Civil Engineer

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Duties: Plan, design, construct, operate and maintain structures utilized in the energy industry

Alternate Title(s): Structural Engineer

Salary Range: $30,000 to $90,000 (In USD as of Apr 1, 2015)

Employment Prospects: Fair

Advancement Prospects: Fair


Education or Training - Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering required, with a strong background in mathematics and the physical sciences; master’s degree (or higher) in civil engineering is recommended

Experience - Three or more years working with a consulting and/or engineering firm serving as a civil engineer or engineer-in-training; experience should include site testing and performing test data analysis

Special Skills and Personality Traits - Ability to identify, analyze, and solve problems; aptitude at computer aided design (CAD) techniques and knowledge of other applicable engineering software; capable of being a team player but also functioning without supervision; excellent oral and written communication skills, with special emphasis on technical writing abilities; practical and creative, with a willingness to accept responsibility

Special Requirements - Certification as a licensed Professional Engineer usually required


Senior Civil Engineer; Engineering Manager; Project Manager
Civil Engineer
Entry-level Civil Engineer; Engineering Technician

Position Description

Civil engineering is the broadest of engineering fields, partly because it is also the oldest. In the past, engineering was divided into only two fields: military and civil. In fact, within the United States government it is still part of the U.S. Army as the Corps of Engineers.

Civil Engineers usually work in one of the following areas: construction, soil and foundation, town planning, transport, or water resources. They plan, design, construct, operate, and maintain power plants, roads, bridges, dams, water supply projects, sewerage systems, transportation, harbors, canals, dockyards, airports, railways, factories, and large buildings. This field of engineering is broken down into sub-disciplines, including general, structural, fire protection (safety), geotechnical, transportation, hydraulic, water resources, and construction engineering. Those related to the energy industry include the areas of structural, geotechnical, hydraulic, water resources, and construction engineering.

Structural engineering deals with structural design and analysis of structural components of buildings and other structures. This process involves calculating the stresses and forces that affect or arise within a structure. Major design concerns are building structures’ resistance to wind and seismic forces and seismically retrofitting existing structures, such as power plants, dams, oil wells, coal mine structures, nuclear reactors, and wind-gathering structures. In addition, elements of a building or a structure must be correctly sized and positioned in relation to each other and to site boundaries and adjacent structures. Structural (and construction) engineers are trained in the methods and procedures of surveying, the science of measuring and mapping relative positions on or under Earth’s surface (which includes both power structures above ground and mining structures beneath it).

Geotechnical engineers are primarily concerned with foundations, soil properties, soil mechanics, compression and swelling of soils, seepage, slopes, embankments, retaining walls, ground and rock anchors, the use of synthetic tensile materials in soil structures, soil-structure interaction, and soil dynamics. They work closely with structural and construction civil engineers in the design and planning of most structures used in the production, transmission, and distribution of energy power.

Hydraulic engineering deals with the flow and conveyance of fluids, predominantly water. This area of civil engineering is intimately involved with the design of pipelines, water distribution systems, drainage facilities (including bridges, dams, channels, culverts, levees, and storm sewers), and canals. Hydraulic engineers design these facilities using the concepts of fluid pressure, fluid statics, fluid dynamics, and hydraulics. They focus on designing dams used to generate electric power, as well as the flow of energy liquids, such as oil, working closely with petroleum engineers.

Water resources engineering revolves about the collection and management of water. As a discipline, it combines hydrology, environmental science, meteorology, geology, conservation, and resource management. This area of civil engineering relates to the prediction and management of both the quality and the quantity of water in both underground (aquifers) and above-ground (lakes, rivers, and streams) resources. Water resource engineers analyze and model very small to very large areas of Earth to predict the amount and content of water as it flows into, through, or out of a facility, whereas the actual design of that facility most likely will be handled by other types of civil engineers.

Construction engineering concerns the planning and execution of transportation systems designs; site development; and hydraulic, environmental, structural, and geotechnical engineering projects. As construction firms tend to have higher business risks than other types of civil engineering firms, many construction engineers tend to take on a role that is more businesslike in nature: drafting and reviewing contracts, evaluating logistical operations, and closely monitoring prices of necessary supplies.

In the performance of their occupation, Civil Engineers may execute such tasks as:

• Investigate sites to establish the most suitable foundation for a proposed construction

• Research and advise on the best engineering solutions to meet with a client’s needs and budget

• Produce detailed designs and documentation for the construction and implementation of civil engineering projects (such as the building of dams and power plants, the excavation of mines, and the building and placement of power lines, wind turbine structures, or nuclear reactors)

• Organize the delivery of materials, plant, and equipment needed for the construction project and supervise the labor involved

• Develop detailed programs for the coordination of site activities

• Interact with other engineers, architects, landscape architects, and environmental scientists

• Assist governmental bodies in preparing yearly works programs within set budgets, such as the development of new or additional power structures, drainage, roads, or waterways

• Prepare engineering calculations required for the design of projects and draft (or supervise drafting of) the plans and designs, using the latest computer-aided design techniques

• Coordinate and direct research development and testing of materials, processes, or systems related to civil engineering works

• Research, advise on, and plan the control and minimization of air, water, and solid waste pollution and the management of water

• Supervise the testing and commissioning of completed civil engineering works

• Analyze and interpret reports on loading, labor, productivity, quality, materials, and performance

• Analyze risks associated with natural disasters, including wind, earthquake, fire, and floods and design structures and services (such as electric power distribution) to meet appropriate local, state, federal, and professional standards

• Arrange for geological and geophysical investigations on sites designated for construction and carry out feasibility studies

• Interface with local, state, or national regulatory and permitting agencies

Civil Engineers may be headquartered in offices but spend much of their time on project sites. They may have to undertake a lot of traveling, even to the point of relocation as their jobs take them from one major engineering site to another. They usually are required to work long hours and meet strict deadlines while functioning under minimal supervision. They must deal with a wide variety of professional, skilled, and semi-skilled people.


