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Civil Engineer

Civil engineers are involved in seeing an engineering project from conception, design stage, construction, through to completion and its ongoing maintenance.

They work on all sorts of engineering projects. These include structural projects like major building programmes, dams, bridges; transportation projects, like tunnels, roads, railways and airports; and environmental, maritime and geotechnical projects.

They work closely with construction project managers and contractors, architects and surveyors and engineers from different disciplines. Duties can include:

  • undertaking technical, feasibility and environmental studies
  • developing detailed designs
  • assessing all associated materials and labour costings
  • analysing risks
  • preparing tender bids
  • overseeing the progress and workmanship of projects
  • checking projects are meeting all statutory and building requirements.

Civil engineers usually work standard office hours from Monday to Friday. On site they may work overtime or shifts or provide on-call emergency cover. The work may be office based, or may involve being on site in all weathers.

Salaries may range from around £24,000 to £70,000 or more a year.

A civil engineer should be:

  • good at maths, science and IT
  • a creative thinker
  • able to communicate ideas and plans clearly
  • able to work well with a variety of people
  • confident making accurate and independent judgements
  • interested in solving problems.

Approximately 48,000 people work as civil engineers in the UK. Jobs exist with local authorities, building contractors, power companies, environmental agencies and specialist engineering and civil engineering consulting firms. There are good opportunities for experienced engineers to work abroad with consulting firms, foreign governments or international oil and mining companies.

Accredited degree programmes form the required educational base for becoming a professionally qualified civil engineer. For direct entry to a degree, minimum qualifications are generally two or three A levels including maths and physics, or equivalent. There are alternative routes in, including starting as a trainee technician with four GCSE's (A*-C) via an Apprenticeship scheme. Engineering qualifications not accredited with the ICE can be 'topped up' with further learning.

Civil engineers need both the educational base and to undertake initial professional development by following a structured training programme whilst in employment. They can then apply to become professionally recognised as either an Incorporated Engineer (IEng) or Chartered Engineer (CEng).

With Incorporated or Chartered status, moving into specialist senior roles, or becoming a self-employed consultant, is feasible. There are many opportunities to work abroad in the developing world.

What is the work like?

Civil engineering is essentially about the design, building and maintenance of the environment in which we live. Civil engineers are involved in different phases of the process, seeing an engineering project from conception, design stage and construction through to completion and then ongoing maintenance.

Civil engineers usually work in one of the following specialist engineering areas, although some branches may overlap:

  • structural - dams, major building projects, bridges, pipelines and offshore platforms
  • transportation - roads, railways, tunnels, canals and airports
  • environmental - water supply networks, sewerage systems, flood barriers, energy and power supply systems
  • maritime - sea and river defences, ports and harbours
  • geotechnical - mining, earthworks and construction foundations.

Normally working alongside construction project managers and contractors, architects and surveyors and engineers from different disciplines, their duties can include:

  • discussing specific project requirements with clients and colleagues
  • undertaking technical, feasibility and environmental studies and site investigations
  • analysing all the different survey, mapping and materials-testing data
  • developing detailed designs using computer modelling software
  • reviewing and approving project drawings
  • assessing materials, costs, time and labour requirements
  • assessing risks connected to projects
  • preparing tender bids, putting together project proposals and liaising with clients, public agencies and planning bodies
  • managing and overseeing progress during each phase of a project, carrying out quality assessments of workmanship and keeping an eye on costs and budgets
  • ensuring projects meet all the necessary building regulations, legal guidelines and health and safety requirements.

Hours and environment

Civil engineers usually work standard hours, Monday to Friday. Civil engineers predominantly based on site may work overtime, shifts, evenings and weekends, depending on the scale of the project. Site engineers may also provide emergency on-call cover.

Civil engineers often split their time between office and on-site work. When on site, they may work in all weather conditions. Extensive travel, sometimes overseas, may be required, depending on the contract. This may involve spending variable periods away from home.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • Average starting salaries for graduates are between £24,000 and £27,000 a year.
  • Salaries for experienced civil engineers average around £38,000 a year.
  • Chartered civil engineers can earn more than £55,000, with some salaries averaging around £70,000 a year.

Basic salaries can be substantially increased through bonuses. Senior civil engineers with substantial experience may also earn a secondary income from other projects such as examiner's fees, royalties and part-time consultancy fees.

Skills and personal qualities

A civil engineer needs:

  • excellent mathematics, science and IT skills
  • an aptitude for technical and people management problem solving
  • an understanding of innovation principles, processes, design and society
  • the ability to explain design ideas and plans clearly
  • confidence to make accurate and independent judgements
  • an element of creativity
  • to be adaptable
  • excellent communication skills, both verbal and written
  • proven project management ability
  • good teamworking skills
  • to thrive on challenges
  • an understanding of budgets and how to prepare project costings
  • motivational leadership qualities
  • knowledge of relevant building and legal regulations

Interests

It is important to have an interest in:

  • the built environment and infrastructure systems
  • solving problems.

