Focusing on the built environment, civil engineering can offer graduates a rewarding career. Learn more about the steps you'll need to take to break into this popular field
Civil engineering explained
Civil engineers design, build and shape the world around us. They're involved in the construction and maintenance of public works such as bridges, dams, roads, railways, pipelines, airports, hospitals and schools.
You can choose to specialise in a particular area such as buildings, coastal and marine, highways and transportation, rail or waste management.
Directly related careers include:
- building control surveyor
- consulting civil engineer
- contracting civil engineer
- design engineer
- structural engineer
- water engineer
Gain an overview of the engineering and manufacturing sector and learn more about graduate jobs in engineering.
You'll need a range of skills to succeed in this competitive industry, from critical thinking and creative problem solving to numeracy, IT and the ability to communicate effectively.
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, provide an insight into what the career involves and give the discipline some real-world context.
Events such as these also enable you to meet like-minded people, connect with future employers and they 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 degree in the subject might be like. By attending, you'll meet students studying the course you're interested in, hear about course modules and what they involve, take a tour of the campus and, if you're lucky, have a go at some hands-on activities.
As a result of COVID-19, many events of this nature have either been postponed or moved online. Virtual events can still be incredibly useful and informative so don't pass up on an opportunity to attend. Check with professional bodies and individual institutions to see what type of events they're offering.
Research your entry route
Convinced that 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 couple of options, but one thing is certain - you'll need to have the relevant qualifications.
Studying for a civil or structural engineering degree is the more academic, and by far the most popular, route into the profession, but if university isn't for you, why not consider an engineering apprenticeship?
As an apprentice you'll earn while you learn. It takes longer to become qualified but along the way you'll gain invaluable hands-on experience. Civil engineering apprenticeships are available with a range of employers, at a variety of levels - you could start at the bottom and work your way up, or you could opt for a degree apprenticeship. As a degree apprentice you'll obtain either a BEng (Level 6) or MEng (Level 7), over an average of four to six years. The following employers all offer civil engineering degree apprenticeships:
- BAE Systems
- Balfour Beatty
- EDF Energy
- Mott Macdonald
Find the right course
Going down the most common route of a university qualification, you'll discover that no two degree programmes are the same and that there are a vast number of institutions and courses to choose from.
Use all the resources available to you when deciding which programme to study. Look at university rankings, including the latest Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) 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. Universities come in different shapes and sizes and 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, find out more about how to choose the right degree.
Get some work experience
Some degree courses 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 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 placements are offered by a range of organisations, such as Laing O’Rourke, Network Rail, Babcock and Transport for London.
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 then 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, which typically lasts four years. 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?
Join a professional body
ICE has more than 95,000 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, you'll need to pay £215.50 per year (for those in the UK).
Work towards chartered status
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 a MEng (Hons) or a BEng (Hons), 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, preferably through an ICE-approved training scheme, before meeting the requirements of the ICE Professional Review.
Find out more
- See where a civil engineering degree could take you.
- Discover 5 other exciting careers in engineering.
- Learn more about opportunities for women in engineering.
- Read about the biggest challenges facing the engineering sector.