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How to Become a Geotechnical Engineer

Do you have a talent for engineering and science? If so, a career as a geotechnical engineer may be an excellent fit for you.

Geotechnical engineers are critical to the success of construction projects. They use their math and science skills to analyze data and conduct research in order to help make recommendations and plans for structures proposed on specific types of land. Geotechnical engineers consider the soil, rock, and water tables of an area — determining factors such as stability, future erosion, and settlement — all in the service of recommending the best and safest ways to construct things, from houses to high-rises to highway interchanges.  

Sample job description

When it comes to building new infrastructure, one of the most important aspects to consider is its foundation. A geotechnical engineer is a type of civil engineer who studies soil and rock properties to help design the best foundation, from roads to new buildings. Geotechnical engineers are also responsible for assessing the stability of adjacent slopes, and the risk of avalanches and landslides. [Your Company Name] is looking to hire experienced geotechnical engineers with excellent communication and advanced computer skills.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Provide expert engineering advice and recommendations for construction projects
  • Perform geotechnical studies, field tests, analysis, and design
  • Prepare and present findings and recommendations to leadership
  • Organize and direct geotechnical site assessment
  • Determine and obtain necessary compliance permits 

Education and experience

  • Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or another related engineering field required
  • Professional Engineering (PE) licensure preferred

Required skills and qualifications

  • Up-to-date knowledge of federal, state, and local environmental regulations
  • Expertise in CAD (computer-aided design) software
  • Microsoft Office Suite proficient
  • Strong critical thinking and problem solving skills
  • Excellent time management skills with the ability to effectively prioritize tasks
  • Comfortable working in the field
  • Strong teamwork skills

Preferred qualifications

  • Master’s degree or continuing education in the field
  • Excellent knowledge of local soil and rock properties
  • Experience working out in the field
  • Advanced data collection and recording techniques

Typical work environment

Most geotechnical engineers split their time between working in the field and the office. Due to the varied nature of civil engineering, geotechnical engineers may work in a variety of environments, on and off shore in any weather condition, as they survey construction sites. Out in the field, geotechnical engineers use specialized tools to take measurements and test soil samples. In the office, they use specialized computer programs and databases to complete their work.

Typical hours

The typical work hours for a geotechnical engineer are from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday, typically in an office setting or in the field.  

Available certifications

Due to a shortage of trained geotechnical engineers, there are many job opportunities in the field. In order to start working, you’ll need to receive a bachelor of science in civil engineering or a closely-related degree. Here are also some certifications that can help:

  • Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) – Each state has its own guidelines for licensure, so you’ll want to first check what your state requires. In order to become fully licensed as a civil engineer, you’ll have to pass the PE exam. Many courses are available online to help you prepare and pass the PE. 
  • Diplomate, Geotechnical Engineering (D.GE) – A D.GE certificate, offered by the Academy of Geo-Professionals, is considered the most prestigious in the field of geotechnical engineering. This certification can be obtained after several years working as a geotechnical engineer. The exam includes questions to answer as well as a project to present. After the presentation, you will be asked about the technical aspects of the field and quizzed on a variety of ethical issues. To maintain this certification, you’ll be required to earn 20 hours of professional development hours per year. This exam is tough, but receiving the D.GE certification will advance your career and add credibility to your portfolio.

Career path

The path to becoming a geotechnical engineer typically starts with earning a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or another related engineering field. Beyond that, obtaining Professional Engineering (PE) licensure will show employers you’ve met engineering standards in education, exam performance, and experience.

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

Geotechnical engineers are projected to increase by 8% in the next 10 years. As infrastructure in the U.S. continues to age, geotechnical engineers will be needed in order to provide analysis and recommendations on how to safely maintain, repair, or replace unsafe and out-of-date structures.