on August 15th, 2022

Cities, roads, and life would be near impossible to imagine without the work of Civil Engineers.

The discipline is one of many hats – and also a fascinating field to look into.

Because to build a career as a Civil Engineer you need more than mere knowledge of structures. You need engineering acumen that is rooted in bringing engineering principles to life.

A quick introduction to Civil Engineering

Civil engineering is considered the oldest engineering discipline, due to the fact that humans (and even animals) have been involved in construction in some way or form before electricity or mechanical concepts truly evolved.

It’s true that Civil Engineering often deals with the built environment and can be dated to the first time humans built shelter or even laid rocks in rivers to cross it.

As a result, the built environment encompasses nearly all aspects of modern civilization.

Buildings and bridges are often the first things that come to mind when we think about Civil Engineering, but that’s only one distinct aspect of the discipline.

The subdisciplines in Civil Engineering are far-reaching and extremely in-depth, especially in modernity where Civil Engineering includes almost all aspects of modern life.

Roads, railroads, subway systems, and airports are designed by transportation engineers, another category of civil engineering. And then there are the less visible creations of civil engineers like water systems that allow you to have access to fresh water from a tap in your home.

Sanitary engineering is another example of extremely complex engineering and systems that impacts the environment and makes it safe and convenient for humans to use simple things like a flushing system.

In the aerospace industry, civil engineers design streamliners, space stations, and runways to ensure planes get into the air optimally.

When it comes to the automotive industry it's due to civil engineers that load capacities are considered and perfected. There’s so much more to the discipline and subdiscipline that meets the eye.

Major sub-disciplines within Civil Engineering

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics by the US Department of Labor employment of civil engineers, in general, is projected to grow about 11% from 2016 to 2026.

The demand for civil engineering will be strong because infrastructure and renewable energy projects launched more boldly.

Civil engineering is also essential for roads, bridges, dams and other critical infrastructures that are expected to expand. Projects for water systems and waste management systems will require civil engineers.

While major sub-disciplines of Civil Engineering can be broken down into extremely specific areas of expertise, civil engineers in the next few years might find themselves in one of four specific areas of study or work; structural engineering, geotechnical engineering, transportation engineering and water resources.

1. Geotechnical Engineering

If there is earth, soil and foundation involved Geotechnical Engineering is involved.

This often-overlooked part of Civil Engineering is under the spotlight because it has immense value in terms of balancing processes with the environment.

The International Information Center for Geotechnical Engineering provides insight into the function of these engineers and their value.

Geotechnical Engineering is a science that aims to explain the mechanics of soil and rock formations and their applications to the development of humankind, which includes building or changing these natural structures for the benefit of all.

It includes the analysis, design and construction of foundations, slopes, retaining structures, embankments, roadways, tunnels, levees, wharves, landfills and other systems that are made of or are supported by soil or rock on earth.

On a deeper more human level, Geotechnical Engineering does concern itself with societal and economic development systems, where more resilient and environmentally-friendly approaches are considered.

Currently, there is a need to improve the visibility, diversity, and recognition of the profession because it is so deeply entrenched in Civil Engineering.

2. Structural Engineering

In its simpler explanation, Structural engineering Civil Engineering includes the application of the laws of physics, math, and knowledge of safety design.

Often Structural Engineering involves the design of the “skeleton” of a structure.

In so doing engineers can predict the performance and shapes of designs and know which materials are best suited for a selection of its application.

The principles of structural engineering were used thousands of years ago like the Pyramids at Giza.

Within Civil Engineering, Structural engineers are trained professionals that make sure the structures we use are safe, and stable and can carry the loads placed upon them.

This can include buildings, bridges and roads.

They do this by applying their technical knowledge to specify different types of construction materials in various shapes and geometries and design structures that can withstand the pressures and stresses of their environment such as gravity loads, storms and earthquakes.

3. Transportation Engineering

This kind of engineering is highly involved in planning.

In planning projects, transportation engineers gather relevant data on the population in the surrounding area, travel patterns, socioeconomic characteristics, laws and ordinances, and financial resources.

They then need to consolidate the information and use decision-support tools to develop, design and deliver various types of transportation projects in consideration of various performance measures (operations, safety, environmental impacts).

