Encompassing engineering, geotechnical work and site investigation, engineering geologists are in demand in the construction, energy and environmental sectors

As an engineering geologist, you are concerned with the detailed technical analysis of earth material and the risk assessment of geological hazards. Your role is to identify and deal with geological factors affecting engineering works.

You'll assess the integrity of soil, rock, groundwater and other natural conditions prior to major construction projects, and advise on procedures required for such developments and the suitability of appropriate construction materials.

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.

The term engineering geologist encompasses a range of roles and can be applied to many different sectors within the industry. It is only after working for a few years, and seeing how each department works, that it may become clear in which area you want to work.

Responsibilities

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.

Salary

  • Typical starting salaries range from £18,000 to £25,000.
  • Salaries at senior level, or with experience can reach £40,000 to £50,000.
  • 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

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 are 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 will 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.
  • Jobs are widely available in most parts of the UK, as the majority of consultancies have regional offices. Overall, the South East has the highest number of opportunities.
  • If you are mobile and prepared to move around to gain promotion, your career may progress more quickly.
  • Travel within a working day and absence from home overnight are frequent. Overseas work is most likely within petroleum, mining or quarrying industries.

Qualifications

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
  • geology
  • geophysics
  • 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 for 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 is sometimes possible to gain entry to the field with a background in civil engineering or the sciences through the:

Contact these organisations directly for further information.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • a flexible approach to work
  • interpersonal skills
  • presentation skills
  • report-writing ability
  • team-working ability
  • a willingness to accept responsibility.

Physical mobility, a good standard of fitness and a driving licence are also required.

Work experience

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 the company may bear you in mind for future roles. A keen interest in working outside will stand you in good stead in interviews, as at first you will be required to run around carrying out tasks for others.

Employers

You could find employment in a range of fields and the level of competition varies accordingly. Engineering geologists are required within certain areas of the construction industry, on regeneration programmes and similar projects.

You could work within the public sector, mostly for councils, or in the private sector where projects vary according to the company. 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 specific focus of a particular company is likely to affect the type of qualifications required. For example, a company which undertakes geotechnical and geo-environmental ground investigation projects may ask for a degree in geology or engineering geology, or civil or geotechnical engineering, in addition to postgraduate experience.

The industry is growing due to an increasing awareness of the impact of new developments on the environment. Increased UK (and European) legislation means that some proposed new developments are legally obliged to undergo an environmental impact assessment before approval can be given for construction.

This rise in activity due to legal obligations in some countries is likely to expand the sector. Industry is also growing in European countries that previously were quite far behind the UK with respect to legislation.

Look for job vacancies at:

General recruitment agencies sometimes advertise vacancies, and it may be useful to approach specialist agencies, such as:

Vacancies are advertised, but you are 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 and 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.

Professional development

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, you may need to find out about training and development courses for yourself, but 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:

  • AGS
  • British Geotechnical Association (BGA).

Chartered status 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.

It will take you about five years to achieve chartered status, as you must meet the educational and training requirements of your professional body, undertake relevant experience and complete a professional interview.

You might find it helpful to identify a member of the profession who can act as a mentor throughout the process of applying for chartered status. Having a professional mentor can also support your work if you choose not to gain chartered status.

Career prospects

There are two main routes for career progression and both depend on your technical ability, personal qualities and breadth of experience.

An engineering geologist may:

  • 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 is 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 and help to keep the job interesting, as well as being a way to modify it according to your preferences, for example if you are less keen on the design/engineering side of things.