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How to Become a Civil Engineer

Are you creative, have great communication skills, and a strong desire to improve and protect others and the environment around you? Becoming a civil engineer is an excellent way to utilize your skills and knowledge to help improve the existing infrastructure and develop new and improved structures that people use every day. In the role of a civil engineer, you will develop, design, supervise, and maintain infrastructure projects such as roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, and bridges for the public or private sector.

Civil engineering has two major branches: structural engineering and construction engineering. Pursuing a structural engineering career involves the design of bridges and other load-bearing structures. A career in construction engineering entails managing a variety of different construction projects. You will use data from surveys, tests, and maps to create blueprints for projects. Regardless of whether you work in the public or private sector, as a civil engineer, you will play a significant role in shaping skylines, roads, and how cities and towns look. 

Sample job description

Civil engineers are responsible for designing and supervising infrastructure projects. Their most important responsibilities include designing structural blueprints, adhering to construction laws and environmental constraints, and visiting construction sites to monitor the building process. Civil engineers successfully perform their duties by effectively communicating ideas, making recommendations, and negotiating project details with their team, subcontractors, and clients. [Your Company Name] is looking for an experienced civil engineer to join our team. If you have experience in engineering, are a critical thinker, and have good mathematical skills, this position at our company could be the perfect fit.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Plan and design projects using survey results, maps, and other data
  • Analyze construction costs, relevant government regulations, potential environmental hazards, and other factors while planning a project
  • Submit permit applications to government agencies
  • Verify that projects comply with all federal, state, and local regulations
  • Evaluate the results of soil tests to help design foundations to determine the adequacy and strength of foundations
  • Analyze data from tests on building materials for use in construction projects
  • Compile cost estimates for materials, equipment and labor
  • Use design software to plan and design transportation systems, hydraulic systems, and structures
  • Manage the repair, maintenance, and replacement of public and private infrastructure

Education and experience

  • This position requires a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or a related field. Some employers prefer job candidates with a master’s degree or PhD for certain positions or career advancement.

Required skills and qualifications

  • Analytical, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills
  • Advanced mathematics skills
  • Teamwork and interpersonal communication skills
  • Strong organization skills
  • Experience with engineering and computer-assisted design (CAD) software
  • Demonstrated skill in solving highly technical problems

Preferred qualifications

  • Exceptionally organized and creative 
  • Great communication skills 
  • In-depth knowledge of the industry and strong mathematical skills
  • Idea-driven individual who can come up with innovative solutions and improvements to technical processes

Typical work environment

Civil engineers spend much of their time outdoors at construction sites monitoring operations or solving onsite problems. A typical work week consists of splitting hours between the office, on-site visits, and attending council meetings. Some projects may require frequent relocation to different areas and offices in job site trailers. Civil engineers typically work full time and some work more than 40 hours per week. Some work overtime to monitor progress on the projects to ensure they meet design requirements and to guarantee deadlines are met.

Typical hours

The typical work hours for a civil engineer are usually from 9 AM to 5 PM. However, many civil engineers work longer hours to hit project deadlines or troubleshoot project issues.

Available certifications

Although not required, certifications will demonstrate your knowledge and experience as a civil engineer and may allow for higher levels of leadership and independence. Check out the following: 

  • Certified Construction Manager (CCM). The Certified Construction Manager (CCM) recognizes professionals who have chosen a career in construction management. Certified construction managers are committed to excellence in construction management/project management, career development, and the pursuit of knowledge. They provide professional services which apply effective management techniques to the planning, design, and construction of a project from inception to completion to control time, cost, and quality. Candidates must meet education and experience requirements and pass a technical exam. Candidates must also complete a self-study course that covers topics related to construction managers including the manager’s role, legal issues, and risk allocation. Renewal is required every 3 years.  
  • Certified Planning Engineer (CPE). The Certified Planning Engineer (CPE) certification recognizes professionals who meet the demanding requirements of planning and scheduling assets of experience, education, skill, knowledge, and ethical qualifications. Experience requirements for degree holders include at least six years of professional experience, of which up to four years may be substituted by an accredited college or university degree. Experience requirements for not meeting these degree requirements include less than six years of combined experience.

Career path

This position requires a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or a related field. Some employers prefer job candidates with a master’s degree or PhD for specific positions or career advancement. Several companies also require a Professional Engineer (PE) license, which requires a passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, on-the-job experience, and a passing score on the Principles and Practice of Engineering Examination. Successful civil engineers can advance to supervising a team of engineers and receive greater independence to design and evaluate projects and processes.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 17-2051

2020 Employment309,800
Projected Employment in 2030335,100
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 8% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift25,300 increase

According to the professional services firm Deloitte, one major trend in the civil engineering field is the growing use of digital technologies in engineering and construction projects. Many companies are employing cloud-connected applications on the job site, allowing companies to make information about a project available on-demand to any project stakeholder around the world. Firms are also beginning to use robots for certain repetitive construction tasks like brick-laying or employing automated rovers to conduct site surveys more efficiently.

Another trend in the civil engineering field is the U.S. government’s commitment to spending more money on infrastructure projects. This long-term commitment should lead to the launch of more projects in the near future, but it could also create a need for new partnership models to finance these projects. That could include public-private partnerships similar to those in other developed countries, where private firms manage some roadways or contractors assist agencies in assessing infrastructure assets and projecting maintenance needs.