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Structural Engineer

Structural engineers are involved in the design and construction of a range of structures such as office blocks, housing developments, hospitals, schools, bridges and tunnels. They often work alongside architects and are responsible for working out how buildings and structures will be made to stand up to the stresses and strains placed upon them. They have to ensure that a project is designed and built to be visually appealing, meeting all the necessary safety requirements. Work may include producing design solutions, meeting with clients and other members of the design team to discuss plans and preparing drawings and building specifications.

Structural engineers generally work normal office hours over a 38- to 40- hour week. Most jobs are office-based but site visits are often necessary. Engineers may work in a design office, in meetings or on site.

Salaries range from £22,000 to in excess of £50,000 a year.

A structural engineer should:

  • be creative and enjoy a challenge
  • have a wide knowledge of construction practices
  • be able to use computers for design work, calculating, and testing designs
  • work well with other people
  • have a knowledge of the qualities of materials, of manufacturing processes and construction methods.

Employers of structural engineers include independent structural engineering contractors and consultancies, building and civil engineering contractors and central and local government. Jobs are available nationwide though often with a concentration of work in London and the south-east. As with other industries, opportunities for employment have been affected by the current economic climate.

The usual route for entry for training as a structural engineer is via full-time university or college study to obtain an accredited degree. It is possible to begin apprentice training in structural engineering straight from school with three to five GCSEs (A*- C). Diplomas in engineering, and construction and the built environment, may be relevant for this area of work.

All apprentices follow a structured training scheme at work with part-time study at a local college leading to NVQ Level 2/3 in engineering construction.

Following formal education, training is mainly practical, complemented by a broad based in-house training programme, sometimes following a structured graduate training scheme.

Candidates who fulfil their Institution's academic and continuing professional development (CPD) requirements may apply for Chartered status. Structural engineering is a global profession and it is not unusual for engineers to work in a number of countries during their careers.

What is the work like?

Structural engineers are involved in the design and construction of a range of structures such as:

  • office blocks
  • housing developments
  • hospitals and schools
  • bridges and tunnels
  • oil-rigs
  • sports stadia
  • roller-coasters.

Structural engineers often work alongside architects and are responsible for working out how buildings and structures will be made to stand up to the stresses and strains placed upon them. Structural engineers are responsible for solving complex problems and producing design solutions which take into account the client's requirements, the environment, energy consumption, ground conditions, foundations, the loads and stresses on structures to ensure they have sufficient strength, materials and costs.

Structural engineers are at the forefront of responding to some of the biggest challenges facing the world today including meeting the future demands for energy and raw materials. They have to ensure that a project is designed and built to be visually appealing, whilst meeting all the necessary safety requirements and taking account of all the above factors.

Tasks and duties may include:

  • producing conceptual design solutions
  • meeting with clients and other members of the design team to discuss plans
  • preparing drawings and building specifications
  • investigating ground conditions and analysing results of site tests such as soil samples
  • calculating the loads and stresses placed upon structures to ensure they are built with sufficient strength
  • testing models on the computer to ensure that the structure can withstand forces such as wind, gravity and earth tremors
  • communicating the design of the structure (through drawings, specifications and computer models) so that others can construct it
  • liaising with other construction professionals and authorities to fulfil legal requirements such as planning permissions and listed structures
  • visiting sites to check that the construction is in accordance with the design.

In the course of their work structural engineers use computers and specialist computer programs for analysis and design.

Hours and environment

Structural engineers generally work normal office hours over a 38- to 40- hour week. Most jobs are office-based but site visits are often necessary.

They may be based in a design office or on site. Hard hats will be required when on site, supplemented by protective clothing if necessary. Sites can be dusty, muddy and noisy as contractors bring the building design to life but offices are usually air-conditioned.

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.

  • The starting salary for newly qualified engineers is about £22,000.
  • With experience this may rise to £35,000.
  • Senior chartered structural engineers may earn in excess of £50,000.

