Qualifications for the job: become a chartered civil or structural engineer

Graduate engineers need to gain a professional qualification to go places in their career. Target graduate civils employers that offer on-the-job training to help you on your way to accreditation with ICE, the Institution of Structural Engineers or ICES.

Your list of job requirements may include starting salary, employer location, exciting projects and opportunities to travel – but training and support towards achieving a professional qualification should be high on the list as well.

Although your educational qualifications prove what you know, a professional qualification shows that your practical experience meets certain recognised standards.

What are chartered and incorporated civil and structural engineers?

Professional institutions are the independent bodies that set and maintain the standards for a profession. In civil and structural engineering, professional status is granted mainly by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and the Institution of Structural Engineers, while other bodies represent these engineers in specialist areas, such as the Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors (ICES) and the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT).

The base standard for professional development is set by the Engineering Council and the guidelines for this are contained within UK-SPEC (UK Standards for Professional Engineering Competence).

There are three registration categories: engineering technician (EngTech), incorporated engineer (IEng) and chartered engineer (CEng). All three are essential in the industry but graduate engineers tend to aim for either incorporated or chartered engineer status. The Engineering Council definitions follow.

  • Chartered engineers (CEng) are characterised by their ability to develop appropriate solutions to engineering problems, using new or existing technologies, through innovation, creativity and change. They might develop and apply new technologies; promote advanced designs and design methods; introduce new and more efficient production techniques, marketing and construction concepts; or pioneer new engineering services and management methods. Chartered engineers are variously engaged in technical and commercial leadership.
  • Incorporated engineers (IEng) maintain and manage applications of current and developing technology and may undertake engineering, design, development, manufacture, construction and operations. They are engaged in technical and commercial management and possess effective interpersonal skills.

How to become a chartered or incorporated civil or structural engineer

To gain professional qualification, you will need an educational base.

  • To progress to incorporated engineer you need an accredited bachelors degree or the equivalent.
  • To become a chartered engineer, you’ll need either an accredited MEng degree or an accredited BEng (Hons) degree plus either an approved masters degree or a period of further learning in the workplace (eg the technical report route – see below).

Once in the workplace, engineers start initial professional development (IPD), which runs over a number of years depending on the qualification and the educational starting point as well as the engineer’s situation and motivation. An engineer needs to demonstrate professional competencies in personal skills, engineering skills, and management and commercial skills. IPD leads to the professional review, where an engineer is assessed in an interview and, in the case of the Institution of Structural Engineers, an additional examination.

However, UK-SPEC recognises that a range of educational bases exist and that people come from a range of backgrounds so there is always a route through to professional qualification. There is a variety of different paths. The technical report route is one option (see below).

It is now possible to progress from incorporated to chartered status – which means that you can gain professional status as IEng on the route to CEng.

If you are unsure of your academic eligibility or need more information on the numerous routes to membership, it’s always best to contact the relevant professional institution.

Finding an employer who'll support you towards professional qualification

All civil and structural engineering employers will claim to provide training but you need to find out the details. It is important to do thorough research to find schemes approved by the relevant professional institution. If you can’t find employers’ own statistics, ask about the numbers of people on the scheme, pass rates and the professional review process at the ICE and Institution of Structural Engineers.

Talk to current graduate employees about training and find out when they expect to go forward to professional review. When you talk to employers, ask them about mentors, the level of support they provide and how you will gain the practical experience you need to qualify.

You may get a salary increase on achieving professional status and there are other benefits too. A CEng allows an engineer to practise internationally. This is important in an industry that is becoming more and more international.

Joining a professional institution as a student

Becoming a student member of a professional organisation can set you on track early. Professional institutions hold a wealth of information and will support you. Student membership is free for both ICE and the Institution of Structural Engineers and it is rare to get so much for nothing! Both provide student members with online services, such as access to publications and literature, technical updates, a members’ online area and invaluable connections.

Branches, meetings and conferences are networking events where you can meet other students and graduates, experienced engineers and potential employers. It’s the ultimate way to get a personal view of the industry and work that may interest you. These events will also help you gain knowledge of your professional institution, which is a core objective of professional qualification. Student membership also looks good on your CV. If you’re not a member yet, it’s not too late to join and set yourself on the path to professional qualification.

The technical report route

If you do not possess the benchmark MEng qualification and want to work towards chartered status, you could explore the technical report route. Engineers have to prove that they possess masters-level competencies through the submission of a technical report based on experiential learning. This highlights the engineer’s understanding and application of fundamental, technical and conceptual principles.

The route allows candidates to supplement their education with practical experience. It costs less than staying at university and suits people who prefer learning through experience, but it can take longer than further study.