Structural engineer: job description

Structural engineer: job description

Structural engineers design, plan and oversee the construction of new buildings and bridges, or alterations and extensions to existing properties or other structures.
It can be very satisfying to have the chance to see something you've had a part in become a reality.

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

Structural engineers are primarily concerned with designing and constructing buildings and structures that are safe and capable of withstanding the elements to which they will be exposed, as well as improving the structural integrity of existing buildings. The job is very closely related to that of civil engineer.

Key tasks include:

  • preparing reports, designs and drawings
  • making calculations about loads and stresses
  • selecting appropriate construction materials
  • providing technical advice
  • obtaining planning and/or building regulations approval
  • liaising with relevant professional staff such as architects
  • monitoring and inspecting work undertaken by contractors
  • administering contracts
  • managing projects
  • inspecting properties to check conditions/foundations

Most structural engineers work either for construction/engineering consultancies – where they focus on designing structures and tend to work in an office environment – or for contractors, where they will oversee the construction of the structure, working on site. Most engineers will specialise in a type of project (or infrastructure), such as bridges or buildings. See a list of the main specialisms here.

Working hours for consultant structural engineers are typical office hours, with some overtime to meet deadlines; engineers working on site tend to have longer hours and shiftwork.

Typical employers of structural engineers

  • Construction/engineering consultancies
  • Construction/engineering contractors
  • Utility companies
  • Local authorities
  • Central government organisations

Vacancies are advertised by TARGETjobs, by university careers services, by recruitment agencies, via professional bodies such as the Institution of Structural Engineers, and in national newspapers and magazines such as TARGETjobs Engineering, Building Services Journal, Construction News and New Civil Engineer as well as their online equivalents.

Qualifications and training required

There are routes into a career in structural engineering for both university graduates and school leavers.

Graduates will need a degree in civil or structural engineering accredited by the Institution of Structural Engineers. You can then obtain one of two recognised professional qualifications with the Institution of Structural Engineers. You can apply for incorporated engineer (IEng) status with a BEng, or charted engineer (CEng) status if you graduated with a BEng plus a masters, or an MEng. Both titles will help career prospects, but chartered engineers are often of greater value to employers.

You then need to complete period of vocational training with an accredited employer, as well as a professional review, before you can obtain either of these titles. For more information, see our article on achieving chartered status.

Relevant work experience will boost your graduate application. Many employers offer sponsorship, vacation work and 'year out' placements which can provide valuable contacts and a useful insight into the profession. Read our guide to getting work experience within the construction industry.

To find out about how you can get into this career via a school leaver route (eg an apprenticeship or school leaver training programme) see the construction and property sector of TARGETcareers, our website aimed at school leavers, and particularly our article on civil and structural engineering.

Key skills for structural engineers

  • Creativity
  • Commercial awareness
  • Teamworking and communication skills
  • Excellent mathematical, IT and analytical skills
  • Good attention to detail
  • Project and budget management skills

A good working knowledge of construction methods, materials and legal regulations is important.

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