Engineering geologists are in demand in the construction, energy and environmental sectors for their engineering, geotechnical and investigative skills
As an engineering geologist, you'll use detailed technical analysis of soil, rock, groundwater and other natural conditions, as well as the risk assessment of geological hazards, to determine the suitability of a site for construction development. You'll also identify and deal with geological factors and may work as an adviser to private and public bodies.
You may be involved with analysing sites and designs for environmentally-sensitive developments, such as landfill sites. By monitoring development areas and analysing ground conditions, you ensure that structures can be secure in the short and long term.
As an engineering geologist, you'll need to:
- consult geological maps and aerial photographs to advise on site selection
- assist with the design of built structures, using specialised computer software or calculations
- collate data and produce reports
- oversee the progress of specific contracts
- plan detailed field investigations by drilling and analysing samples of deposits/bedrock
- supervise site and ground investigations
- visit new project sites
- advise on and test a range of construction materials, for example sand, gravel, bricks and clay
- make recommendations on the proposed use of a site and provide information
- advise on problems such as subsidence
- manage staff, including other engineering geologists, geotechnical engineers, consultants and contractors
- attend professional conferences and represent the company or organisation at other events.
- Typical starting salaries range from £18,000 to £25,000.
- Salaries at senior level, or with experience, can reach £40,000 to £60,000.
- Higher pay, reaching up to and in excess of £100,000, is generally attained within the private sector, in the oil and gas industries, with off-shore work and work at high-risk or remote locations.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours usually include regular extra hours, but rarely involve working weekends or shifts. Longer working hours are more common within the private sector. Allowances for overseas work are paid, but overtime is commonly unpaid.
Career breaks are rare and part-time work is unlikely.
What to expect
- During the early stages of your career, you're likely to work mainly on site with some laboratory and office work. This gradually reverses with managerial responsibilities. The balance between office and site also depends on the type of work done by the employing company - working for a site investigation company, you're likely to spend more time on site, compared to working for a consultancy.
- Physical conditions can be challenging, e.g. working with various pieces of equipment on unfamiliar ground.
- You'll have a high level of responsibility because professional judgements have serious financial and public safety implications. As a result the job can be very stressful.
- There are increasing opportunities to work on a self-employed or freelance basis in the field. Your experience and special expertise could lead to consultancy work.
- Travel within a working day and absence from home overnight are frequent. Overseas work is most likely within petroleum, mining or quarrying industries.
Relevant degree subjects include earth, physical, mathematical and applied sciences and engineering. In particular, the following subjects may increase your chances:
- engineering geology and geotechnics
- civil engineering
- mining engineering.
Entry without a degree or with an HND only is not possible.
The Geological Society has accredited a number of first degree geoscience courses. An accredited degree usually qualifies you for membership (Fellowship) of the society after a period of relevant postgraduate experience. It also confers chartered geologist (CGeol) status after a period of professional development and relevant experience (minimum five years).
To gain chartered status you need to be a Fellow, meet required competencies and attend a validation interview. If you do not have a degree in a geology-related area or a Geological Society accredited degree, you should contact the society.
A postgraduate qualification, for example an MSc in engineering geology, geotechnical engineering, hydrogeology, soil or rock mechanics, structural and foundation engineering or related areas is both useful and desirable. Search postgraduate courses in engineering geology.
However, not having one will not preclude you from getting the job in most cases, and many companies will offer to support you if you decide to undertake postgraduate study at a later stage. An accreditation scheme for taught postgraduate MSc courses is also available.
It's sometimes possible to gain entry to the field with a background in civil engineering or the sciences through the:
You'll need to have:
- good communication skills
- the ability to evaluate data
- report-writing ability
- interpersonal skills
- presentation skills
- team-working ability
- a flexible approach to work
- a willingness to accept responsibility
- physical mobility and a good standard of fitness
- a driving licence, as you'll need to visit sites.
Pre-entry experience is not formally required, although field-work experience will improve your chances. Undertaking a year's placement in industry will really help to give you a competitive edge.
Summer work or shadowing is a great way of gaining experience and may lead to future employment. It's good to demonstrate your keen interest in working outside as at first you'll be required to run around carrying out tasks for others.
The term engineering geologist encompasses a range of roles and you can therefore find work in a number of different fields.
For example, you could work within certain areas of the construction industry on regeneration programmes and similar projects, or in the public sector working for councils.
In the private sector, opportunities exist within many different projects in different companies. The majority are related to construction (and can involve contaminated land) but also to resources such as minerals, groundwater and renewable energy.
The main employers of engineering geologists are:
- civil engineering contractors
- civil engineering consultancies
- environmental consultancies
- geotechnical and geo-environmental site investigation companies
- government bodies
- oil and gas companies.
The more multidisciplinary a company or consultancy is, the more likely an employer will require a good level of experience.
The industry is growing due to an increasing awareness of the impact of new developments on the environment and the need for companies, within the UK and Europe, to meet legislative requirements.
Look for job vacancies at:
Vacancies are advertised, but you're advised to contact employers speculatively. It may be worth contacting companies before you graduate, with a view to gaining relevant experience. The Association of Geotechnical & Geoenvironmental Specialists (AGS) has a directory of its members, which is searchable by category.
Consultancies that offer geotechnical services and employ engineering geologists can be identified in the UK Geotechnical Services File, produced by Ground Engineering.
As a new entrant, your training is usually a combination of on-the-job and short training courses. Support varies with the employer but most are keen to encourage the development of skills and experience.
Generally, the larger companies are more likely to provide structured training programmes and funding for additional courses, for example in areas such as risk management, project management, and health and safety.
With smaller companies, while it's likely you'll need to find out about training and development courses for yourself, there may be greater flexibility and exposure to a wider range of roles. Check with companies when applying for work.
As a professional in this field, you will need to maintain your knowledge base through contact with specialised groups linked to the ICE and the engineering group of the Geological Society.
The Geological Society provides a training guide for engineering geologists and details of current geotechnical training courses, in conjunction with the:
- British Geotechnical Association (BGA).
Chartered status, which takes about five years to achieve, can be gained through a relevant professional body. For example, the Geological Society offers chartered geologist (CGeol) status and the option to become a chartered scientist (CSci). The ICE offers chartered engineer (CEng) registration.
There are two main routes for career progression and both depend on your technical ability, personal qualities and breadth of experience.
Typically, you may either:
- continue working in a technical role as an engineering geologist and then progress to senior engineering geologist
- move into an engineering management role, working with or managing other professionals.
Gaining chartered status is an invaluable part of career development and can improve your chances of achieving senior posts, such as in project management and leading a team.
Keeping up to date with technical, legislative and statutory changes is also a key part of successful career development. It's important that you maintain professional knowledge of relevant industry software and technology as there are fast-moving changes in these areas.
Health and safety is also vitally important in the industry.
Changing department or taking on a management role are possibilities in this industry, which helps to keep the job interesting and is a way to modify your career to your preferences, such as if you're less keen on the design/engineering side of things.