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Civil engineer: job description

Civil engineer: job description

Civil engineers design, plan and oversee construction projects such as railways and roads.
Most civil engineers are employed by local authorities, contractors and consultancies.

What does a civil engineer do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Civil engineers create, improve and protect the environment in which we live. They plan, design and oversee construction and maintenance of building structures and facilities, such as roads, railways, airports, bridges, harbours, dams, irrigation projects, power plants, water and sewerage systems. They also design and build tall buildings and large structures that they can last for hundreds of years and withstand all weather conditions.

Civil engineers can either be consulting engineers who advise on projects and design them, or contracting engineers who turn their plans into reality and maintain the structures once they are built. Typical civil engineering work activities include:

  • undertaking technical and feasibility studies including site investigations
  • using a range of computer packages for developing detailed designs
  • undertaking complex and repetitive calculations
  • liaising with clients and a variety of professionals including architects and subcontractors
  • compiling job specs and supervising tendering procedures
  • resolving design and development problems
  • managing budgets and project resources
  • scheduling material and equipment purchases and deliveries
  • making sure the project complies with legal requirements
  • assessing the sustainability and environmental impact of projects
  • ensuring projects run smoothly and structures are completed within budget and on time

Working as a civil engineer you may be required to work away from home for periods of time. Frequent visits to sites may also be necessary, especially for new graduates. Travel abroad may be possible with a large consultancy company.

While regular office hours are the norm, you may have to work long days and some weekends close to project deadlines. Overnight and weekend stays may be required for site inspections. Site engineers and managers can be on call 24 hours a day.

Typical employers of civil engineers

  • Local authorities
  • Government departments
  • Railways
  • Water/electricity/gas companies
  • Civil engineering contractors/consultants

Self-employment is possible for those interested in setting up their own consultancy firm, but you will normally need several years of proven professional experience.

Qualifications and training required

To become a chartered civil engineer it is necessary to gain a degree in civil or structural engineering, usually an MEng which is accredited by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) or and to undertake vocational training for at least four years with an ICE-accredited employer (contact the ICE for a list of employers offering approved training schemes). Many employers offer sponsorship, vacation work and 'year out' placements which can provide valuable contacts and a useful insight into the profession.

Promotion to senior engineer level is achievable, and with more experience, to principal engineer level and beyond. Opportunities to specialise in a diverse range of areas, including coastal and marine, power, water and roads, are possible.

Key skills for civil engineers

Employers seek creative graduates who are commercially aware and capable of working well within a team environment. Other key skills include:

  • sound mathematical and technical skills including physics
  • ability to think methodically, to design, plan and manage projects
  • ability to maintain an overview of entire projects while continuing to attend to detailed technicalities
  • excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • negotiating, supervisory and leadership skills combined with the ability to delegate

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