According to a 2005 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), average annual starting salaries for Civil Engineers ranged from $43,679 to $59,625, depending on the level of educational degrees earned (from bachelor’s to Ph.D.). In the joint earnings study made by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), the 2004 Engineering Income and Salary Survey, and using April 2004 data, average salaries of Civil Engineers were found to range from $64,750 to $80,000, depending upon the geographic locale. In its 2005 study of engineering salaries, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, in their publication Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006–07 Edition, found that salaries of Civil Engineers, as of May 2004, ranged from a low of $42,610 to a high of $94,660. It is not unusual for a senior Civil Engineer with 12 or more years experience to earn a yearly salary of $110,000 or more.

Employment Prospects

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Civil Engineers are expected to experience average employment growth through 2014. Spurred by general population growth (with its attendant power needs) and an increased emphasis on infrastructure security, more Civil Engineers will be needed to design and construct safe and higher-capacity energy power plants and energy transmission and distribution systems, as well as better transportation infrastructure, water supply systems, pollution control systems, large buildings, and building complexes. They will be needed to repair or replace existing roads, bridges, dams, and other public structures. Because construction and related industries—including those providing design services—employ many Civil Engineers, employment opportunities will vary by geographic area and may decrease during economic slowdowns in which construction is often postponed or curtailed altogether.

Advancement Prospects

There is no one clear typical career path for Civil Engineers. Most engineering graduates start with jobs of low responsibility, and, as they prove their competence, they are given increasingly responsible tasks. However, within each subfield of civil engineering, and even within different segments of the employment market within each branch, the details of a career path can vary. In some subfields and in some firms, entry-level engineers are tasked with primarily monitoring construction in the field, while in other areas they focus on the more routine tasks of analysis or design. More senior engineers can move into doing more complex analysis or design work, or management of more complex design projects. Alternatively, they may gravitate into the management of other engineers or entire projects, or into specialized consulting positions, such as forensic engineering.

Education and Training

The basic educational requirement for a Civil Engineer is a four-year Bachelor of Science (B.S.) or Bachelor of Engineering (B.Eng.) degree in civil engineering from an accredited college program. (Accreditation is handled by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc., or ABET.)

Many consulting companies and engineering firms require a master’s degree as well. Such graduate work may lead either to a Master of Engineering (M.E.), which is a professional master’s degree, or to a Master of Science (M.S.) degree, followed by a Ph.D. in civil engineering or a related sub-discipline.

Special Requirements

In order to undertake any civil engineering tasks affecting the public in the United States (or even to represent oneself legally as a civil engineer), Civil Engineers must become licensed Professional Engineers. Licensure requirements vary slightly state by state, but in all cases they entail passing two licensure exams: the Fundamentals of Engineering exam (or FE) and the Principles and Practice exam (or PE). In addition, a state-mandated number of years of working under the supervision of a licensed Professional Engineer must be fulfilled. Information on the Professional Engineer licensure can be gotten from the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) (their Web site is at http://www. or the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) (their Web site is at http://

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Civil Engineers must be able to identify problems, thoroughly analyze them, and find solutions. They must have excellent oral and written communication skills, as they will have to prepare work plans and reports, tabulate laboratory and other site data, and do engineering drawings and permit applications. They should be very familiar with computer- aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software and proficient with the entire design process, to the extent of being able to coordinate the work of other designers assigned to the project. They should know how to use the computer software employed in their specialty engineering fields, such as STAAD and GTSTUDL programs used by structural Civil Engineers for structural analysis and design.

They will need to have four to 10 years of experience (depending upon the field of civil engineering they are in and the specific requirements of the firms for which they work) as an entry-level Civil Engineer with an engineering or a consulting firm. They should gain some background in a project management role, which would include such tasks as project scheduling, budget preparation, report writing, sampling and data collection, subcontractor supervision, and technical engineering support. They should become knowledgeable in conducting site testing, performing test data analysis, and making design recommendations. In addition, they must become conversant with all applicable state and federal requirements as well as any regional policies that might have a bearing on their projects.

Civil Engineers need to be both creative (in their solutions to design or field problems) and practical (to keep within budget guidelines and client needs). They must be able to work without supervision, but also function as part of a team. They need to be able to accept responsibility and to adhere to the safety requirements of their operation. Above all, they must be able to deliver practical designs, technical calculations, and drawings within the time guidelines assigned to projects and be able to meet the scope requirements of the project.

Unions and Associations

The primary professional association of Civil Engineers is the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The organization publishes a large amount of information on civil engineering and develops codes and standards that frequently are adapted by federal, state, and local governments, as well as sponsoring conferences and providing continuing education for its members. Other associations dealing with specific sub-disciplines of civil engineering include the National Council of Structural Engineers Association (NCSEA) and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME). Civil Engineers may also find it useful to become members of the larger umbrella engineering organization, the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE).

Tips for Entry

1. While earning your civil engineering degree, consider joining a student chapter or club of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), where you can participate in many activities that allow you to develop professionally outside of the classroom.

2. Look into cooperative education and work-study programs that permit you to earn tuition by attending classes for a portion of the year and work in an engineering- related job for the remainder of the year. In addition, ASCE offers scholarships and fellowships for both undergraduate and graduate students.

3. Take management and business courses to better understand budgetary methods used in the project planning process.