Construction engineering: industry sector overview
Reading this right now, you're probably in a built environment. The built environment is made up of buildings, leisure space and all of the connective stuff in between – transport, power, water and drainage. It's our neighbourhoods, towns and cities. Working in this industry involves the planning, design, construction, management and end use of all of these things.
From the initial concept to the evolution and execution of the project, there are a number of people involved. Engineers in this sector could work for a consultancy, contractor or a specialist subcontractor.
Trends and developments in the construction industry
Three key priorities for the built environment sector are: the health and wellbeing of building users, the energy efficiency of buildings and the ability to build fast, safely and cost-effectively using prefabricated kits of parts.
Engineers can now deliver projects in 3D, 4D, 5D and beyond. Virtual and cloud-based platforms have almost replaced paper. Of course you can never replace face-to-face communication and the ideas that develop from this, so good social skills are always a must - even if the meeting takes place virtually.
Common design platforms and the fact that English is increasingly used as the global language for business mean that we can share information and collaborate anywhere in the world. This has led to major efficiencies in design.
What it's like working in the built environment
Generally, you'll work on at least one job, if not two, within a calendar year. Within a large organisation, an engineer might focus on one project at a time; however, it would be a big project, maybe worth tens of millions of pounds and with a team of more than 200 people. In a smaller organisation, engineers will typically work on a handful of projects at once.
The built environment is a global industry. Where your work is based will depend on where opportunities arise. I have worked on small residential buildings in Malaysia to planning new megacities in the Middle East and Europe. The best projects might not be on your doorstep so a willingness to travel and work abroad is beneficial.
Travel within the UK is common. A lot of organisations in this sector have head offices in London but many offices in cities around the UK, such as Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds and Manchester. Projects will be designed from these locations but you will need to travel to visit project sites or attend client meetings and design and construction workshops.
Getting a graduate engineering job in construction
Engineers in this sector need to have a can-do attitude and be team players. Projects require a lot of different people, organisation and skills so it's important to understand that you're part of a team.
Graduates typically get into the industry through a graduate scheme. Most organisations will run some form of graduate training programme and you are likely to gain membership of a relevant institution.
The highlights of a career in the construction industry
- Collaborating with, and learning from, a diverse range of people.
- The opportunity to travel and work on global projects.
- Seeing your projects complete and in use.
The construction industry seeks graduates in the following disciplines:
- power systems
Thanks to Chris Kitching, CEng MIStructE, for his help with this article. Chris is a director at Mott MacDonald. He has a BEng in civil and structural engineering from the University of Sheffield and has worked in the built environment sector for 24 years.