Civil Engineer

Civil engineers design, construct, supervise, operate, and maintain large construction projects and systems, including roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment.

Interest Area: 
Building
Average Yearly Pay: 
$74600
Education Needed: 
Bachelor's Degree
Job Prospects: 
Good
Job Growth: 
24%

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Job Duties: 

Civil engineers typically do the following:

  • Analyze survey reports, maps, and other data to plan projects
  • Consider construction costs, government regulations, potential environmental hazards, and other factors in planning stages
  • Test soils to determine the adequacy and strength of foundations
  • Test building materials, such as concrete, asphalt, or steel, for use in particular projects
  • Provide cost estimates for materials, equipment, or labor to determine a project’s economic feasibility
  • Use design software to plan and design transportation systems, hydraulic systems, and structures in line with industry and government standards
  • Oversee, or participate in, surveying to establish reference points, grades, and elevations to guide construction
  • Present their findings to the public on topics such as bid proposals, environmental impact statements, or property descriptions
  • Career Overview: 

    Civil engineers design, construct, supervise, operate, and maintain large construction projects and systems, including roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment. Many civil engineers work in design, construction, research, and education.

    Duties

    Civil engineers typically do the following:

    • Analyze survey reports, maps, and other data to plan projects
    • Consider construction costs, government regulations, potential environmental hazards, and other factors in planning stages and risk analysis
    • Compile and submit permit applications to local, state, and federal agencies verifying that projects comply with various regulations
    • Perform or oversee soil testing to determine the adequacy and strength of foundations
    • Test building materials, such as concrete, asphalt, or steel, for use in particular projects
    • Provide cost estimates for materials, equipment, or labor to determine a project’s economic feasibility
    • Use design software to plan and design transportation systems, hydraulic systems, and structures in line with industry and government standards
    • Perform or oversee, surveying operations to establish reference points, grades, and elevations to guide construction
    • Present their findings to the public on topics such as bid proposals, environmental impact statements, or property descriptions
    • Manage the repair, maintenance, and replacement of public and private infrastructure

    Many civil engineers hold supervisory or administrative positions ranging from supervisor of a construction site to city engineer. Others work in design, construction, research, and teaching. Civil engineers work with others on projects and may be assisted by civil engineering technicians.

    The federal government employs civil engineers to do many of the same things done in private industry, except that the federally employed civil engineers may also inspect projects to be sure that they comply with regulations.

    Civil engineers work on complex projects, so they usually specialize in one of several areas.

    Construction engineers manage construction projects, ensuring that they are scheduled and built in accordance with the plans and specifications. They are typically responsible for design and safety of temporary structures used during construction.

    Geotechnical engineers work to make sure that foundations are solid. They focus on how structures built by civil engineers, such as buildings and tunnels, interact with the earth (including soil and rock). In addition, they design and plan for slopes, retaining walls, and tunnels.

    Structural engineers design and assess major projects, such as buildings, bridges, or dams, to ensure their strength and durability.

    Transportation engineers plan, design, operate, and maintain everyday systems, such as streets and highways, but they also plan larger projects, such as airports, ports, mass transit systems, and harbors.

    Work Environment: 

    Civil engineers held about 272,900 jobs in 2012. Civil engineers generally work indoors in offices. However, they sometimes spend time outdoors at construction sites so they can monitor operations or solve problems at the site. Occasionally, civil engineers travel abroad to work on large engineering projects in other countries.

    The industries that employed the most civil engineers in 2012 were:

    Architectural, engineering, and related services 50%
    State government, excluding education and hospitals 13
    Local government, excluding education and hospitals 11
    Nonresidential building construction 5
    Federal government, excluding postal service 4

    Work Schedules

    Civil engineers typically work full time, and about 1 in 4 worked more than 40 hours per week in 2012. Engineers who direct projects may need to work extra hours to monitor progress of the overall projects, to ensure that the design meets requirements, and to ensure that deadlines are met.

    Education and Training: 

    Civil engineers need a bachelor’s degree. They typically need a graduate degree and licensure for promotion to senior positions. Though licensure requirements vary within the U.S., civil engineers must usually be licensed in the locations where they provide services publicly.

    Education

    Civil engineers must first complete a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or one of its specialties. A program accredited by ABET is needed in order to gain licensure, which is required to work as a professional engineer (PE). In many states, a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering technology will also suffice as an academic requirement for obtaining a license.

    Bachelor’s degree programs in civil engineering or civil engineering technology include coursework in math, statistics, engineering mechanics and systems, and fluid dynamics, among other courses, depending on the specialty. Courses include a mix of traditional classroom learning, work in a laboratory, and fieldwork.