Skills and personal qualities

A structural engineer should:

  • be creative and enjoy a challenge
  • have a wide knowledge of construction practices
  • be interested in solving problems and finding practical and innovative solutions
  • be adaptable and persevering
  • be able to use computers for design work, calculating, and testing designs
  • work well with other people
  • have good communication skills, to present information in speech, drawings and reports
  • have a knowledge of the qualities of materials, of manufacturing processes and construction methods
  • have a scientific and mathematical mind.

Interests

It is important to:

  • have an aptitude for maths and physics
  • have an interest in sustainability and shaping the environment in response to the challenge of climate change.

Getting in

Employers of structural engineers include:

  • independent structural engineering contractors/consultancies
  • building and civil engineering contractors
  • central and local government
  • industrial organisations
  • universities, colleges and research establishments
  • transport infrastructure contractors.

Jobs are available nationwide, with the greatest number of construction projects currently underway in London, the 2012 Olympic site and the south-east, though the current economic climate has reduced job opportunities.

Vacancies appear in The Structural Engineer, published twice monthly by the Institution of Structural Engineers and the New Civil Engineer magazine and website www.nceplus.co.uk. Specialist recruitment agencies are a common source of vacancies as are the local and national press.

Entry routes

The usual route for entry for training as a structural engineer is via full-time university or college study to obtain an accredited degree. A list of accredited degrees can be seen on the Joint Board of Moderators website: www.jbm.org.uk. An HND with distinctions or merits or NVQ Level 4/5 is acceptable, although further training will be required.

Entry to a degree course is with at least five GCSEs (A*-C) with three A levels. A good level of competence in maths is normally required and physics and maths are often preferred A levels. An HNC/HND in civil or structural engineering is also an acceptable qualification for entry. Entry requirements may vary, so candidates should check with individual universities.

It is possible to begin apprentice training in structural engineering straight from school with three to five GCSEs (A*- C). Preferably these should include English, mathematics and a science. Other useful subjects include computing, business studies and design and technology. Studying a BTEC is a good alternative to GCSEs. The Diplomas in engineering, and construction and the built environment may be relevant for this area of work.

Engineering technician status may be obtained following a suitable apprenticeship which, with further study, can lead to a position as a structural engineer. All apprentices follow a structured training scheme at work with part-time study at a local college leading to NVQ Level 2/3 in engineering construction.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer and, from August 2009, pay at least £95 per week. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16- year-olds. To find out more, see the Apprenticeship page on this website; contact the local Connexions service or visit www.apprenticeships.org.uk

Graduate apprenticeships may also be available.

Training

Following formal education, training is mainly practical, complemented by a broad based in-house training programme, sometimes following a structured graduate training scheme.

Candidates who fulfil their Institution's academic and professional development requirements may apply for Chartered status. A large number of structural engineers obtain Chartered status through the Institution of Structural Engineers. All engineers are expected to undertake continuing professional development (CPD).

Getting on

Most large organisations have a formal progression structure, but in smaller firms it may be necessary to move to another employer in order to progress.

Self-employment is common, but securing new contracts can be difficult. Chartered status may be useful to progress, and is desirable for structural engineers setting up their own business.

Structural engineering is a global profession and it is not unusual for engineers to work in a number of countries during their careers.

Further information

Association of Consulting Engineers (ACE), Alliance House, 12 Caxton Street, London SW1H 0QL. 020 7222 6557. Website: www.acenet.co.uk

ConstructionSkills, Bircham Newton, Kings Lynn, Norfolk PE31 6RH. 0808 100 0055. Website: www.bconstructive.co.uk

Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB), Blue Court, Church Lane, Kings Langley, Hertfordshire WD4 8JP. 01923 260000. Website: www.ecitb.org.uk

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

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

SEMTA (the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies), 14 Upton Road, Watford, Hertfordshire WD18 0JT. 01923 238441. Website: www.semta.org.uk

Women's Engineering Society. 01438 765506, Website: www.wes.org.uk

Women into Science, Engineering and Construction (WISE). Tel: 020 3206 0408 Website: www.wisecampaign.org.uk

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

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