Engineering is a popular degree, supported by data from the National Center for Education Statistics, which reported 126,700 bachelor’s degrees awarded in the 2018-19 school year. Biological and biomedical sciences (121,200) and psychology (116,500) were close behind in the total two million undergraduate degrees. Business captured the top spot with 390,600, and health professions came in second at 251,400.

A report published in November 2017 by the Congressional Research Service stated that in 2016 there were 6.9 million scientists and engineers (S&E) working in the United States. Computer occupations predominated with 57.6%, and engineering professions were second with 23.6% of the S&E groups.

civil engineering

Image Source: Pixabay

In a 2018 graph created by the BLS, almost 35% of engineers work in manufacturing and about 30% in professional and scientific services. This data may help those who intend to specialize in a specific engineering area.

If you’re considering a career in civil engineering, you’re in good company. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), civil engineering is the most extensive engineering discipline, employing more than 309,800 Americans (May 2020). The BLS expects another 25,300 new jobs expected to open up over a decade. As crucial as job outlook is, earning potential also matters. Aspiring civil engineers need to know what salary to expect and how factors such as industry, position, and specialization will affect their value in the workforce.

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 BLS reported the median wage for this occupation is $88,570, still well above the $41,950 for all categories but below the $96,310 median salary for all engineers. However, one factor that can substantially impact a civil engineer’s salary is their work industry.

The highest paying of the top industries for engineers is the federal government. The median salary of civil engineers working for the federal government is $99,750. Next lucrative are civil engineering positions with local government entities, with a median wage of $95,760. Lower paying industries for civil engineers include engineering services, where the median salary is $89,460; state government, with a median salary of $84,670; and nonresidential building construction, which pays a median wage of $76,230.

Some of the highest paying jobs in civil engineering are also the rarest. Civil engineers make up just 0.22 percent of the workforce in waste treatment and disposal, but those few engineers (220) enjoy a mean wage of $127,040, according to the BLS. Just 620 civil engineers work in the oil and gas extraction industry, accounting for 0.50 percent of workers, but they earn an average salary of $124,670. Six-figure mean wages are also typical among the 390 civil engineers working in computer systems design and the 150 civil engineers employed in social advocacy organizations.

More than half of all civil engineers work in the Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services industry.

Median pay is one indication; however, entry-level salary is worth considering also. Statistics reported by Michigan Tech is a compilation from the BLS and Payscale for 2021. Here are the highest mean starting wages:

  • Computer Engineering:   Computer Hardware – $75,376
  • Software Developers:  $70,115
  • Geological and Mining Engineering:  $69,879
  • Chemical Engineering:  $68,031
  • Electrical Engineering:   $67,593
  • Materials Science and Engineering:  $67,303
  • Mechanical Engineering:   $63,527
  • Civil Engineering:   $58,840

The lowest is surveying engineering at $32,385.

Another element is job growth, as this can indicate other employment opportunities and job security. Most job seekers want to secure the highest dollars possible in their respective profession or job. Austin Nichols Technical Search specializes in engineering, construction, and manufacturing job placements. It reported in 2021 the fastest-growing engineering fields as:

  1. Civil
  2. Biomedical
  3. Mechanical
  4. Electrical
  5. Environmental
  6. Aerospace

How does this list compare with job outlook changes (percentage) for 2020-2030 as published by the BLS? In the same order as above:

  1. Civil – 8%
  2. Biomedical – 6%
  3. Mechanical – 7%
  4. Electrical – 7%
  5. Environmental – 4%
  6. Aerospace – 8%

Although aerospace and civil engineers have the same expected job change rate, civil will add or turnover 25,300 positions over ten years. In contrast, aerospace will only create 5,100 openings because fewer engineers are in this occupation.