    More than one of every five civil engineers has a master’s degree. Further education after the bachelor’s degree is helpful in getting a job as a manager, along with the PE license and previous experience. For more information on engineering managers, see the profile on architectural and engineering managers.

    Important Qualities

    Decision-making skills. Civil engineers often balance multiple and frequently conflicting objectives, such as determining the feasibility of plans with regard to financial costs and safety concerns. Urban and regional planners often look to civil engineers for advice on these issues.

    Leadership skills. Civil engineers take ultimate responsibility for the projects or research that they perform. Therefore, they must be able to lead surveyors, construction managers, civil engineering technicians, and others to implement their project plan.

    Math skills. Civil engineers use the principals of calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced topics in mathematics for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.

    Organizational skills. Only licensed civil engineers can sign the design documents for infrastructure projects. This makes it imperative that civil engineers be able to monitor and evaluate the work at the job site as a project progresses to assure compliance with design documents.

    Problem-solving skills. Civil engineers work at the highest level of planning, design, construction, and operation of multi-faceted projects or research with many variables that require the ability to evaluate and resolve complex problems.

    Writing skills. Civil engineers must be able to communicate with other professionals, such as architects, landscape architects, and urban and regional planners. This means that civil engineers must be able to write reports clearly so that people without an engineering background can follow.

    Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

    Civil engineers who sell their own services publicly must be licensed in all states and the District of Columbia. A license is required to exercise direct control of a project and to supervise other civil engineers and civil engineering technicians. A degree from an ABET-accredited program in civil engineering or civil engineering technology is generally required to obtain a license.

    Early in the licensing process, a civil engineer must take and pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Examination. After passing this exam and meeting a particular state’s requirements, an engineer then becomes a Civil Engineering (CE) Intern or an Engineer-in-Training (EIT). Afterward, depending on the state, civil engineers must have a minimum of experience, pass more exams, and satisfy other requirements to qualify as a CE Professional. Each state's licensure board for professional engineers, which can be found through these state societies of professional engineers, can give further details.

    Advancement

    Civil engineers with ample experience may move into senior positions, such as project managers or functional managers of design, construction, operation, or maintenance. However, they would first need to obtain the Professional Engineering (PE) license, because only licensed engineers can assume responsibilities for public projects.

    After gaining licensure, credentialing that attests to a Professional Engineer’s expertise in a civil engineering specialty may be of help for advancement to senior technical or even managerial positions.

    Pay: 

    The median annual wage for civil engineers was $79,340 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half of the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $51,280, and the top 10 percent earned more than $122,020.

    In May 2012, the median annual wages for civil engineers in the top five industries in which these engineers worked were as follows:

    Federal government, excluding postal service $89,440
    Local government, excluding education and hospitals 83,670
    Architectural, engineering, and related services 79,470
    State government, excluding education and hospitals 74,180
    Nonresidential building construction 73,740

    Civil engineers typically work full time, and about 1 in 4 worked more than 40 hours per week in 2012. Engineers who direct projects may need to work extra hours to monitor progress of the overall projects, to ensure that the design meets requirements, and to ensure that deadlines are met.

    Job Outlook: 

    Employment of civil engineers is projected to grow 20 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. As infrastructure continues to age, civil engineers will be needed to manage projects to rebuild bridges, repair roads, and upgrade levees and dams.

    Moreover, a growing population means that new water systems will be required while the aging, existing water systems must be maintained to reduce or eliminate leaks of drinkable water. In addition, more waste treatment plants will be needed to help clean the nation’s waterways. Civil engineers play a key part in all of this work.

    The work of civil engineers will be needed for renewable energy projects. Civil engineers prepare the permit documents for these types of projects, verifying that the project will comply with federal, state, and local requirements. With regard to solar energy, these engineers conduct structural analyses for large-scale photovoltaic projects. They also evaluate the ability of solar array support structures and buildings to tolerate stresses from wind, seismic activity, and other sources. For large-scale wind projects, civil engineers often prepare road beds to handle large trucks that haul in the turbines. In addition, they prepare the sites on shore or offshore to make sure that the foundations for the turbines will safely keep the turbines upright in expected environmental conditions.

    Although states continue to face financial challenges and may have difficulty funding all the projects that need attention, some of the projects that have been delayed will ultimately have to be completed in order to build and maintain critical infrastructure.

    Job Prospects

    Although a bachelor’s degree is the typical requirement for entry, applicants who gain experience by participating in a co-op program while in college will have the best opportunities.

    For More Information: 

    For information about general engineering education and career resources, visit

    American Society for Engineering Education

    Technology Student Association

    For more information about licensure, visit

    National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying

    National Society of Professional Engineers

    For information about accredited programs in civil engineering and civil engineering technology, visit

    ABET

    For more information about civil engineers, visit

    American Society of Civil Engineers

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