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.
Once plans have been drawn up and approved by the client, an engineering contractor uses their professional expertise to organise human and material resources on site, and ensure the project runs to time and budget and is safe to work on.
Occasionally, contractors will put together a design and build a team themselves. This blurs some of the boundaries between the services they offer and those traditionally provided by consultants.
The work involves turning the designer's plans into reality by actually building them. Contracting engineers ensure that all aspects of the construction project under their responsibility - from ground works and foundations to final finishes - are completed within cost and time constraints and to client specification.
Tasks are likely to include:
- liaising and working jointly with the design team (consulting engineers) to implement refinements;
- negotiating modifications with architects and consulting engineers;
- dealing skillfully with a diverse range of people including clients, architects, other engineering professionals, sub-contractors and members of the public;
- taking responsibility for health and safety on site;
- making judgements and solving problems;
- supervising construction;
- dealing with the logistics of supplies;
- scheduling work;
- providing appropriate plans for construction;
- monitoring the provision of materials;
- liaising with and directing the work of sub-contractors employed on the project;
- ensuring quality of workmanship.
However, turning designer's plans into reality is never straightforward and other activities are likely to include:
- finding solutions to overcome unforeseen construction difficulties;
- scheduling and adjusting each stage of the project to meet time and budget targets;
- dealing with complaints from local people experiencing disruption due to building works.
- The average graduate starting salary is £23,500.
- Typical salary of graduates aged 25 and under with two years' experience is £26,500.
- Those with up to five years' experience earn an approximate average of £30,000.
- The average basic salary of Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) members 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.
Many jobs, particularly with site-based work, will have extra benefits which will 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.
Additional payments may be made for overtime working and lodgings. Expenses for periodic travel home are standard when working outside normal daily travelling distance.
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.
What to expect
- There can be a great deal of outside work in all weathers.
- Self-employment/freelance work is sometimes possible. Several years of proven professional expertise and chartered status would be necessary to set up as a contractor offering specialist skills or technology.
- Opportunities are nationwide with most in industrialised or more populated areas. Major contractors are increasingly regionally organised with smaller companies based locally. Whilst engineers working on site will, of course, need to be mobile, the opportunity does exist to establish a home in one area.
- The number of females entering the profession is rising and initiatives and support to encourage women to consider a career in engineering are offered by organisations such as WISE (Women into Science, Engineering and Construction) and the Women's Engineering Society (WES).
- 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.
- Extended periods away from home may sometimes be necessary when working on new projects.
- Travel within a working day and absence from home overnight is frequent.
- There are many opportunities to work internationally, particularly in East Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
This area of work is open to civil/structural engineering graduates. Essential for gaining Chartered Engineer (MICE CEng) status, is an honours degree, accredited by 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.
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.
You will need to show:
- technical competence;
- excellent numeracy and IT skills;
- strong communication and teamworking skills;
- ability to supervise and lead others;
- capbility 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.
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 or take a look at online resources such as Gradcracker.
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.
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 - both consulting and contracting engineers, as well as architects.
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;
- 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:
- The Career Engineer
- Careers in Construction
- Construction Industry Jobs Board
- Earthworks Jobs
- 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 requirements for chartership with the ICE. As well as structured training and development, these schemes also provide support through a mentor/supervising civil engineer.
It is 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. For details of companies that offer approved training schemes see the ICE Approved Employers Search.
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 has achieved a particular development objective, 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 provided 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)
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:
- environmental or water engineering;
- coastal and marine;
- highways and transportation;
- soil mechanics.
A related role is that of civil engineering surveyor. Engineering or land surveyors are responsible for investigating land in order to decide the best possible location for a project.
They are involved with each stage of a project, from design and estimating to setting out and construction. After completion, they monitor the condition and performance of installations. For more details see the Chartered Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors (ICES).