The work of civil engineers has a tangible impact on our day-to-day lives, as they design, build and shape the world around us. The demand for qualified graduates is high, so if this sounds like the career for you, discover how to break into the field

What is civil engineering?

It's the branch of engineering that involves designing, constructing and maintaining the physical and natural built environment. This includes public construction projects relating to buildings, roads, bridges, railways and airports.

A contracting civil engineer deals with overseeing the actual construction work, organising the people and resources to deliver the final project. This is achieved while liaising with the consulting civil engineer who advises on the planning, design and management side of things.

Attend a civil engineering open event

An open day is a great place to start if you want to make sure that a career in civil engineering is for you. They are fun, usually free and provide an insight into what the career involves.

Events such as these also enable you to meet like-minded people, connect with employers and give you the opportunity to discuss your training and career options.

The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) runs events and universities offer taster days to give potential students an idea of what studying for a civil engineering degree might be like. You'll meet students studying the course you're interested in, hear about the modules and what they involve, take a tour of the campus and hopefully have a go at some hands-on activities.

Check with professional bodies and individual institutions to see what type of events they're offering.

Explore civil engineering apprenticeships

If you want to become a civil engineer, your next step should be to find out how you're going to get there.

You have a few options, but one thing is certain - you'll need relevant qualifications, and this usually means a degree. However, if university isn't for you, why not consider an apprenticeship?

As an apprentice you'll earn while you learn. It takes longer to become qualified, but you'll gain invaluable hands-on experience and develop your skillset.

Civil engineering apprenticeships are available with a range of employers, at a variety of levels - you could start at the bottom (with a Level 2 or 3 apprenticeship) and work your way up, or you could opt for a (Level 6 or 7) degree apprenticeship.

As a degree apprentice you'll obtain either a Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) or Master of Engineering (MEng), over an average of four to six years.

The following employers all offer civil engineering degree apprenticeships:

Get the lowdown on engineering apprenticeships and consider should I go to university or do an apprenticeship?

Find the right course

Studying for a civil or structural engineering degree is the more academic, and by far the most popular, route into the profession. Most institutions offer undergraduate degrees in civil and/or structural engineering.

Use all the resources available when deciding which programme to study. Look at university rankings, including the latest Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) 2023 ratings, to gain an understanding of the wider context of the civil engineering department at your chosen institution. However, don't check one league table and fixate on it as the institution best suited to you might not top the rankings.

You should also check for accreditation, as more often than not to become a chartered civil engineer your Bachelors degree needs to be accredited by ICE.

Visit the Joint Board of Moderators (JBM) to see if your planned civil engineering course is recognised by professional bodies. This means that the department has been assessed and approved within the last five years by professional experts and other academics.

If you're still unsure, discover how to choose the right degree and explore what you can do with a civil engineering degree.

You can also read more about the range of engineering courses.

Get some work experience

Some degrees provide a year in industry, which can help you to build contacts. However, if your programme doesn't offer this opportunity, you'll have to seek experience of your own.

Civil engineering work experience and internships can help you to stand out from the crowd. Nothing will give you a better idea of what your career could look like than meeting and working alongside people already doing it.

Summer and year-in-industry placements are offered by a range of organisations, such as:

You might not be assigned the most exciting tasks, but you'll meet the people doing fast-paced jobs and be able to observe what they do.

If you're interested in a particular company but can't find any advertised work experience vacancies, make a speculative application to ask about their opportunities.

Study for a Masters

Gaining a postgraduate qualification is essential if you're aiming for chartered status and the majority of civil engineers study at Masters level.

It's possible to combine undergraduate and postgraduate study by undertaking an MEng. Alternatively, you'll need to study a BEng and then progress onto a relevant Masters degree.

To find out what to consider when choosing a postgraduate course, see which Masters degree is right for me?

Search for postgraduate courses in civil engineering.

Join a professional body and become chartered

ICE has around 97,000 members and provides both student and graduate membership to aspiring civil engineers. Higher levels of membership include technician, member, fellow and associate.

Membership is free for students and apprentices. The benefits of joining a professional institution include enhanced employment and career development prospects, access to professional training and qualifications and access to tailored support and networking events.

To join as a graduate in the UK, you'll need to pay £230.25 per year.

In such a competitive and demanding discipline you may find that opportunities for career progression are limited if you don't gain chartered status.

To achieve chartered membership of ICE, you'll need to pass three stages. The first is to study for an MEng or a BEng plus a relevant postgraduate degree, or complete a suitable employer-led learning programme, such as an apprenticeship.

You'll then need to undertake initial professional development (IPD), preferably through an ICE-approved training scheme, before meeting the requirements of the ICE professional review. Get the lowdown on how to become an engineer.

Find out more

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