Contracting civil engineers turn the plans of consulting civil engineers - the designers - into reality
As a contracting civil engineer, you'll 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.
You'll use your professional expertise to organise human and material resources on-site and ensure that projects run to time and budget and are 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.
Types of civil engineering
You may choose to specialise in a certain area of civil engineering, such as:
- coastal and marine
- construction of dams and canals
- geotechnical engineering
- highways and transportation
- structural work
- waste management
- water and public health.
As a contracting civil engineer, 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 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.
- Graduate civil engineering starting salaries are usually between £26,000 and £32,500.
- Junior/graduate members earn an average salary of £34,454; this is lower for non-members.
- The average salary for civil engineer members of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) is £56,965, and at director level or above is £78,333. With fellow status, and in certain locations, this can be higher.
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 Salary Survey 2021. Figures are intended as a guide only.
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).
This area of work is open to civil and structural engineering graduates. To achieve Chartered Engineer (IEng or CEng MICE) status you'll 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.
The first step to achieving chartered membership of the ICE 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.
You'll 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.
Relevant summer work experience and placements can be very useful in providing a context to your 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 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.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
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 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:
Vacancies are commonly handled by specialist recruitment agencies such as ICE Recruit, which is the official jobs board of the ICE.
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 a training scheme for graduates and if you will be offered a place. For details of companies that offer approved training schemes see the ICE Approved employers search.
To gain chartered status, you'll need to show you have achieved certain 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.
Large contractors prefer graduates to have overall experience of the whole contract process, in conjunction with institution training schemes.
As you progress towards incorporated or chartered status, you'll take on more responsibility, and will have the opportunity to move into site manager positions. Site careers can lead to responsibility for major projects (£25million+). Progression is then to contracts manager or company director. Office-based career prospects also exist.
Postgraduate study can be undertaken in more specialist areas, and you could take some business qualifications such as an MBA or an accountancy qualification, including those conferred by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA). This sits well with engineering training as the CIMA accountancy qualification is specialised 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
- highways and transportation
- soil mechanics