It's a competitive field to enter, but a civil engineering career can be highly rewarding. Discover the steps you'll need to take to get started
Civil engineering covers a range of specialisms, including:
- geotechnical (subterranean and ground)
Within these specialisms a range of skills are required including design, construction, management and digital - meaning there's something for everyone.
Kathryn Denham-Maccioni is the marketing specialist for Education and Professional Development at the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE). She recommends being proactive in getting the ball rolling, while Nick von Behr, the education manager at the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE), emphasises the importance of choosing the right institution to complete your studies.
Attend a civil engineering open event
If you like the sound of a civil engineering career but aren't sure what it would involve, attending an open day is a great place to start. 'There's lots on offer from exhibitions and tours at museums and famous sites, such as Heritage Open Days and ICE events, to careers and learning events (Big Bang fairs, for example) and free online lectures and videos,' says Kathryn.
Open days are fun, usually free and give civil engineering some real-world context, which will show you where a career in the field could take you.
Research your route
Once you've decided you'd like to become a civil engineer, your next step should be to find out how you're going to get there.
You can get into civil engineering at lots of different levels and progress if you want to. 'Studying for a civil engineering degree is the more academic route and provides a fast-track into the profession, but other routes, such as an apprenticeship, allow you to start working and earn while you study - this takes longer for you to become qualified but you'll gain valuable hands-on experience,' Kathryn advises.
On a civil engineering apprenticeship, you can expect to work a mixture of university-based and on-site days, rotating around departments in the company you're employed to learn about different areas of civil engineering.
There are also new degree level apprenticeships which could help you become professionally qualified even faster. If you opt for a degree apprenticeship you'll obtain either a BEng (level 6) or MEng (level 7), over an average of four to six years.
Get some work experience
Civil engineering placements help you to stand out from the crowd and start making valuable connections. Kathryn recommends gaining work experience in this way. 'Nothing will give you a better idea of what your career could look like than meeting and working alongside people already doing it,' she says.
'You might not be assigned the most exciting tasks on a placement, but you'll meet the people doing the fast-paced jobs and be able to observe what they do. Many companies allow students to complete office-based work experience from the age of 14, but you'll need to be over 16 to be allowed onto construction sites. Make speculative applications to companies in your area to ask about their opportunities.'
Use directory websites, such as UK Civil Engineering, to start your search.
Find the right course
No two degree programmes are the same, so you might be feeling lost at the number of institutions and courses to choose from.
Nick advises that you should use all the resources available to you in making this decision. 'Look to 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,' he says.
However, don't check one league table and fixate on it. 'There's plenty of debate about the merits of different league tables, so don't rely on them completely to make your decision. Universities come in different shapes and sizes, just as schools and colleges do, and the institution best suited to you might not top the rankings.'
You should also check for accreditation. 'Visit the Joint Board of Moderators (JBM) to see if your planned civil engineering course has been accredited by professional bodies. This means that the department has been assessed and approved within the last five years by professional experts and other academics. More importantly, once an institution is accredited, you can use any qualifications you've gained towards entering the civil engineering industry,' says Nick.
If you're still unsure, find out more about how to choose the right degree.
Try a taster day
Many universities will hold a civil engineering taster day for prospective students. By attending, you'll meet students studying the course you're interested in, hear about the 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 too.
Get started by browsing civil engineering open days and events across the UK.
Apply for a scholarship
'If you're motivated and keen to show that you've got what it takes to be a civil engineer, applying for a scholarship will help you get ahead. Not only will the money help fund your studies, but the recognition you'll receive from winning a scholarship will make you stand out in job interviews. Some scholarships are sponsored and offer paid work placements too,' says Kathryn.
You don't need to study a civil engineering degree to qualify for a scholarship - ICE scholarships are open to students both at university and those studying vocational qualifications. Alternatively, contact your institution or course provider to see if they offer any funding.
Consult the experts
As Nick points out, there's nobody more helpful than those already working in civil engineering. 'Talk with careers experts and professionals about your choices as they will be best placed to offer advice. Your family and friends want what's best for you, but probably carry biases towards or against certain professions and institutions. Anyone who can help you secure a valuable period of civil engineering work experience should be welcomed with open arms.'
Find out more
- Discover what's involved in consulting and contracting civil engineering.
- See where a civil engineering degree could take you.