Site engineers perform a technical, organisational and supervisory role on construction projects, setting out and determining the location for above and underground infrastructural installations involved in construction operations.

They apply designs and plans to mark out the site and can be involved in projects ranging from small scale to multi-million pound ventures. This may include civil, road, rail and other infrastructure projects.

Working as part of the site management team, the site engineer liaises with, and works alongside:

  • architects;
  • construction managers;
  • engineers;
  • planners;
  • subcontractors;
  • supervisors;
  • surveyors.

They share responsibility for site security, health and safety and the organisation and supervision of material and human resources.

Responsibilities

Duties vary depending on the type of employer and nature of the project but typically involve:

  • acting as the main technical adviser on a construction site for subcontractors, crafts people and operatives;
  • setting out, levelling and surveying the site;
  • checking plans, drawings and quantities for accuracy of calculations;
  • ensuring that all materials used and work performed are as per specifications;
  • overseeing the selection and requisition of materials and plant;
  • agreeing a price for materials and making cost-effective solutions and proposals for the intended project;
  • managing, monitoring and interpreting the contract design documents supplied by the client or architect;
  • liaising with any consultants, subcontractors, supervisors, planners, quantity surveyors and the general workforce involved in the project;
  • liaising with the local authority (where appropriate to the project) to ensure compliance with local construction regulations and by-laws;
  • communicating with clients and their representatives (architects, engineers and surveyors), including attending regular meetings to keep them informed of progress;
  • day-to-day management of the site, including supervising and monitoring the site labour force and the work of any subcontractors;
  • planning the work and efficiently organising the plant and site facilities in order to meet agreed deadlines;
  • overseeing quality control and health and safety matters on site;
  • preparing reports as required;
  • resolving any unexpected technical difficulties and other problems that may arise.

Salary

  • Typical starting salaries range from £22,000 to £26,000 for graduate site engineers.
  • Salaries for those with experience and qualifications range from £25,000 to £35,000.
  • Site engineers at senior level can expect to earn between £35,000 and £55,000 plus.

Additional benefits may include a pension, company car, private health care and life assurance. Salaries vary considerably according to the location, sector and size of the employing organisation, with salaries normally higher in London.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

The working week is usually 35 to 40 hours but may include early starts or late finishes. Some weekend working may be necessary to meet deadlines.

Part-time work or career breaks may be possible in some organisations.

What to expect

  • The work is both office-based and conducted on site. Site visits and inspections are conducted outside in all weathers and office facilities may be located in temporary buildings or converted premises.
  • Self-employment or freelance work is possible, especially for experienced engineers with chartered status.
  • Women continue to be under-represented in the profession. However, associations such as WISE (Women into Science, Engineering and Construction) and the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) have been set up to help attract more women into the industry.
  • Jobs exist throughout the UK, with opportunities to work all over the country on a variety of sites.
  • There are opportunities to work overseas for experienced engineers.
  • A reasonable level of fitness and mobility is required, as the work can be physically demanding. Site inspections may involve climbing ladders or visiting areas of sites where access is difficult. Appropriate safety equipment, such as protective boots and headgear, must be worn on-site.
  • The dress code tends to be conservative for meetings and it is expected that site engineers will be smartly dressed even when visiting sites.
  • There may be considerable travel within a working day and absence from home overnight may occasionally be necessary.

Qualifications

Employers usually ask for a degree or HNC/HND in a construction-related or engineering discipline. In particular, the following subjects may increase your chances:

  • building engineering;
  • building surveying;
  • civil engineering;
  • construction studies;
  • structural engineering.

For those wanting to progess to chartered membership of a relevant professional body, it is important that the degree is accredited and meets the body's academic requirements for membership. The main professional body in construction is the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), while in engineering the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and The Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) are the key professional bodies in the field.

For membership of ICE or IStructE, graduates with non-accredited or non-cognate degrees will need to undertake an academic assessment.

There are many dedicated postgraduate courses available in the construction and engineering field, designed for existing professionals in the industry.

Initial entry without a degree or HNC/HND is possible, with apprenticeship opportunities or options to work in lower positions, such as a trainee technician, while taking further study. Progression on to more supervisory roles can be achieved with experience.