Leadership Roles in Civil Engineering

In civil engineering, as in other occupations, it pays to be the boss. Architectural and engineering managers in all branches of engineering earn a median wage of $149,530, the BLS reported. Engineering managers oversee people and projects. They are responsible for coordinating engineering activities, from planning to develop new designs to implementing budgets and securing the materials needed to complete the work.

Within this management group, scientific research and development managers have the top median wage at $174,710. Company and enterprise managers land in second at $157,760 – followed by manufacturing ($148,880) and engineering services ($148,120). The highest ten percent earned over $208,000.

Suppose you aspire to be a civil engineering manager. In that case, 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. According to the BLS, engineering managers typically have five or more years of work experience before being promoted to leadership. You may also need an advanced degree, such as a master’s degree in engineering management, technology management, or business administration.

The BLS reported that many senior roles in civil engineering require both a graduate degree and a Professional Engineering (PE) license.

Civil Engineering Salary by Specialization

Much of a civil engineer’s job duties depend on their specialization within the occupation. The primary specialties of civil engineering include geotechnical/materials engineers, structural engineers, transportation engineers, and environmental/water resources civil engineers. It makes sense that each specialty plays a role in determining earning potential, but it might not affect the salary as much as you would think.

Geotechnical engineers earn an average salary of $67,731, according to PayScale. The difference between geotechnical engineers’ and structural engineers’ salaries is less than $1,000, with structural engineers earning $70,948 on average (Payscale). The average wages for other civil engineering specialties are as follows (BLS 2020).

  • Chemical Engineers:    $114,820
  • Petroleum Engineers:   $137,330
  • Agricultural Engineers:   $84,410
  • Construction Manager:   $97,180
  • Electrical Engineers:   $103,390
  • Civil Engineers:    $88,570
  • Mechanical Engineers:   $90,160

The figures above are national averages compiled by the government each year that act as a benchmark for almost 800 occupations. As expected, the company’s size, revenue, geographical location, and educational level affect an individual’s potential income.

Government Civil Engineering Jobs

You can do many jobs with a degree in civil engineering, both in government and 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 infrastructures such as roads, bridges, transportation hubs, buildings, water supply, and waste treatment facilities.

It may come as a surprise that civil engineers working for state governments earn less than their counterparts working in local governments. While the federal government offers some of the highest pay rates for civil engineers ($97,260), it employs just 0.46 percent of civil engineers. Local government entities employ 0.56 percent of civil engineers and pay a median wage of $98,870. Still, they are also somewhat more plentiful than the Federal Executive Branch, which employs only 9,600 civil engineers, versus the combined 66,000 at the state and local government levels.

The federal government employment figure excludes the postal service, while state and local figures exclude education and hospital facilities.

Geographical Influences

Go where the jobs are most plentiful, and you may earn the highest salary. The BLS reported in 2020 that California has the most civil engineers with 45,900, with Texas a distant second at 28,990. Florida is third with 16,250, and New York is next at 14,670.

Narrowing the locale to metropolitans, San Francisco-Oakland has the highest median wage at $119,860 – and near the most expensive place to live. Los Angeles-Long Beach is another costly area to live with its $112,030 average for civil engineers. New York-Newark-Jersey City and Dallas-Fort Worth both exceed $100k at $108,040 and $104,250, respectively.

Other cities with the average pay to put on a research list outside of California are:

  • Lincoln, Nebraska:  $113,930
  • New Orleans, Louisiana:  $125,910
  • Naples, Florida:  $118,110

Unfortunately, the employment numbers are low – 1,060 in New Orleans, 530 in Lincoln, and a meager 150 in Naples.

Another statistic affecting salary is the concentration of jobs in a metropolitan area, which means the number of jobs per 1,000 employees. According to the BLS, Fairbanks, Alaska has the highest location quotient at 5.00 per 1,000 jobs; however, only 330 civil engineers work there. Carson City, Nevada, also has a high concentration at 4.9, but only 310 work in the city as civil engineers. Raleigh, North Carolina, presents a more impressive favorable picture with a quotient of 3.11 and 4,180 civil engineers earning an average of $90,750.

