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, including:
- highway construction;
- waste management;
- coastal development;
- geotechnical engineering.
Consulting civil engineers liaise with clients to plan, manage, design and supervise the construction of projects. They work in a number of different settings and, with experience, can run projects as a project manager.
Civil engineering offers many opportunities as well as the satisfaction of helping to improve and enhance public quality of life in many settings.
Within civil engineering, consulting engineers are the designers whereas contracting engineers turn their plans into reality.
Consulting civil engineers provide a wide range of services to clients. During the early stages of a career, work will involve taking responsibility for minor projects, but the size of the projects may increase as you gain experience. Tasks often include:
- undertaking technical and feasibility studies and site investigations;
- developing detailed designs;
- assessing the potential risks of specific projects, as well as undertaking risk management in specialist roles;
- supervising tendering procedures and putting together proposals;
- managing, supervising and visiting contractors on site and advising on civil engineering issues;
- overseeing the work of junior staff or mentoring civil engineers throughout the chartership process;
- communicating and liaising effectively with colleagues and architects, subcontractors, contracting civil engineers, consultants, co-workers and clients;
- thinking both creatively and logically to resolve design and development problems;
- managing budgets and other project resources;
- managing change, as the client may change their mind about the design, and ensuring relevant parties are notified of changes in the project;
- leading teams of other engineers, perhaps from other organisations or firms;
- compiling, checking and approving reports;
- reviewing and approving project drawings;
- using computer-aided design (CAD) packages for designing projects;
- undertaking complex and repetitive calculations;
- scheduling material and equipment purchases and delivery;
- attending public meetings to discuss projects, especially in a senior role;
- adopting all relevant requirements around issues such as building permits, environmental regulations, sanitary design, good manufacturing practices and safety on all work assignments;
- ensuring that a project runs smoothly and that the structure is completed on time and within budget;
- correcting any project deficiencies that affect production, quality and safety requirements before final evaluation and project reviews.
- Average graduate starting salary is around £23,500.
- Typical salary of graduates aged 25 and with under two years' experience is £26,500.
- Those with up to five years' experience earn an approximate average of £30,000.
- The average basic salary for members of Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) is £49,793.
- The average basic salary of ICE fellows is £81,447 (Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) Salary Survey 2013).
A generous London weighting applies.
Income data from the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE). Figures are intended as a guide only.
Most employers provide additional benefits, such as a pension, healthcare scheme, life insurance, company car, mobile phone and payment of professional fees.
The average working week is 42 hours and may include some unsocial hours, depending on your particular speciality and individual project requirements. You may also have to work some weekends and occasionally long hours.
What to expect
- While the job involves a lot of office-based activities, it 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).
- Jobs are available across the country in different sectors. Work and travel abroad may be possible with a large consultancy company.
- Employment prospects are very good in this field; 62% of recent graduates (who have ICE membership) are employed before, or immediately after, they graduate and only 6% are looking for a job longer than a year.
- 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.
- The pace and nature of the working day can vary widely from a heavy workload with many activities to quieter periods.
- There is a high level of responsibility involved in the work and it can be very demanding. However, the considerable variety in this work means there is a great deal of job satisfaction.
- Overnight and weekend stays may be required for site inspections.
This area of work is open to civil/structural engineering graduates. An honours degree, accredited by the Institution of Civil Engineers (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 you may be limited as to how far you can progress in your career. Entry with a HND only is unusual.
In order to achieve chartered membership of the ICE, the first stage is to satisfy the requirements of the educational base. This means either taking an MEng (Hons) or doing a BEng (Hons) plus a relevant postgraduate degree or following a suitable employer-led learning programme.
The second stage involves undertaking Initial Professional Development, preferably through an ICE-approved training scheme.
The final stage is to meet the requirements of the Professional Review.
Full details on routes into civil engineering can be found in the careers section of the ICE website.
You will 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 legislation;
- attention to detail, combined with the ability to oversee large projects;
- negotiation and leadership skills;
- a creative approach to problem-solving;
- a flexible approach.
Employers select candidates because of the experience and skills they can bring to a role. However, it is important to be aware that gaining the relevant experience and skills and becoming professionally chartered takes a significant length of time.
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 or take a look at online resources such as Gradcracker.
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.
While consulting civil engineers are employed mainly by civil engineering consultancies, employers may also include:
- civil engineering contractors;
- local authorities;
- water companies;
- property developers;
- the Environment Agency (EA);
- transport infrastructure companies;
- government agencies and departments such as the Defence Engineering and Science Group (DESG) Graduate Scheme .
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:
- Careers in Construction
- The Career Engineer
- Construction Industry Jobs Board
- New Civil Engineer
- The Structural Engineer
- University careers service vacancy lists.
Vacancies are commonly handled by specialist recruitment agencies such as Thomas Telford Recruitment.
Training is undertaken on the job and involves design and planning-focused work within the office, in addition to site-based activities. Many employers offer structured training schemes to meet Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) requirements for chartership.
As well as structured training and development, these schemes also provide support through a mentor/supervising civil engineer.
It's important to check with employers during the selection process to see if they operate such a 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.
To join an approved training scheme you must first enter into a training agreement with your employer. This guarantees that the employer will provide structured training which will help you to reach the various development objectives necessary to achieve chartership.
In order to gain chartered status, a graduate would have to show how he or she had achieved a particular development objective in terms of taking into account criteria such as:
- feasibility, constraints and opportunities;
- links to codes;
- contract conditions.
A combination of personal reports (e.g. diaries, continuing professional development (CPD) records), work documents (e.g. drawings, calculations) and the testimony of others have to be provided to demonstrate that you have achieved the development objective.
CPD is an important element of career progression for civil engineers. The ICE provides guidelines for effective CPD and specific types of activities. Conferences, courses and workshops on a range of subjects are offered by the ICE and other key professional bodies, such as:
- The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM)
- The Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE)
Consulting civil engineers can work on a variety of projects while gaining experience and working towards chartered status.
Once you have achieved chartered status, you can take on further responsibilities and manage larger projects. These responsibilities may include marketing or business development, especially in smaller consultancies.
Scope for gaining experience in different areas is usually down to the nature of your employer rather than the actual size. This means it is essential to fully research the industry and the approach of individual companies. For information about specific companies see the ICE website and its linked recruitment site. Company websites can also provide a useful insight.
Careers can develop in a number of ways and some employers may offer the flexibility to choose a specialist area of work. To develop your career at a fast pace, geographical mobility is useful. With experience, it is possible to work abroad if you are employed by a large, multinational company.
Employers vary as to how they develop and promote engineers, but generally graduates begin at graduate engineer level. Once chartership has been achieved, promotion to senior engineer level is possible, followed by principal engineer level with further experience.
Job titles for more senior positions will vary between employers. Progress may be possible beyond these roles. You may find that your career prospects are negatively affected if you do not gain chartered status.
Civil engineers can specialise in a diverse range of areas, including:
- coastal and marine;
- water and public health;
- highways and transportation;
- structural work;
Active membership of the ICE at student level and beyond is advisable as it provides valuable networking opportunities and enhances your career prospects. As well as linking with the key industry bodies, career development (particularly at the early stages of your career), can be supported by attending industry events - for details of events see the ICE and New Civil Engineer.