While their professional duties vary based on job level and specialization, some of the most common responsibilities of a transportation engineer are the drafting and construction of new transportation systems, the investigation of traffic problems and finding solutions, and analyzing data to plan ways to effectively manage transportation, estimate budgets for labour and equipment, working with stakeholders and also presenting plans, proposals and reports to stakeholders, cities and government.

Photo by Vitor Paladini on Unsplash

4. Water Resource Engineering

Current trends within environmental management have made it highly important for water resources to be managed while accommodating population growth or urban and environmental management.

Resources are finite, and water is one of the earth’s most precious resources. While water may be renewable in terms of the many different ways it can be used and reused, it’s not as abundant as it once was, which many earth scientists and climatologists point to as a function of climate change.

Water resource engineers may be the ones to develop new systems or processes for private or government entities that can preserve freshwater sources and find new ones.

This requires the assistance of civil engineers in designing water purification methods through desalination or creating new equipment for contaminant transport when water is used for irrigation purposes.

The work of water resource engineers is incredibly deep and of extremely high importance.

Pathways to becoming a Civil Engineer

The vocational education pathway may look like this:

Graduate from school, as early as Yr10

Obtain a trade qualification known as CertIII or CertIV

At this point, you can start working at an engineering technician level and repairer.

Acquire further qualifications through a diploma or advanced diploma

You can now work as a civil engineering technician

Become a professional civil engineer by means of higher education. After completing a 3-year Bachelor of Science (Civil Engineering) degree with EIT graduates can start working as mechanical technologists.

A 2-year Master’s degree will complete the path to a Professional Civil Engineering qualification.

A 3-year Doctorate of Engineering degree will enable the student to be an expert in a chosen field of Civil Engineering.

As a fully qualified professional Civil Engineer, you are now among the most competent people in the world and capable of solving complex engineering challenges

The higher education pathway typically looks like this:

Graduate from Year 12 with good math grades

Obtain a Bachelor of Science (Civil Engineering) degree or a Bachelor of Engineering (Civil) degree

Graduates can work as Civil engineering technologists

Get a Master’s degree in Civil Engineering or opt-in for shorter courses like Graduate Certificates to expand knowledge of certain areas and topics (though it may not lead to a desired professional engineer status).

In some cases, applicants with Advanced Diploma qualifications and significant industry experience can progress to Master’s degrees or Graduate Certificates.

It is important to be aware of any regulatory requirements in your country which are set for professional engineers. Graduates may have to register with a regulatory body, go through an individual certification or sit an exam, and achieve CPD (continuous professional development) results to maintain their Professional Engineer status.

Aptitudes of modern Civil Engineers

If any of the above made you feel inclined to become a Civil Engineer there are some more things to consider.

  • STEM Aptitude

Science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, skills are another essential component of a successful career. Calculus, trigonometry and other advanced areas of math are required for analysis, design and troubleshooting. Civil engineers use computer-aided design technology.

  • Analytical Abilities

Analytical ability means you can evaluate current needs, and then design or redesign solutions ranging from bridges, roads and engines to computer chips, electrical systems and artificial body parts. Analytical skills are also needed to identify problems before they occur, determine the root causes of the problems, create and test prototypes, and evaluate test results.

  • Communication skills

Engineers also need interpersonal skills to be successful. They have to listen to clients and others who are working on the project to help determine what’s needed. Also, during the course of the project, they must address the concerns of these individuals, and they should be able to explain their solutions and designs – both verbally and in writing -- to others in a way that is clearly understood by those who don’t have a background in engineering.

What Civil Engineers can expect to earn

According to the website salary.com when measuring Civil Engineers’ salaries, the expected median income is USD $120,140. At the lower end, engineers that just graduated and are starting to work, graduates can expect to earn a base salary of $65,700 annually. Professional engineers with years of experience can expect to earn $174,580 annually.

Many of these figures don’t include income from profit sharing or bonuses. It’s also worth noting that many employers will often assist young engineers during postgraduate studies as well, and additional academic qualifications can also be considered as a reason to keep employment at an engineering firm or within a governmental role.

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