Other Professions

Students may want to pursue other jobs in STEM before settling into a civil engineering program. As highlighted above, 8% job growth or 25,300 new positions over ten years appears attractive. But 33% turnover and 47,100 new jobs look more enticing in the Information Security Analysts occupation. Furthermore, the median wage with a bachelor’s degree is $103,590 or $49.50 per hour. The caveat is that less than half (141,200) are working in information security as there are in civil engineering (309,800).

The World Economic Forum predicted in 2018 that machines and algorithms would displace 75 million jobs. On the bright side, 133 million jobs will materialize between 2018 and 2022. Consequently, data scientists, data analysts, AI specialists, software developers, and marketing professionals will be in demand.

A more recent World Economic Forum report in October 2020 opined that by 2025, there’d be a loss of 97 million jobs with the creation of as many new ones. Bad news for factory workers, but a bonanza for people who can or did transition into robotics and related fields.

Techjury.net reported in December 2021 that there are approximately 3 million robots in factories. Their study suggests that from 2021 to 2030, the United States might lose 73 million jobs and 236 million in China.

Medical robotics will continue to flourish, with the global market reaching $12.6 billion by 2023. These figures portend a drastic shift in the employment conditions, particularly for manufacturing, transportation, manual labor, hospitality, and retail sectors. Technology will gobble up jobs at an alarming rate that could cripple individuals who lack the education and training to pursue a career that aligns with these predictions.

Artificial intelligence in the United Kingdom will cause the loss of seven million jobs from 2017 to 2037; however, the same number will emerge in health, science, and technology. The healthcare sector, regardless of automation, will remain a mecca for jobs with the aging population globally.

Beyond a Bachelor’s Degree

The BLS bases the data and job prognosis on a bachelor’s degree. There are schools offering graduate programs that typically provide an area of specialization.

Undergraduate programs cover various topics, like surveying, concrete structures, sustainable energy, fluid mechanics, hydraulics, environmental energy, and more. These programs are designed to give the student a range of knowledge in many facets of engineering.

A Master of Science in Civil Engineering can afford the opportunity to focus on a specific engineering field. For example, the University of Washington offers these engineering choices:

  • Construction, Energy, and Sustainable Infrastructure
  • Geotechnical
  • Hydrology and Hydrodynamics
  • Environmental
  • Transportation
  • Structural and Mechanics

Some are available online.

In contrast, Colorado State University has an M.S. in Civil Engineering whose curriculum looks like an extension of a baccalaureate program. There are no specialties; instead, students cover an assortment of subjects. Examples are:

  • Drainage and Wetland Engineering
  • Sustainable Water
  • Waste Management
  • Pipe Systems for Environmental Monitoring
  • Water Resource Planning
  • Fluid Mechanics
  • Urban Water Systems
  • Hydraulic Structures

Concentration may be a better choice for those settled into a specific engineering discipline, depending on one’s career aspirations.

Credentials are one way to boost earning potential. The PE or Professional Engineer license is the hallmark to strive for after completing four years of engineering experience. Each state has its own licensing board to check the requirements. You will need to pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) and the Principles and Practices of Engineering (PE) exams. Further information is available at the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) site.

According to the NSPE, engineers in consulting or positions of responsibility for engineering projects may require the PE by state law.

Additional Resources

What Are the Highest Paying Jobs in Engineering?

What Is the Salary Potential for Someone With an Engineering Degree?

What Are the Benefits of Pursuing a Degree in Civil Engineering?

What Classes Will I Have to Take for a Degree in Civil Engineering?

What Should You Know When You Interview for a Job With a Degree in Civil Engineering?

What Are the Benefits of Pursuing a Degree in Engineering?

What computer programs should I learn to be a good Engineering Manager?

What Are the 5 Best Careers in Environmental Science?