If you’re good at math and science and you enjoy devising new solutions to real-world problems, you might be interested in a career in engineering. One of the oldest engineering disciplines – and one of the most plentiful engineering degree programs – is civil engineering. Civil engineers work in a variety of capacities, designing and building solutions to problems involving infrastructure, transportation systems and the environment.
Work in Civil Engineering
What do civil engineers do? They solve problems and fulfill needs through building roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, building structures, dams, water supply systems and any other kind of infrastructure you can imagine. Almost half of all civil engineers work in the field of engineering services, according to the BLS. Some civil engineers are employed by state, local and federal government entities. Civil engineers work in all aspects of infrastructure planning, design and construction as well as education and research.
A day in the life of a civil engineer can vary significantly depending on the specialty of civil engineering and even the project the engineer is working on. At the planning and design stages of a project, a civil engineer will typically work in an office, developing the design and specifications for the infrastructure project. During the construction phase of the project, a civil engineer may work on location, at construction sites, from offices in trailers on the jobsite, and even from cars and trucks during the commute to the construction site, the BLS reported.
Civil engineers do it all, from analyzing data such as maps and survey reports to applying for permits and calculating project costs. Depending on the engineer’s area of specialization and the needs of a particular project, a civil engineer might test soil samples and building materials and analyze those test results, calculate cost estimates, and develop detailed plans for the project using computer design software. Civil engineers are responsible for every aspect of planning a public works or infrastructure project, including researching and complying with government regulations and developing plans to deal with any potential environmental hazards, according to the BLS.
In addition to designing new structures, civil engineers also maintain and repair existing structures.
Types of Civil Engineers
Because the field of civil engineering is so broad, many civil engineers develop expertise in a particular area of specialization.
Construction civil engineers, sometimes called simply “construction engineers,” direct and oversee construction projects. A construction engineer is a team leader who manages both the engineers involved with planning and the laborers who implement the plan. The construction engineer is also the manager of the project and is responsible for getting the work done on schedule and under budget.
Geotechnical engineers are responsible for ensuring there are solid foundations supporting infrastructure projects. They examine the soil and rock that makes up the earth’s surface so that structures built above the surface, like skyscrapers, are safe and strong, and they help make sure that underground projects such as tunnels and subway systems are excavated safely. Geotechnical civil engineers also design and build levees and dams in areas where flooding is a problem and determine the best locations for landfills.
Structural engineers make sure that the materials used to build structures like bridges, skyscrapers and even roller coasters are strong enough and durable enough to meet the needs of the project. These structures are under a great deal of pressure, due to their great height, the weight they must hold and the forces exerted on them, and if the materials they are built from crumble under this pressure, the results can be disastrous. Structural engineers are involved in projects that range from rail systems to offshore oil rigs.
Transportation engineers plan and design solutions to transportation problems. They answer transportation needs of all kinds, from creating new airports to maintaining highways and from streamlining road systems to minimize traffic to extending rail systems to new areas. Transportation engineers don’t only plan new projects. They also maintain and repair existing infrastructure to keep transportation systems working safely and effectively.
Water resource civil engineers, also called “hydrology engineers” or “hydraulic engineers,” develop and maintain structures that manage water resources. Projects tackled by water resource engineers can range from building dams to constructing efficient canals and developing irrigation systems.
Civil engineering is closely related to environmental engineering, which focuses on preserving the natural world around us, conserving resources and solving environmental problems.
Why Become a Civil Engineer
There are plenty of benefits of being a civil engineer. The rapid growth in job opportunities and a low unemployment rate of just 1.5 percent makes civil engineering the second best engineering job, according to U.S. News & World Report. Though civil engineering isn’t among the highest paying engineering disciplines, civil engineers earn a high median annual wage of $84,770, the BLS reported.
Civil engineering can change the world, making it a safer, cleaner, better place to live, work and play. The work that civil engineers do is satisfying because it improves the environment and life for everyone who uses public works projects such as transportation infrastructure and water and energy systems.
There are many ways students in a civil engineering degree program can prepare for a great career, including looking for civil engineering internships and job opportunities throughout their education.