Civil Engineering

The Job and What's Involved

Civil engineering involves creating, improving and protecting the environment in which we live. It provides the facilities for day-to-day life and for transport and industry to go about its work. Civil engineers are involved in seeing an engineering project from conception, through the design stage, to construction and completion.

These projects might include the development, maintenance and construction of:

  • Bridges, tunnels, roads, railways and airports.
  • Dams, pipelines, water supply and sewerage systems.
  • Major building projects such as docks and power supply systems.
  • Sea and river defences.

Civil engineers may be either consulting engineers who advise on projects and design them or contracting engineers who turn their plans into reality and maintain the structures once they are built.

Consulting civil engineers may be involved in:

  • Undertaking technical and feasibility studies and site investigations.
  • Developing detailed designs.
  • Supervising tendering procedures and putting together proposals.
  • Reviewing and approving project drawings.
  • Ensuring that a project runs smoothly and is completed on time and within budget.

Contracting civil engineers may be involved in:

  • Liaising and working jointly with the consulting engineers to implement a project.
  • Dealing with clients, architects, sub-contractors and building workers.
  • Scheduling work and supervising the supply of materials and plant for construction.
  • Directing the work of sub-contractors employed on the project.
  • Ensuring safety standards and quality of workmanship.

Civil engineering often includes project management and, once the plans for a project have been approved and construction starts, civil engineers are in charge until the project is completed.

A civil engineering project can take years to complete. They are usually undertaken by a project team made up of many different types of professionals - architects, transport planners and a wide range of engineers from different disciplines.

In design offices, local government and public service, civil engineers normally work 37 hours a week. However, on-site hours can be much longer and may include evenings and weekends. Site engineers and managers may be on call 24 hours a day.

The work may be office based, working on designs at a computer or briefing clients, or it may involve being out on site in all weathers, leading teams and solving problems. This might mean working on construction sites, which can be inhospitable or remote.

Civil engineers may work away from home for periods of time.

New graduates' starting salaries are around £19,000 to £22,000 a year. There are often extra benefits, particularly with site-based work. These could include a bonus, company car or car allowance, life insurance, overtime pay and medical care.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are about 100,000 professional civil engineers in the UK. Opportunities in this job sector are growing. Civil engineering graduates are highly sought after by many different types and sizes of organisation, for example:

  • Consulting firms.
  • National and international building contractors.
  • Local authorities - major employers of civil engineers as county or municipal engineers, in technical administration or in town or transport planning.
  • Water authorities.
  • Gas and electricity supply companies.
  • Transport authorities.

There are good opportunities abroad with British consulting firms, contractors working for foreign governments or with international companies, such as those involved with oil and mining.

Jobs are advertised in The Times, the Daily Telegraph and in specialist journals such as New Civil Engineer. Other sources of job vacancies are recruitment agencies, internet job sites, recruitment shows, trade shows and exhibitions.

Education and Training

It is worth getting the highest possible academic qualifications, but it is important to take a route which ensures eventual professional recognition. The usual qualification to start training as a civil engineer is a degree or HNC/HND in a relevant subject.

Generally the minimum qualifications for a degree course in civil engineering are two A levels/four H grades, including maths and physics, and five subjects at GCSE/S grade (A-C/1-3). Alternative qualifications may include BTEC/SQA national awards in engineering or construction.

At many universities, students without the necessary background in science and maths can qualify for engineering degree courses by first taking a foundation year.

It is also possible to begin training for craft or technician-level jobs straight from school with GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) in English, maths and science. An Advanced Apprenticeship leading to technician status through NVQ's/SVQ's, HNC/HND or a Foundation degree in engineering or technology, plus appropriate further learning to degree level is also a recognised route.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

There is a wide choice of courses and qualifications offered at further education colleges and universities across the UK and a full list can be obtained from the UCAS website or Connexions centres. They may be in civil engineering or may be in civil engineering combined with another subject.

Students complete an HNC/HND or degree followed by further training with an employer. Engineers can then work towards registration as an incorporated or chartered engineer through their professional body.

The postgraduate training to become a member of The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) is both academic and practical, and typically takes at least three to five years. Trainees gain the necessary experience during employment but need the support of their employer. The job must be relevant to enable the trainee to satisfy a professional review carried out by senior members of the profession.

They may reach one of two main types of professional qualification awarded by the ICE:

Incorporated engineer (IEng MICE) - a professional engineer who applies and manages technology within the broad field of civil engineering.

Chartered engineer (CEng MICE) - leads teams of engineers and technicians developing solutions to civil engineering problems.

Full details on becoming professionally qualified and enhancing career prospects in civil engineering are available on the ICE website.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A civil engineer should:

  • Think creatively.
  • Be able to make accurate plans and drawings.
  • Be good at maths and physics.
  • Work well with other people.
  • Be able to make quick judgements.
  • Think methodically, to design, plan and manage projects.
  • Have leadership qualities.

Your Long Term Prospects

There may be opportunities for promotion to posts such as chief engineer, associate or partner in a firm. Promotion will depend on proven ability and experience. Local authorities and government departments have formal promotion structures.

Civil engineers tend to move jobs often to gain experience and responsibility, and switch between the public and private sectors.

There are many opportunities to work abroad, particularly in the developing world and in areas of crisis following an earthquake, a drought or at time of war.

Get Further Information

The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE),
1 Great George Street, Westminster, London SW1P 3AA
Tel: 020 7222 7722
Website: www.ice.org.uk

Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB),
Englemere, Kings Ride, Ascot, Berkshire SL5 7TB
Tel: 01344 630700
Website: www.ciob.org.uk

CITB-ConstructionSkills, Bircham Newton,
King's Lynn, Norfolk PE31 6RH
Tel: 01485 577577
Websites: www.bconstructive.co.uk and
www.citb-constructionskills.co.uk

The Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE),
11 Upper Belgrave Street, London SW1X 8BH
Tel: 020 7235 4535
Website: www.istructe.org.uk

The Royal Academy of Engineering,
29 Great Peter Street, Westminster,
London SW1P 3LW
Tel: 020 7227 0500
Website: www.raeng.org.uk

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