Career Profile: Civil Engineer
Civil engineering is primarily the field in which an engineer plans, designs and supervises construction of public structures. However this definition has changed in recent years and the work of a civil engineer can cover many areas. Civil engineering covers public works such as roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, or water supply and sewage systems but can also include private residences, transportation engineering and environmental engineering. They must consider many factors in the design process, from the construction costs and expected lifetime of a project to government regulations and potential environmental hazards such as earthquakes and hurricanes. Anyone interested in the building and designing of public structures whether it be for federal projects or private industries can find something in the civil engineering discipline to love. But the profession demands much education and discipline for success.
A civil engineer will typically work a 40-hour week with many management positions requiring more hours, depending on project requirements. Some civil engineers are required to travel and many jobs will require one to work at the job site, whether it be far from home or nearby.
Education and Certification
Many years of education go into the foundation of a career in civil engineering. A high school degree is not enough to be a civil engineer and a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or a related engineering discipline is only the first step. The length of study for a degree in engineering is typically four or five years and the completed degree is designated as a Bachelor of Engineering. In the course of this period, critical thinking skills and mathematical concepts related to the field of engineering are explored, setting a good foundation for a career.
Postgraduate qualifications are required to progress as a chartered civil engineer. They will also enable you to specialize in a particular aspect of civil engineering. A post-graduate degree or doctorate in engineering can be pursued after the completion if a bachelor’s degree and many students continue their academic education. But the bachelor’s degree represents the first step to a professional certification in civil engineering. To be certified, a person must also meet required work experience requirements and pass a standardized exam. Only after all these criteria is met can a person be a certified professional civil engineer. In the United States, certification is important because only a certified person may “prepare, sign and seal, and submit engineering plans and drawings to a public authority for approval, or seal engineering work for public and private clients.” In other countries, certification is a way of standardizing the field and ensuring that all engineers meet a minimum skill level and maintain a level of expertise in the field of engineering.
Almost half of all civil engineers worked for firms that dealt with architectural, engineering, and related services work with most working in the design sector, creating designs for new projects. About a third of all jobs in civil engineering work for the government in one level or another, whether it is for road or water works, public buildings, or in repairing and maintaining structures such as dams and bridges.
In 2006, civil engineers occupied more than a quarter of a million jobs in the United States. This number is expected to increase at a rate of 18% in the next decade, higher than the average growth, stemming from a continually growing population that needs more buildings, public works that need to be maintained, a national infrastructure that needs to be improved and old buildings that will be needing repair and maintenance.
As a group, those who graduate with a bachelor’s degree in engineering earned a higher starting salary than their peers. In a 2007 salary survey, people with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering started working in the field at $48,509 a year on average. Those with a master’s degree had a starting salary that averaged $48,280 a year and those that held a Ph.D. in civil engineering started at $62,275 a year.
The average salary for an engineer who has worked in the field for some time is between $54,520 and $86,260 per year with the top 10% earning more than $104,420 per year. Of course, this salary range is for those civil engineers who are at the top of their field and hold positions in management.
Civil engineers can specialize in a diverse range of areas, including coastal and marine, power, water and public health, rail, tunneling, structural work, highways and transportation and the environment. It is a job that requires one to be disciplined as well as creative, detail-oriented and curious. The job can be immensely satisfying, especially because it is a discipline that allows one to visually see the outcome of their work (such as in the design and execution of public structures and buildings). The job enables one to work closely with others and much public relation work is necessary for many aspects of the job from being able to manage a team of people to explaining a project to a group of clients.