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Construction engineering: industry sector overview

Construction engineering: industry sector overview

Roads, railways, buildings, bridges... graduates who choose engineering careers in the construction industry can make their mark on the world around them.

The built environment is a broad sector that affects the world you see around you. It covers infrastructure (eg roads, railways, tunnels, bridges and dams); buildings; and the systems that make buildings useable, such as heating and ventilation.

The sector employs engineers in civil, structural, building services, environmental and geotechnical roles, as well as some specialists in areas such as acoustics. The main employers are consultants, who advise clients, develop designs and oversee projects, and contractors, who carry out building work. Engineers are also recruited by developers and by large clients, such as retailers and local authorities. Key players include Mott MacDonald, Arup and Atkins (consultants) and Laing O’Rourke, Carillion and Lend Lease (contractors).

Trends and developments in the construction industry

The slowdown means that efficiency is essential. Clients’ budgets are lower, so engineers often need to suggest different solutions than in the past. Construction companies are also searching for ways to cut their fees in order to win bids. However, it’s still vital to be aware of clients’ business aims for a project, so as to propose solutions that help them meet their goals.

3D modelling technology is increasingly used, which gives engineers a better understanding of projects at an early stage and allows them to identify problems that would previously only have come to light once building work was under way. Sustainability is also a key issue. There’s an increasing focus on a development’s use of energy and carbon emissions, whether it fits into its environment and if it can help to regenerate the local area.

What it’s like working in the built environment

The sector is very fast-paced with lots of teamwork. Projects vary in length from a few months to ten years from inception to completion. Engineers need to be mobile within the UK. Typically they will be based in one geographical region and expected to travel around it to sites and client meetings. However, if the balance of work shifts from one region to another they may need to relocate. There can also be opportunities to work overseas, although these tend to be optional.

Getting a graduate engineering job in construction

Engineers who are employed by contractors generally work on just one project at a time. Recent graduates with consultants may start their careers doing likewise, then move on to juggling several projects simultaneously.

Engineers need a basic understanding of the other engineering disciplines with which they interact, and the ability to consider practicalities as well as technical detail. They also need good communication skills and the ability to get on with people. It’s often necessary to explain why a change of plan is needed to a client who has no technical background, or to solve disputes calmly.

The highlights of a career in the built environment

  • Seeing your projects complete.
  • Making a difference to a local area.
  • Meeting a diverse range of people.

The construction industry seeks graduates in...

  • Chemical
  • Civil/structural
  • Control
  • Electrical
  • Electronics
  • Environmental
  • Instruments
  • Manufacturing
  • Materials
  • Mathematics
  • Mechanical
  • Physics
  • Power systems
  • Software
  • Telecoms

Thanks to Martyn Frackelton, CEng MICE, for his help with this article. Martyn is an associate at Mott MacDonald. He has an MEng in civil and structural engineering from the University of Liverpool.