Skills

You will need to show evidence of the following:

  • communication skills, written and oral, with the ability to liaise effectively with a range of other professionals, e.g. construction managers, quantity surveyors, subcontractors, architects, designers, other engineers;
  • organisation skills and a methodical approach to work;
  • strong analytical and problem-solving skills;
  • accuracy and attention to detail;
  • negotiation skills;
  • strong teamworking skills;
  • excellent IT skills;
  • flexibility;
  • project management skills;
  • knowledge of relevant building and health and safety legislation.

A driving licence is usually required. Having foreign language skills can be a bonus if working with, or for, multinational companies.

Work experience

Pre-entry experience in a construction or engineering environment is desirable and is highly regarded by employers. Vacation or sandwich placements are useful ways of gaining industry experience, particularly if your degree is not directly relevant. A work experience placement can also provide a good understanding of the industry as a whole, show what skills are required and help you to assess your suitability for the work.

A number of major construction and engineering firms offer industrial placements and actively seek new entrants at on-campus presentations. Some employers may also offer sponsorship to undergraduates.

Try to develop contacts in the industry, through work experience, academic departments, personal contacts and local representatives of professional bodies and associations. Join one of the professional bodies, which usually offer free student membership, as this provides access to professional journals and information about vacancies.

Employers

Most site engineers work for building companies and contractors or civil engineering companies, which can range from small, locally-based firms to multinational organisations.

Public sector organisations, such as transport authorities, water, gas and electrical supply companies, may also recruit their own resident site engineers.

There are also many consultants who employ site engineers, whose clients may include central and local government, developers and multinational corporations.

Some contractors are increasingly working on 'design and build' projects, which mean that the contractor has responsibility not only for building the project, but also for the design stage. This has led to a gradual blurring of roles between contractors and consultants. There are, however, some systemic differences between working for a contractor and working for a consultancy.

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist recruitment agencies such as Thomas Telford Recruitment also handle vacancies.

Recruitment drives by large construction groups generally match academic timetables. Applications usually open in October/November of your final year for graduate training programmes starting the following October or November. However, recruitment may take place all year round, particularly in the case of small to medium-sized companies.

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

Professional development

Training usually starts with an induction period and continues with a mix of on-the-job training and relevant short courses. It is essential to keep abreast of legislation, compliance and reporting requirements through training and continuous professional development (CPD).

Attending internal and external training courses, relevant seminars and conferences is an effective way of keeping up to date with current issues and refreshing knowledge. Most large firms offer structured training and encourage professional status.

For future career development, it may be worth gaining chartered status of a relevant professional body, and for a site engineer, there is a choice to make depending on your area of work.

Graduates in the building industry will find the CIOB the most appropriate professional body to join. The CIOB provides a Professional Development Programme (PDP) available to recent graduates and degree students who want to progress to chartered membership (MCIOB) via a structured and assessed route.

For site engineers working for engineering firms, gaining chartered status of the ICE or IStructE may be preferable. Both institutions require members to undertake a programme of initial professional development (IPD) to develop the special skills and competence as a practising engineer. To gain chartered status, members will also need to undertake a professional review.

See the ICE and IStructE websites for full information on membership criteria and routes to chartership.

Career prospects

Site engineers may begin their careers on a graduate training scheme, which lasts approximately two years. Following this, they may move on to manage their own projects or work as assistant site engineers.

Within the profession, career progression and salary increases are possible by moving from simple to more complex projects. In contracting, the standard route of advancement is:

  • site engineer;
  • senior engineer;
  • site manager;
  • project manager;
  • contracts manager.

This progression may entail both changing employer and relocating, so geographical mobility is important. Complex projects may involve posts for assistant site engineers as well as site engineers.

Professional qualifications and continuous training are an integral part of career development, and there may be opportunities to move into other areas of the building and engineering industry to gain new skills and experience.

With experience, there may be opportunities abroad, as the big civil and structural engineering construction companies operate throughout the world. The developing world has provided opportunities due to population growth and tourism. New-build projects include housing, commercial building and transport infrastructure.

In the construction industry, unlike many other sectors of British industry, a graduate or diplomate entering as a site engineer can reach the higher positions of management in the industry while remaining in a hands-on role.