Civil Engineers Overview

Employment for civil engineers is expected to grow at a much faster than average rate compared to all occupations. The overall job outlook should be good. Entry-level positions typically go to engineering bachelor’s degree holders, though some research positions require a masters degree. Civil engineers earn some of the highest starting salaries of all college graduates. After college, civil engineers must complete continuing education throughout their careers to keep up with technology changes and advancements.

Nature of the Work for Civil Engineers

Civil engineers use math and science to develop economical solutions to technical problems. With scientific discoveries, they create commercial applications to meet consumer and societal needs.

Many civil engineers develop new products. They consider several factors including functional requirements and design and they evaluate test products for cost, effectiveness, safety and reliability.

Beyond design and development many civil engineers work in maintenance, production or testing. They may determine the cause of malfunctions, supervise factory production or test for product quality. Often they must estimate time and cost for projects. Supervisors take control of entire projects or major components.

Computers are a big part of civil engineers work. They use them to simulate systems, produce and analyze designs, generate specifications for parts, monitor quality and control efficiency. Nanotechnology also comes into play as the higher-performance materials introduce new principles to the design process.

Civil engineers design and supervise the construction of water supply and sewage systems, bridges, dams, roads, building, airports and tunnels. From potential environmental hazards such as earthquakes and hurricanes and construction costs to government regulations and the expected lifetime of a project, civil engineers must consider many factors in their design process. As members of one of the oldest engineering disciplines, civil engineers work across many specialties including construction, transportation, water resources, structural and geotechnical engineers. Supervisory or administrative positions are common for civil engineers including positions like city engineer to construction site supervisor. Other civil engineers may work in research, construction, design or teaching.

Usually civil engineers work in office, lab or factory settings. However, some may work outside at construction or production sites, monitoring and directing operations or solving onsite problems. Others travel extensively here and abroad.

A 40-hour workweek is typical for civil engineers, though longer hours may occur when deadlines must be met.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Civil Engineers

A bachelor’s degree in engineering is usually required for civil engineers at the entry level. On occasion employers will hire natural science or mathematics college graduates, especially for high demand specialties. Many civil engineers can later work in another specialty of engineering as different areas have different employment needs.

Typically civil engineers take courses in general engineering, sciences, mathematics, laboratories, computers and even social sciences and humanities.

While many civil engineers stick to the standard 4-year bachelor’s degree program, some colleges offer 2 and 4-year engineering technology programs. These programs offer more hands-on instruction on the latest issues in the application of engineering principles. They prepare students for production or practical design work rather than for jobs that focus on scientific and theoretical aspects. Graduates of 4-year engineering technology programs often find jobs similar to those with bachelors degrees in civil engineering. However, employers view their skills as somewhere between a technician and an engineer.

For faculty and many research and development positions, graduate training is required. Many experienced engineers choose to seek a masters degree in business administration or a masters degree in engineering for advancement or keeping up with the latest technology.

Usually civil engineers find 4-year programs take 5 years to complete. Schools often have special programs to help students finance their education. Some partner with 2-year colleges so students can start there for core curriculum and attend engineering school later. Others offer 5- and 6-year programs that include work experience, which adds valuable training and an opportunity for students to finance their education.

Civil engineers who will offer their services directly to the public must be licensed as a professional engineer (PE). To qualify for this license they must graduate from a program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), have 4 years of relevant work experience and pass an exam. Recent grads can start the process upon graduation by taking part of the exam to become an engineer intern. Later, with suitable work experience, they can take the second half.

In addition to schooling, civil engineers should be detail oriented, analytical, inquisitive and creative. They should be able to work on a team. Communication skills – written and oral – are also important as they will interact with specialist outside of engineering frequently. Those working for the Federal Government usually must be US citizens and often need security clearance.

At the entry-level civil engineers can expect to work under a more experienced engineer and even take classes and seminars on the job. With experience and skills they can work more independently and take on more challenging projects. Later civil engineers often become supervisors or technical specialists. Some choose to take on managerial roles outside the field or sales positions in which they can explain the technical aspects of products.

Many professional certifications are available to civil engineers and they can be beneficial when seeking managerial or senior technical positions.

Employment and Job Outlook for Civil Engineers

Within the 1.6 million engineers working, civil engineers make up the largest area of the field with 278,400 workers. Jobs are usually found in manufacturing industries and the professional, scientific and technical services industries. Many also work in telecommunications, wholesale trade and construction. Twelve percent of engineers are employed by the government and 3 percent are self employed.

Even though the field of engineering as a whole is expected to have only average employment growth, civil engineering jobs are projected to grow much faster than average for all occupations at a rate of 24 percent. More civil engineers will be called upon to design and construct or expand water supply, pollution control and transportation systems as well as buildings and building complexes. This is due to population growth and in turn, the country’s need to improve infrastructure. Civil engineers will also be in demand to replace and repair public structures like bridges and roads. Many civil engineers are employed in construction and architectural, engineering and related services. For this reason, job opportunities vary by geographic area and are susceptible to economic slowdowns when construction is often cut back.

In this career, continuing education is important. Civil engineers are required to know the latest technology and employers expect them to use this expertise to offer the best and most up to date solutions. Skills can quickly become outdated in the field. Those who don’t keep current will be at a disadvantage for promotions, layoffs and new jobs.

Earnings and Salary for Civil Engineers

The median annual salary for civil engineers is $76,590. The highest 10 percent earned more than $118,320, the lowest 10 percent earned less than $49,620 and the middle 50 percent earned between $60,650 and $96,800. Engineers earn some of the highest starting salaries of all bachelor’s degree graduates and civil engineers earn an average of $52,048 at the entry level.

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