Engineering geologists are concerned with the detailed technical analysis of earth material and the risk assessment of geological hazards. Their role is to ensure that geological factors affecting engineering works are identified and dealt with.

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

Engineering geologists are also involved with analysing sites and designs for environmentally sensitive developments, such as landfill sites. By monitoring development areas and analysing ground conditions, they 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 engineering geologists are clear about which area they want to work in.

Responsibilities

Engineering geology encompasses engineering, geotechnical work and site investigation and daily tasks can include:

  • consulting geological maps and aerial photographs to advise on site selection;
  • assisting with the design of built structures, using specialised computer software or calculations;
  • collating data and producing reports;
  • overseeing the progress of specific contracts;
  • planning detailed field investigations by drilling and analysing samples of deposits/bedrock;
  • supervising site and ground investigations;
  • making visits to new project sites;
  • advising on and testing a range of construction materials, for example sand, gravel, bricks and clay;
  • making recommendations on the proposed use of a site and providing information;
  • advising on problems such as subsidence;
  • managing staff, including other engineering geologists, geotechnical engineers, consultants and contractors;
  • attending professional conferences and representing the company or organisation at other events.

Salary

  • Typical starting salaries range from £21,000 to £23,000.
  • Salaries at senior level/with experience can reach £40,000 to £50,000.
  • Higher pay is generally attained within the private sector, in the oil and gas industries, off-shore work and employment in higher risk or remote locations and can be as much as £100,000+.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours usually include regular extra hours, but rarely weekends or shifts. Longer working hours are more common within the private sector. Allowances for overseas work are paid, but overtime is commonly not. Career breaks are rare and part-time work is unlikely.

What to expect

  • During the early stages of a career, work is 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 is likely to mean more time spent on site, compared to working for a consultancy.
  • Physical conditions can be challenging, e.g. working with various pieces of equipment on unfamiliar ground.
  • There is a high level of responsibility in the job 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. Experience and special expertise can lead to consultancy work.
  • Jobs are quite widely available in most parts of the UK as most consultancies have regional offices. Overall, the South East has the highest number of opportunities.
  • Being mobile and prepared to move around to gain promotion is often necessary for career development.
  • Travel within a working day and absence from home overnight are frequent. Overseas work is most likely within petroleum and 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;
  • geology;
  • geophysics;
  • geotechnology;
  • mineral or 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 individuals for membership (Fellowship) of the society after a period of relevant postgraduate experience. It confers chartered geologist (CGeol) status after a period of professional development and relevant experience (minimum five years).

Candidates will need to be a fellow for at least three months and attend an interview on certain days, scheduled throughout the year. For further advice on how to attain chartered status those without a degree-level education, majoring in geology, should contact the Geological Society.

A postgraduate qualification, for example an MSc in engineering geology, geotechnical engineering, hydrogeology, soil or rock mechanics, 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:

  • team-working ability;
  • interpersonal skills;
  • report-writing ability;
  • presentation skills;
  • a flexible approach to work;
  • 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 and undertaking a year's placement in industry will really help to give you a competitive edge.

Summer work/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

The range of employment fields for engineering geologists is broad and the level of competition varies accordingly. Engineering geologists are required within certain areas of the construction industry, on regeneration programmes and similar projects.

This can involve working within the public sector, mostly for councils, or in the private sector where projects vary widely according to the company. The majority are related to construction (and within that can involve contaminated land) but also to resources such as minerals, groundwater, 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 environment 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 graduates 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 Geo-environmental 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 British Geotechnical Association (BGA), an affiliated society of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

Training for new entrants 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.

Professionals maintain their knowledge base through contact with specialised groups linked to the Institution of Civil Engineers (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:

  • Association of Geotechnical and Geo-environmental Specialists (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.

Achieving chartered status takes about five years and candidates must meet the educational and training requirements of their professional body, undertake relevant experience and complete a professional interview.

It can be 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 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 team leading.

Keeping up to date with technical, legislative and statutory changes is also a key part of successful career development. It is important to 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.