Your Career Options in Civil Engineering
Your Career Options in Civil Engineering
You just graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Civil Engineering, and choosing your first job is a critical decision that sets you on a lifelong career path. Although there are tens of civil engineering fields o choose from, you have two high-level paths to choose from, and each branches out into more paths as you dive into your civil engineering career.
Will you take the path of project-based construction? Or are you a better fit for engineering design and consulting? Each path is radically different from the other, and many students leave university without a full understanding of the path they’re taking.
Here is a breakdown of the types of civil engineering jobs and career paths you may take on:
1- Project-Based Construction:
You usually start off your career working as a site engineer in this path, and you’ll have opportunities to eventually grow into construction management, project planning, quantity surveying, estimation, cost management, risk management, and other project-related fields of expertise.
This line of work usually takes you through construction contracting companies that take on all kinds of building or infrastructure projects. You can even specialize in the types of construction projects you take on in your career, as there are civil engineers who have spent their entire careers either on low-rise construction, medium-rise buildings, skyscrapers, or even roads, water resources, and other civil infrastructure projects.
This career path will take you from one project location to another, perhaps from one country to another, and for those who hate desk jobs (disclaimer: you still might work at a desk job on-site), it can be an active and interesting civil engineering field to take on in your career.
2- Engineering Design and Consulting:
This is another path you can take, and it presents very different challenges and experiences. You probably took courses in university about geotechnical, transportation, and structural engineering, as well as hydrology, water treatment, and other subjects. Well you took those courses because obviously there’s a career path where you can become an expert in these fields. After you graduate, you can take on a job as a design engineer at a company that specializes in engineering design and consulting, and this job will be in one of these civil engineering fields I mentioned.
To clarify, these are the types of civil engineering you can specialize in:
- Structural Engineering: You’ll work on designing structures to make sure they can support live and dead loads and remain standing under the tests of nature and time. You can further specialize in sub-fields of structural engineering like seismic design, bridge engineering, steel structures, reinforced concrete, feature structures, high-risk structures, high-rise buildings, retaining structures, foundations, tunnels, and more.
- Geotechnical Engineering: Your work will focus on the underlying soil and foundations of a building. You can further specialize in sub-fields of geotechnical engineering like shallow and deep foundation systems, slope stability, shoring systems, foundation engineering, ground improvement, and more.
- Transportation Engineering: Your work will focus on a wide range of transportation infrastructure projects and the movement of populations. You can further specialize in sub-fields of transportation engineering like highway design, airport design, railways, public transit systems, traffic engineering, transportation planning, behavioral modeling, and more.
- Water Resources Engineering: You’ll work on civil infrastructure projects from dams to sewage and stormwater drainage networks, and you will specialize in the movement and behavior of water. Specializations include hydraulic structures, hydrology, hydrogeology, wet infrastructure, and more.
- Environmental Engineering: This field is centered around pollution and the environment, and your work could specialize you in fields like solid waste management, water and wastewater treatment, assessments of environmental and social impacts of projects, and more.
- Contracts Management: Some civil and other types of engineers prefer the route of contracts, claims, and dispute resolution. This path is less engineering, and more legal, but it does require a certain aptitude and affinity to prepping contracts and solving legal disputes on construction projects. It is a wide field and it rewards those who excel in it.
- Coastal engineering, materials engineering, and other fields.
When looking for work, structural engineering firms are probably the most common type of civil engineering consulting firms, and you’ll probably find several in your city, along with other less common firms that specialize in other fields. There are also large corporations such as AECOM, Atkins, Dar Group, and many others that provide a full range of engineering services on major projects around the world.
But what will a job in this type of civil engineering work be like exactly? Well, you’ll start out by helping senior engineers draft and design projects using engineering software, and you’ll spend much of your time in front of a computer to begin with. Later in your career, and once you have more experience under your belt, you’re likely to coordinate with other engineers with other expertise on projects, and grow to become a design manager or a project manager within the consulting field. You may want to consider taking on a Masters Degree in the field you decide to specialize in, as this career path is much more technical and has a more academic take than project-based construction.
Design supervision is another path that falls somewhere between the two main paths I mentioned. You may find yourself working in a design supervision role in your first job as well, and the job entails monitoring the progress of construction from a technical level. This includes reviewing designs and making sure contractors are building correctly and according to specifications. You’ll find work in this role with design and consulting companies, or project management firms.
Freelancing: Whichever path you take, after a couple of years of experience, you’ll be able to offer your services on a freelance basis to other businesses who may need your expertise as a freelance civil engineer. That is a great way to make extra money or to start setting yourself up for an independent consulting career path. A freelancing platform like Handiss can help you on your freelancing career path when you’re ready.