Education and Training: Bachelor's degree plus training; license
Salary: Varies—see profile
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Civil engineers plan and design bridges and tunnels, as well as highways, airfields, harbors, water and sewage systems, and buildings. They also supervise the construction of such projects to ensure that they are built according to carefully drafted plans. Civil engineers are employed by all levels of government, by construction companies, and by engineering and architectural firms. Some civil engineers do independent consulting work. Others work for public utility companies or in the iron and steel industry. Still other civil engineers teach at colleges and universities.
Civil engineering is such a broad and varied field that most engineers specialize in one area. Some of the main specializations include structural, construction, hydraulics, sanitary, environmental, transportation, and soil mechanics engineering.
Structural engineers are experts in building structures safely and efficiently. They work with architects to design large buildings, bridges, and tunnels. Construction engineers supervise the actual construction of projects once they are designed. They decide on the best materials and methods to use in building such structures as skyscrapers. Civil engineers who work in hydraulics design canals, flood-control systems, and irrigation systems. They study water sources and try to develop ways of using water that will benefit the community. For example, a hydraulic engineer might design a dam in a river to create a reservoir to safeguard the water supply of an area.
Sanitary engineers design systems to purify water and treat wastes to provide a safe and economical supply of water. They work with environmental engineers to control water and air pollution. Transportation engineers plan highways, subways, airports, and railroads. Those who specialize in soil mechanics develop ways to use soil so that building foundations can be improved.
Civil engineers work with architects, other engineers, and construction personnel. These professionals often bring their specialized talents together to work on urban planning projects. Civil engineers must be accurate and consider the safety of the thousands of people who will use the structures they design and build.
Education and Training Requirements
Civil engineers work in an intellectually demanding field that requires a strong aptitude for mathematics and the physical sciences. They need the ability to think logically and creatively to be successful. They must be able to communicate well, both verbally and in writing.
A bachelor's degree in civil engineering from an accredited school is essential to enter the field. Many colleges offer four- or five-year engineering programs that include courses in thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, circuitry, stress analysis, and structural design. Social sciences and humanities classes are usually required as well. Some colleges offer cooperative programs in which students divide their time between classes and work experience. Those who want careers in research, development, or teaching will need a graduate degree. Some companies help pay students' tuition.
After getting a degree, graduates must get field training. A state license is also needed before they can be professional engineers in private practice. Most states require about four years of work experience before engineers can take the licensing examination. After licensing, civil engineers must continue their educations to keep up with advances in the field.
Getting the Job
Many civil engineers work for the government on the state, federal, or municipal level. A good way to start looking for a job is to take the civil service examination, which is required for government work, and then check the specific openings listed at state employment offices.
Some engineers work for consulting architectural and engineering firms and in the major manufacturing industries. College placement services may know of job openings. Construction and engineering companies can be contacted directly. Professional journals, newspapers classified ads, and job banks on the Internet may also provide leads.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
There are many opportunities for advancement. Civil engineers who work in civil service can advance from junior engineer to assistant engineer to associate engineer, and then become the head of a department.
Promotion of this type also occurs in large firms. Engineers can advance from project management to an administrative position as a consulting engineer, department head, or chief engineer of a large construction firm. In smaller companies advancement takes the form of specialization. Self-employment or partnership in a company is possible for those with exceptional ability and capital.
Employment for engineers will grow about as fast as the average for all jobs through 2014. Approximately 237,000 civil engineers are employed in the United States. Urban renewal, growth in rapid transit and industry, and regulations to control air and water pollution will create an increasing demand for civil engineers. Geographic location and the overall health of the economy will also be factors in employment.
Civil engineers work in many different places, depending on their specialization and their employers. They can work in offices as well as at construction sites. Civil engineers doing research may work in laboratories.
Most engineers are steadily employed, but engineers working in construction may experience periodic layoffs. Those who work for government agencies enjoy job security not found in other types of engineering. Regardless of where they work, civil engineers must face the strain of deadlines and tight schedules. Their work is exacting. They must be very accurate because their work involves costly projects. They must be able to work as part of a team and communicate their ideas to the other specialists on the project. Problem solving requires innovation and the ability to make decisions. Civil engineers report that the personal satisfaction of this work usually outweighs the pressures.
Where to Go for More Information
American Association of Engineering Societies
1620 I St. NW, Ste. 210
Washington, DC 20006
American Society of Civil Engineers
1801 Alexander Bell Dr.
Reston, VA 20191
National Society of Professional Engineers
1420 King St.
Alexandria, VA 22314
Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc.
111 Market Pl., Ste. 1050
Baltimore, MD 21202
Earnings and Benefits
The median income of civil engineers varies by their level of education and training. In 2004 engineers with bachelor's degrees earned median salaries of $43,679. Those with master's degrees earned $48,050, while those with doctorates earned $59,625. The top ten percent of civil engineers earned $94,660 or more. Government-employed engineers receive the same benefits offered to other civil service workers. Private firms generally offer retirement plans, life and health insurance, and paid vacations and holidays.
civ·il en·gi·neer • n. an engineer who designs and maintains roads, bridges, dams, and similar structures.DERIVATIVES: civ·il en·gi·neer·ing n.