Getting in

Approximately 48,000 people work as civil engineers in the UK. Jobs exist with local authorities, building contractors, power companies, environmental agencies and specialist engineering and civil engineering consulting firms. There are good opportunities for experienced engineers to work abroad with British consulting firms, contractors working for foreign governments or private organisations, such as international oil and mining companies.

Jobs may be advertised in tabloid newspapers or specialist publications like New Civil Engineer. Many recruitment agencies also specialise in placing engineers. Industry websites like www.justengineers.net, www.ukjobsnet.com/engineering-jobs, www.building4jobs.com and www.icerecruit.com are good vacancy sources.

Entry routes

Usually civil engineers are graduates with a relevant civil engineering degree accredited by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE). However, there are various routes in, with each phase taking varying times to fully qualify as an Incorporated Engineer (IEng) or Chartered Engineer (CEng). They include:

  • With four or more GCSEs (A*-C), including English, mathematics and science, candidates might join a Technical Apprenticeship or work-based training programme. See the Civil Engineering Technician profile for details.
  • School leavers who undertake a BTEC National Certificate/Diploma in construction may progress to a BTEC Higher National Certificate/Diploma or a foundation degree in civil engineering. With work experience, training and further learning, they can apply for Incorporate Engineer (IEng) status. It's also possible to progress directly from a BTEC Higher National Certificate/Diploma to a BSc or BEng degree.
  • A level students can apply to study a BSc or BEng civil engineering university course. A level in mathematics is essential for entry, as is physics in most instances. Chemistry and/or design technology are also well regarded by universities. A second language can be useful.
  • The Advanced Diplomas in engineering or construction and the built environment could also lead to direct entry to a civil engineering degree course. However, additional learning in maths and physics may be required for acceptance onto a university course.

At many universities, students without the necessary background in science and maths can qualify for accredited civil engineering degree courses by first taking a foundation year.

Students about to embark on an undergraduate accredited civil engineering degree course can apply for an ICE QUEST scholarship that offers them financial support, mentoring and work experience placements. To find out more about different funding schemes, including travel awards, visit www.ice.org.uk/quest

Engineering qualifications not accredited by ICE may be 'topped up' with further learning. Four- and five-year Masters degrees (MEng) in civil engineering are available.

Training

New graduates usually start as a civil engineer on a company's graduate training scheme, which can last several years. These are designed to develop technical knowledge and business skills.

The ICE is the professional industry body for civil engineering. In order to fully qualify as an Incorporated or Chartered Engineer, civil engineers need both the required educational base and also to undertake initial professional development (IPD).

After completing an ICE-approved training scheme, civil engineers register with ICE for a professional review and then apply to The Engineering Council for either:

  • Incorporated Engineer (IEng) - a professional engineer who specialises in the day-to-day management of engineering operations
  • Chartered Engineer (CEng) - leading teams of engineers and technicians developing new solutions to civil engineering problems.

Full details on becoming professionally qualified in civil engineering are available on the ICE website.

Even when fully qualified, civil engineers are expected to undertake continuing professional development (CPD) throughout their career. This can include attending courses, meetings, workshops and seminars across the globe in order to stay informed about new industry developments.

Civil engineering site supervisors and managers would be expected to qualify for the appropriate ConstructionSkills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card, proving they are competent to work on site. This involves passing the Managerial & Professional (MAP) Health and Safety Test. See the CSCS website for details.

Getting on

With Incorporated or Chartered status, moving into senior project management roles, specialising in a particular field or working as a consultant, is possible.

Local authorities and government departments usually have formal promotion structures. However, civil engineers tend to move jobs, often to gain experience and responsibility, and switch between the public and private sectors.

There are many opportunities to work abroad alongside international development and disaster relief agencies. Visit the RedR website - www.redr.org.uk - for news and details of current projects and volunteer schemes.

Further information

ConstructionSkills. 0844 844 0046. Websites: www.cskills.org, www.bconstructive.co.uk

ConstructionSkills Certification Scheme (CSCS). 0844 576 8777. Website: www.cscs.uk.com

The Engineering Council, 246 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EX. 020 3206 0500. Website: www.engc.org.uk

Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), 1 Great George Street, Westminster, London SW1P 3AA. 020 7222 7722. Website: www.ice.org.uk

Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE), 11 Upper Belgrave Street, London SW1X 8BH. 020 7235 4535. Website: www.istructe.org

The Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies (SEMTA), 14 Upton Road, Watford WD18 0JT. 0845 643 9001. Website: www.semta.org.uk

Women into Science, Engineering and Construction (WISE) 2nd floor Weston House, 246 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EX. 020 3206 0408. Website: www.wisecampaign.org.uk

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

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