If you’re considering a career in civil engineering, you’re in good company. Civil engineering is the largest engineering discipline, employing more than 303,500 Americans, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS expects another 32,200 new jobs expected to open up over the course of a decade. As important as job outlook is, earning potential also matters. It’s important for aspiring civil engineers to have an idea of what salary to expect as well as how factors such as industry, position and specialization will affect their value in the workforce.
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Best Paying Industries for Civil Engineers
Despite its massive scale and rapid career growth, civil engineering is not one of the highest paying branches of engineering. The median wage for this occupation is $84,770, still well above the $37,690 for all occupations but below the $92,220 median salary for all engineers, the BLS reported. However, one factor that can have a substantial impact on a civil engineer’s salary is the industry in which he or she works.
The highest paying of the top industries for engineers is actually the federal government. The median salary of civil engineers working for the federal government is $93,820. Next lucrative are civil engineering positions with local government entities, with a median wage of $90,280. Lower paying industries for civil engineers include engineering services, where the median wage is $83,970; state government, with a median salary of $82,050; and nonresidential building construction, which pays a median wage of $78,130.
Some of the highest paying jobs in civil engineering are also the rarest. Civil engineers make up just 0.27 percent of the workforce in scientific research and development services, but those few engineers enjoy a mean wage of $124,170, according to the BLS. Just 360 civil engineers work in the oil and gas extraction industry, accounting for 0.27 percent of workers in this industry, but they earn an average salary of $118,690. Six-figure mean salaries are also common among the 210 civil engineers working in waste treatment and disposal and the 400 civil engineers employed in navigational, measuring, electromedical and control instruments manufacturing. An undisclosed number of civil engineers who work in the industry of miscellaneous manufacturing not included in other industries earn the highest mean salary, $149,460.
Nearly half of all civil engineers – 48 percent – work in the engineering services industry.
Leadership Roles in Civil Engineering
In civil engineering, as in other occupations, it pays to be the boss. Engineering managers in all branches of engineering earn a median wage of $137,720, the BLS reported. Engineering managers oversee people and projects. They are responsible for coordinating engineering activities, from planning for the development of new designs to developing budgets and securing the materials needed to complete the work.
If you aspire to be a civil engineering manager, you will need to work your way up from entry-level positions by proving that you can handle projects and job duties of increasing difficulty. Engineering managers typically have five or more years of work experience before being promoted to a leadership role, according to the BLS. You may also need an advanced degree, such as a master’s degree in engineering management, technology management or business administration.
Many senior roles in civil engineering require both a graduate degree and a Professional Engineering (PE) license, the BLS reported.
Government Civil Engineering Jobs
There are many jobs you can do with a degree in civil engineering, both in government roles and in private sector roles. One in four civil engineers works for the government in some capacity, which makes sense given the number of government projects necessary to design, create and maintain infrastructure such as roads, bridges, transportation hubs, buildings and water supply and waste treatment facilities.
While the federal government offers some of the highest pay rates for civil engineers, it employs just three percent of civil engineers. Local government entities employ 10 percent of civil engineers and pay a median wage above the median for all civil engineers. It may come as a surprise that civil engineers working for state governments earn less than their counterparts working in local governments, but they are also somewhat more plentiful, accounting for almost one in eight civil engineering jobs.
The federal government employment figure excludes the postal service, while state and local figures exclude employment by education and hospital facilities.
Civil Engineering Salary by Specialization
Much of a civil engineer’s job duties depend on his or her specialization within the occupation. The major specialties of civil engineering include geotechnical engineers, structural engineers, transportation engineers, water resource civil engineers and construction engineers, which is sometimes considered a separate but related discipline of engineering. It makes sense that specialty would play a role in determining earning potential, but in fact, it might not affect salary as much as you would think.
Geotechnical engineers earn an average salary of $65,362, according to PayScale. The difference between geotechnical engineers’ and structural engineers’ salaries is less than $1,000, with structural engineers earning $66,337 on average. The average salaries for other civil engineering specialties are similarly close. Transportation engineers earn an average wage of $65,140. Water resources engineers earn $63,653 on average. The average salary for construction engineers is $66,632. Generally speaking, industry of employment seems to affect earning potential more for most civil engineers than specialty of civil engineering does.
The median entry-level salary for civil engineers as a whole is $58,763.