An interest in design and construction is crucial for a career in the popular field of civil engineering

Civil engineers are involved with the design, development and construction of a huge range of projects in the built and natural environment. Their role is central to ensuring the safe, timely and well-resourced completion of projects in many areas.

Liaising with clients, you'll plan, manage, design and supervise the construction of projects. You'll work in a number of different settings and, with experience, could run projects as a project manager.

Types of civil engineering

You may choose to specialise in a certain area of civil engineering, such as:

  • buildings
  • coastal and marine
  • construction of dams and canals
  • environment
  • geotechnical engineering
  • highways and transportation
  • power
  • rail
  • structural work
  • tunnelling
  • waste management
  • water and public health.

Responsibilities

As a consulting civil engineer, you'll need to:

  • undertake technical and feasibility studies and site investigations
  • develop detailed designs
  • assess the potential risks of specific projects, as well as undertake risk management in specialist roles
  • supervise tendering procedures and put together proposals
  • manage, supervise and visit contractors on site and advise on civil engineering issues
  • oversee the work of junior staff, or mentor civil engineers throughout the chartership process
  • communicate and liaise effectively with colleagues and architects, subcontractors, contracting civil engineers, consultants, co-workers and clients
  • think both creatively and logically to resolve design and development problems
  • manage budgets and other project resources
  • be adaptable, as the client may change their mind about the design, and ensure relevant parties are notified of changes in the project
  • lead teams of other engineers, perhaps from other organisations or firms
  • compile, check and approve reports
  • review and approve project drawings
  • use computer-aided design (CAD) packages for designing projects
  • undertake complex and repetitive calculations
  • schedule material and equipment purchases and delivery
  • attend public meetings to discuss projects, especially in a senior role
  • adopt all relevant requirements around issues such as building permits, environmental regulations, sanitary design, good manufacturing practices and safety on all work assignments
  • ensure that a project runs smoothly and that the structure is completed on time and within budget
  • correct any project deficiencies that affect production, quality and safety requirements before final evaluation and project reviews.

Salary

  • Consulting civil engineer salaries usually start at around £23,500, rising to £26,500 with two years' experience.
  • For non-members, salaries usually average around £30,450.
  • The average basic salary for members of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) is almost £50,000.
  • The average basic salary of ICE fellows is £81,447 (Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) Salary Survey 2013).

A generous London weighting applies.

Most employers provide additional benefits, such as a pension, healthcare scheme, life insurance, company car, mobile phone and payment of professional fees.

Income data from the ICE. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

The average working week is 42 hours and may include some unsocial hours, depending on your particular speciality and individual project requirements. You may occasionally have to work long hours and weekends.

What to expect

  • While the job involves a lot of office-based activities, it also requires frequent visits to sites, particularly for new graduates. Some roles demand more attendance on site than others. The site can be based at long distances from the office and conditions can be cold, messy and unpleasant.
  • It may be possible to set up your own consultancy firm after many years of proven professional experience.
  • Women are underrepresented in civil engineering. As a whole, the engineering industry is keen to encourage the recruitment of more female engineers to redress the balance. Organisations actively supporting women to enter the engineering profession include the Women's Engineering Society (WES) and WISE (Women into Science, Engineering and Construction).
  • Dress is formal with clients, while less formal but smart dress may be worn in the office when not meeting clients. Protective clothing is worn on site.
  • Overnight and weekend stays may be required for site inspections.

Qualifications

This area of work is open to civil and structural engineering graduates. An honours degree, accredited by the ICE, is essential for gaining Chartered Engineer (MICE CEng) status with the ICE.

It may be possible to enter this profession as a graduate with a BSc or another engineering discipline, but progression could be limited. Entry with a HND only is unusual.

In order to achieve chartered membership of the ICE, you'll need to complete three stages. The first stage is to obtain a MEng (Hons) or a BEng (Hons) degree, plus a relevant postgraduate degree, or complete a suitable employer-led learning programme. Next, you'll need to undertake Initial Professional Development, preferably through an ICE-approved training scheme, before finally meeting the requirements of the ICE Professional Review.

See Routes to ICE membership for more details.

Skills

You'll need to show:

  • technical competence
  • strong numeracy and IT skills
  • excellent communication and teamworking skills
  • ability to work to budgets and deadlines
  • knowledge of relevant building legislation
  • attention to detail, combined with the ability to oversee large projects
  • negotiation and leadership skills
  • creative problem solving
  • a flexible approach.

Employers select candidates because of the experience and skills they can bring to a role. However, it's important to be aware that gaining the relevant experience and skills and becoming professionally chartered takes a significant length of time.

Work experience

Relevant summer work experience and placements can be very useful in providing a context to job applications as well as networking opportunities. Contact the ICE to find out about industrial placements.

Degree courses that provide a year in industry can also be very helpful in developing contacts. The engineering world is an active community, which provides a variety of opportunities for new entrants to network and build on their knowledge of the industry.

Employers

While consulting civil engineers are employed mainly by civil engineering consultancies, employers may also include:

The choice of jobs, employers, specialist areas and locations varies widely.

This is a diverse and developing industry with increasing emphasis on partnerships between organisations, sustainability and environmental considerations. Employers can range in size from those employing a relatively small number of engineers, to those that employ thousands.

Some employers, especially the smaller companies, specialise in particular aspects of consultancy such as design for projects in drainage, water or railways. The larger consultancy firms may offer their consultancy services across a wide variety of specialisms.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

You'll be given training on the job, which will involve both design and planning-focused work within the office and site-based activities. Many employers offer structured training schemes to meet ICE requirements for chartership. If you embark on one of these schemes, you'll be assigned a mentor/supervising civil engineer, who will support you.

During the selection process, ask prospective employers if they operate a structured training scheme for graduates and if you will be offered a place on the scheme. The ICE Approved employers search provides details of companies that offer approved training schemes.

In order to gain chartered status, you'll have to show that you meet certain criteria by achieving development objectives, in topics such as:

  • feasibility, constraints and opportunities
  • links to codes
  • standards
  • specifications
  • contract conditions.

CPD is an important element of career progression for civil engineers. The ICE provides guidelines for effective CPD and specific types of activities.

Career prospects

Generally, you'll begin your career at graduate engineer level and progress to senior engineer level, once chartership has been achieved. After which, with further experience, you may advance to the position of principal engineer. You may find that your career prospects are negatively affected if you do not gain chartered status.

You can develop your career in a number of ways, according to your interests and the employer you work for. It's important to research the industry well and also the approach of individual companies. You can do this through the ICE website and company websites.

Some employers offer the flexibility to choose a specialist area of work. To progress at a fast pace, geographical mobility is useful. If you work for a large, multinational company you can usually find opportunities to work overseas.

Active membership of the ICE at student level and beyond is advisable, as this will provide you with valuable networking opportunities and enhance your career prospects.