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Civil Engineer


Civil engineer

Tell me about it

Civil engineers design and manage the construction of bridges, roads, tunnels, pipelines, dams, sewage plants, railways, power stations and major buildings.  They are involved with aspects of the national infrastructure, including transport networks and energy and water supply systems, using their knowledge of the properties and behaviour of materials to create imaginative and aesthetically pleasing designs, which meet all relevant safety and durability requirements within specified budgetary constraints.

Once the plans have been approved and construction starts, civil engineers are in charge until the project is completed. They might be involved at any point from conception, design, construction and maintenance to demolition. A civil engineering project can take years to complete and is usually undertaken by a project team made up of many different types of professionals. The design team involves project managers, architects and a wide range of engineers from different disciplines.

Experienced civil engineers usually achieve either incorporated or chartered status. Broadly speaking, incorporated engineers specialise in applying modern technology, while chartered engineers focus more on research and development or manufacture and installation.

Entry level

Although it is possible to begin training for craft or technician level jobs straight from school with good GCSEs/S grades in English, maths and science, the normal way to train as a professional engineer is to study full time at university or college for a first degree. Entry is with at least two or three A levels/three or four H grades, normally including maths and a science subject, or equivalent qualifications, plus five GCSEs/S grades (A*-C/1-3). At many universities, you can take a one-year foundation course if you don’t have the necessary background in science and maths.

In order to become a chartered civil engineer, responsible for research, design and development, you would need to spend at least four years in undergraduate study, followed by postgraduate study and supervised experience.  The initial requirement can be achieved by taking a four-year degree course that leads directly to an MEng.  Alternatively, you could take a three-year degree course leading to a BEng and follow this with a year of more specialised postgraduate study. To become an incorporated engineer, responsible more for the efficient day-to-day management of projects, you could take the BEng route and follow this with further study and on-the-job training. Another route to incorporated engineer status would be a two- or three-year Higher National Diploma (HND), followed again by further study and relevant experience.
A number of construction companies sponsor undergraduates for some of their time at university, offering work experience and/or sandwich placements.

Making the grade

To qualify as an incorporated civil engineer, you should, having successfully completed an accredited three-year BEng degree or equivalent qualification, undertake a period of initial professional development, including practical training and professional engineering experience. You would then have to pass a professional review, before gaining corporate membership of the Institution of Engineering and Technology.

To qualify as a chartered civil engineer, you must have an accredited MEng degree or equivalent qualification, complete a period of initial professional development, which includes training and professional engineering experience, and pass a professional review with an interview, before gaining corporate membership of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

There may be opportunities for promotion to posts such as chief engineer, associate or partner. Promotion normally depends on proven ability and experience.

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 crisis work, such as rebuilding after an earthquake or a war.

Personal qualities

As a civil engineer, you would need to be creative as well as practical and good at problem solving. You should have a good grasp of both maths and the principles of design. You would need to be a team player. On site, you could find yourself in charge of many people and your leadership skills would be very important.  Good communication skills would also be needed, as you would be dealing with a wide variety of people who would need to be very clear about your instructions.

Looking ahead

There is a wide choice of jobs, employers, specialisms and locations in civil engineering, and graduates are highly sought after. This is a diverse and developing industry with increasing emphasis on partnership working between organisations, sustainability and environmental considerations.

Employers can range in size from those employing a relatively small number of engineers to those who employ thousands. Some employers, especially the smaller companies, specialise in particular aspects of consultancy, for example design for projects in drainage, water or railways. The larger firms may offer their services across a wide variety of specialisms.

There are good opportunities abroad with British consulting firms or contractors working for foreign governments, or with international oil and mining companies.
Civil engineering projects were severely affected by the economic downturn in 2008-10. However, the industry is slowly recovering in 2011 and is once again investing in long-term planning, skills development and retention. The shift to a low carbon economy is offering new opportunities for civil engineers.

Alternative suggestions

Other possibilities might include architect, construction manager, surveyor or town planner.

Take-home pay

The Institution of Civil Engineers conducts an annual survey, which measures members’ salaries and job satisfaction. In 2010, the average total income of civil engineers rose to £53,965. There was a decrease in salaries for younger members, reflecting the effects of the recession, but the average total salary for ‘recent graduates' was nonetheless £27,460.


At times the work is office-based, working on designs at a computer or briefing clients. On other occasions it may involve being out on site in all weathers, leading teams and solving problems. This might mean working on a construction site, in environments that can be inhospitable or remote.

A 37-hour week is normal in design offices, local government and public service. However, on-site hours can be much longer and may include evenings and weekends.

Sources of information

Institution of Civil Engineers:
Institution of Engineering and Technology:
Institution of Structural Engineers:
Royal Academy of Engineering:



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