Structural Engineer

The Job and What's Involved

Structural engineers are involved in the design and construction of a range of structures such as buildings, bridges and tunnels, oil-rigs, sports stadium's and roller-coasters. They are at the forefront of responding to some of the biggest challenges facing the world today including meeting the future demands for energy and raw materials.

Structural engineers often work alongside architects and are responsible for working out how buildings and structures will be made to stand up to the stresses and strains placed upon them. They have to ensure that a project is designed and built to be visually appealing, whilst meeting all the necessary safety requirements and are responsible for solving complex problems and producing design solutions which take into account:

- The client's requirements
- The environment
- Energy consumption
- Ground conditions,
- Foundations and the
- Loads and stresses on structures

Tasks and duties may include:

  • Producing conceptual design solutions.
  • Meeting with clients and other members of the design team to discuss plans.
  • Preparing drawings and building specifications.
  • Investigating ground conditions and analysing results of site tests such as soil samples.
  • Calculating the loads and stresses placed upon structures to ensure they are built with sufficient strength.
  • Testing models on the computer to ensure that the structure can withstand forces such as wind, gravity and earth tremors.
  • Communicating the design of the structure (through drawings, specifications and computer models) so that others can construct it.
  • Liasing with other construction professionals and authorities to fulfil legal requirements such as planning permissions and listed structures.
  • Visiting sites to check that the construction is in accordance with the design.

In the course of their work they use computers and specialist computer programs for analysis and design.

Structural engineers generally work normal office hours over a 38 hour week. Most jobs are office-based but site visits are often necessary.

Engineers may be in a design office, in meetings or on site. Hard hats will be required when on site, supplemented by protective clothing if necessary. Sites can be dusty, muddy and noisy as contractors bring the building design to life.

Structural engineers may start on around £20,000 a year. An experienced engineer may earn in the region of £30,000 to £35,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Employers of structural engineers include:

  • Independent structural engineering contractors/consultancies.
  • Building and civil engineering contractors.
  • Central and local government.
  • Industrial organisations.
  • Universities, colleges and research establishments.
  • Transport infrastructure contractors.

Jobs are available nationwide, with a particularly large number of construction projects currently underway in London and south-east England.

Structural engineering is a growing profession and there are good opportunities in the UK and throughout the world, though the current economic downturn may affect the number of vacancies.

Vacancies appear in The Structural Engineer, published twice monthly by the Institution of Structural Engineers and the New Civil Engineer magazine & website (www.nceplus.co.uk). Specialist recruitment agencies are a common source of vacancies as are the local and national press.

Education and Training

The usual route for entry for training as a structural engineer is via full-time university or college study to obtain an accredited degree. A list of accredited degrees can be seen on the Joint Board of Moderators website. An HND with distinctions or merits or NVQ Level 4/5 is acceptable, although further training will be required.

Entry to a degree course is with at least five GCSE's (A*-C) with three A levels. A good level of competence in maths is normally required and physics and maths are often preferred A levels. An HNC/HND in civil or structural engineering is also an acceptable qualification for entry. Entry requirements may vary, so candidates should check with individual universities.

It is possible to begin apprentice training in structural engineering straight from school with three to five GCSE's (A*- C). Preferably these should include English, mathematics and science. Other useful subjects include computing, business studies and design and technology. Studying a BTEC is a good alternative to GCSE's. The Diplomas in engineering, and construction and the built environment, may be relevant for this area of work.

Engineering technician status may be obtained following a suitable apprenticeship which, with further study, can lead to a position as a structural engineer. All apprentices follow a structured training scheme at work with part-time study at a local college leading to NVQ Level 2/3 in engineering construction.

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.

Graduate apprenticeships may also be available.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Following formal education, training is mainly practical, complemented by a broad based in-house training programme, sometimes following a structured graduate training scheme.

Candidates who fulfil their Institution's academic and professional development requirements may apply for Chartered status. A large number of structural engineers obtain Chartered status through the Institution of Structural Engineers. All engineers are expected to undertake continuing professional development (CPD).

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A structural engineer should:

  • Be creative and enjoy a challenge.
  • Have a wide knowledge of construction practices.
  • Be interested in solving problems and finding practical and innovative solutions.
  • Be adaptable and persevering.
  • Be able to use computers for design work, calculating, and testing designs.
  • Work well with other people.
  • Have good communication skills, to present information in speech, drawings and reports.
  • Have a knowledge of the qualities of materials, of manufacturing processes and construction methods.
  • Have a scientific and mathematical mind.

Your Long Term Prospects

Most large organisations have a formal progression structure, but in smaller firms it may be necessary to move to another employer in order to progress.

Self-employment is common, but securing new contracts can be difficult. Chartered status may be useful to progress, and is desirable for structural engineers setting up their own business.

Structural engineering is a global profession and it is not unusual for engineers to work in a number of countries during their careers.

Get Further Information

Association of Consulting Engineers (ACE),
Alliance House, 12 Caxton Street,
London SW1H 0QL
Tel: 020 7222 6557
Website: www.acenet.co.uk

ConstructionSkills, Bircham Newton,
Kings Lynn, Norfolk PE31 6RH
Tel: 0808 100 0055
Website: www.bconstructive.co.uk

Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB),
Blue Court, Church Lane,
Kings Langley, Hertfordshire WD4 8JP
Tel: 01923 260000
Website: www.ecitb.org.uk

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

Institution of Structural Engineers,
11 Upper Belgrave Street,
London SW1X 8BH
Tel: 20 7235 4535
Website: www.istructe.org

Joint Board of Moderators
Tel: 020 7665 2110
Website: www.jbm.org.uk

The Royal Academy of Engineering,
3 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5DG
Tel: 020 7766 0600
Website: www.raeng.org.uk

SEMTA, 14 Upton Road,
Watford, Hertfordshire WD18 0JT
Tel: 01923 238441
Website: www.semta.org.uk

Women's Engineering Society
Tel: 01438 765506
Website: www.wes.org.uk

Women into Science, Engineering
and Construction (WISE)
Tel: 020 3206 0408
Website: www.wisecampaign.org.uk

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