A career as a contracting civil engineer offers structured progression opportunities and professional status

Contracting civil engineers turn the plans of consulting civil engineers (designers) into reality. They oversee the actual construction on the ground and work in conjunction with consulting engineers. All civil engineers need a good understanding of design and construction processes, as well as of health and safety issues.

As a contracting engineer you'll use your professional expertise to organise human and material resources on site, and ensure that the project runs to time and budget and is safe to work on. Although more commonly done by a consulting engineer, a contracting engineer will occasionally put together a design and build a team themselves.

Responsibilities

To successfully carry out your role you'll need to:

  • liaise and work jointly with the design team (consulting engineers) to implement refinements;
  • negotiate modifications with architects and consulting engineers;
  • deal skilfully with a diverse range of people including clients, architects, other engineering professionals, sub-contractors and members of the public;
  • take responsibility for health and safety on site;
  • make judgements and solve problems;
  • supervise construction;
  • deal with the logistics of supplies;
  • schedule work;
  • provide appropriate plans for construction;
  • monitor the provision of materials;
  • liaise with, and direct, the sub-contractors employed on the project;
  • ensure quality of workmanship;
  • find solutions to overcome unforeseen construction difficulties;
  • schedule and adjust each stage of the project to meet time and budget targets;
  • deal with any complaints from local people experiencing disruption due to building works.

Salary

  • The average graduate starting salary is £23,500.
  • Graduates aged over 25 with less than two years' experience earn around £26,500.
  • Those with up to five years' experience earn an average of £30,000.
  • The average basic salary of members of the 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.

Many jobs, particularly with site-based work, will have extra benefits to push up the value of your package. This could include a bonus, a company car or car allowance, life insurance, overtime pay and medical care.

You may receive additional payments for working overtime and for lodgings. Expenses for periodic travel home are standard when working outside normal daily travelling distance.

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

Working hours

Working hours typically include regular extra hours but not weekends or shifts, although site work can entail an extended working day.

Part-time work and career breaks are unlikely but self-employment and freelance work is sometimes possible.

What to expect

  • As a contracting civil engineer you should expect to work outdoors in all weather conditions.
  • Hard hats and other safety equipment must be worn while on site, and there is a very strong health and safety culture.
  • The work is challenging, demanding and pressured, but with considerable variety and job satisfaction.
  • Travel within a working day and absence from home overnight is frequent and extended periods away from home may sometimes be necessary.
  • The number of females entering the profession is rising. Initiatives which aim to encourage women into a career in engineering are offered by organisations such as WISE (Women into Science, Engineering and Construction) and the Women's Engineering Society (WES).

Qualifications

This area of work is open to civil and structural engineering graduates. To achieve Chartered Engineer (MICE CEng) status, you will need an honours degree, accredited by the ICE, or equivalent. You can also enter the profession as a graduate with a BSc or another engineering discipline, or through an apprenticeship.

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.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • technical competence;
  • excellent numeracy and IT skills;
  • strong communication and teamworking skills;
  • the ability to supervise and lead others;
  • the capability to work to budgets and deadlines;
  • an understanding of relevant building and health and safety legislation;
  • a creative approach to problem solving;
  • a flexible approach.

Work experience

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

Degree courses that provide a year in industry can 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

Civil engineering contractors can range from small, locally-based firms, to large multinationals. The names of the companies involved on a construction can be seen advertised on the site.

These companies often cover a range of operations and have a number of smaller companies operating under their umbrella. The following are just some of the areas in which they may be involved:

  • house construction;
  • large public projects, such as airports;
  • industrial and commercial properties;
  • water;
  • rail;
  • energy;
  • regeneration;
  • private finance initiative (PFI) projects.

Other companies may specialise in areas such as road surfacing, environmental contracting (e.g. landfill sites) or bridge building.

Small local companies may offer a limited range of services.

Look for job vacancies at:

Vacancies are commonly handled by specialist recruitment agencies such as Ice Recruit, which is the official jobs board of the ICE.

Professional development

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 requirements for chartership with the ICE. These schemes also provide support through a mentor/supervising civil engineer. Becoming professionally chartered takes a significant length of time but, once achieved, offers enhanced opportunities in terms of increased pay, promotion to more senior and specialised roles, and the ability to work freelance.

Ask 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. For details of companies that offer approved training schemes see the ICE Approved Employers Search.

In order to gain chartered status, graduates have to show how they have achieved particular development objectives, as well as evidencing a combination of personal reports, continuing professional development (CPD) records and other work documents. CPD is an important element of career progression for civil engineers, and professional bodies such as ICE, provide conferences, courses and workshops on a range of subjects, to support this.

Career prospects

Large contractors prefer graduates to have overall experience of the whole contract process, in conjunction with institution training schemes.

As graduates progress towards incorporated or chartered status, they take on more responsibility and have the opportunity to move into site manager positions. Site careers can lead to responsibility for major projects (£25million plus). Progression is then to contracts manager or company director. Office-based career prospects also exist.

Postgraduate study can be undertaken in more specialist areas. Some engineers take business qualifications such as an MBA or an accountancy qualification such as those conferred by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA). This sits well with engineering training as the CIMA accountancy qualification specialises in industry and commerce.

A more usual pattern in the civil engineering profession is to gain at least three years' experience. Following this, engineers can go on to specialise in specific fields while still being regarded as civil engineers. Areas include:

  • coastal and marine;
  • environmental or water engineering;
  • geotechnics;
  • highways and transportation;
  • soil mechanics;
  • tunnelling.