you will gradually take on more responsibility. Training schemes often last between one and two years.
Gaining incorporated or chartered status
Professional engineering bodies recommend that you gain incorporated or chartered status to enhance your career prospects. You can achieve this by registering with a professional body and applying to the Engineering Council to start the process.
Chartered engineers normally work at a strategic level, planning, researching and developing new designs and innovations, and streamlining management procedures. They are often project leaders with responsibility for teams of incorporated engineers and technicians. Incorporated engineers specialise in the day-to-day management of engineering operations.
To qualify as an incorporated or chartered civil engineer, you need:
an accredited university qualification
a period of Initial Professional Development, including practical training to gain experience
to pass a professional review
membership of an appropriate professional body.
As part of the process, you are assessed against UK-SPEC (UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence), developed by professional bodies, employers and the Engineering Council.
The Pay (a rough guide)
Income for new graduate engineers is between £19,500 and £23,000 a year.
Experienced engineers earn between £24,000 and £37,000.
Chartered engineers can earn around £49,000 year.
Your opportunities are excellent if you are a qualified engineer. Many different organisations employ civil engineers, including local authorities, building contractors, power companies, environmental agencies and specialist consulting firms. You may also find opportunities overseas with British consulting or contracting firms, working for foreign governments, and oil and mining companies.
With experience and incorporated or chartered status, you could move into senior project management positions, specialise in particular fields or work as a consultant.
You can also work with international development and disaster relief agencies.
Useful engineering resources:
Institution of Civil Engineers
Great George Street
Tel: 020 7222 7722