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Career Advice

How to Become a Civil Engineer

civil engineeringHow to Become a Civil Engineer

‘Civil engineer’ is a term which encompasses many activities across a wide range of work environments. On the most basic level a civil engineer is a professional who is involved in the design, construction and maintenance of the physical and naturally built environment…but as always, it’s much more complicated than it sounds.

DIfferent types of Civil Engineer

There are too many different categories and subcategories of civil engineers to possibly mention all of them at once, just think of the variety of structures which exist in the modern human environment –  we can however narrow them down into a few “main” areas.

Structural – Is concerned with the design and construction of buildings, bridges, towers, flyovers, underpasses, tunnels, walls and many many more man-made structures.

Environmental – As the name suggests is an area of civil engineering which seeks to find innovative/modern methods of environmental protection against negative effects of human activity. These engineers can be found working in projects like wind farms, water purification, waste water treatment and solid waste treatment, air pollution, and in the management of hazardous waste.

Coastal – This is an area of engineering which is becoming ever more prevalent given growing concerns about effects of climate change/rising sea levels in the coastal environment. They work, in effect, to protect beaches and coastal areas against flooding and erosion by the sea, but also in areas like beach building and protection of dune ecosystems.

Urban – This type of civil engineer will usually work within towns and cities designing, building and maintaining roads, pedestrian areas, pavements, water networks, sewers, street lighting, public parks, bicycle paths and much more.

Work Activities

As you can imagine, with such a wide range of possible projects the work activities of different civil engineers can vary significantly. However there are some roles and responsibilities which are fairly standard within the profession.

  • Liaising with clients and colleagues in order to ascertain planning requirements

  • Planning, undertaking and analysing the results of technical and feasibility studies of a project

  • Carrying out risk assessments

  • Overseeing tendering procedures

  • Creating detailed designs through the use of a range of computer packages

  • Assessing what the potential environmental impacts of a project will be

  • Carrying out very complicated mathematical calculations

  • Finding workable solutions to design problems which may arise

  • Scheduling material and equipment purchases and delivery

  • Ensuring the accurate and timely completion of a project

Skills and Attributes

From this list of work activities you will no doubt have already guessed that there are a number of skills and attributes which are pretty much essential for a successful career as a civil engineer. Some of these include;

  • Highly developed abilities in, and flair for mathematics

  • Advanced technical skills which include a significant working knowledge of physics principles

  • A methodical approach to work which will aid you in the design, planning and execution of projects

  • Well honed organisational skills. These are absolutely essential given the large workload covering a number of aspects of a project that a civil engineer is involved in.

  • The vision to be able to identify each small job within the role as being part of a much wider project

  • The creativity to always keep in mind the ‘finished product’ that you and your team are working towards

  • Great people skills – this is particularly important in this role as you will be dealing with a vast range of people within a project team.

  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills

  • Negotiating, supervisory and leadership skills

  • People/Project management skills and the ability to delegate tasks

bridgeWork hours and salary

As is the case with many roles, the salary that you can expect to receive will depend very much on the level of experience and seniority that you have. As a general rule though, newly qualified civil engineers could expect to earn around £20,000. With growing experience, skill and seniority however the salary range can increase quite significantly with some of the most experienced earning in excess of £80,000.

Civil engineers most commonly work full-time and will normally have a 37.5 hour working week falling somewhere within the standard 8am-6pm working day. However those choosing this profession must be prepared that on occasion they may be required to work hours which fall outside of this particular working schedule, especially when unforeseen issues arise on a project and need immediate attention.

You must also be willing and prepared to work within a wide range of environments. In the role at least 50% of your  time will be spent on site, which will often include being exposed to the elements – the rest of your time will mostly be spent in an office.


It is normally the standard expectation that anyone wishing to have a successful career in the field of civil engineering will have completed a three-year Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) Degree or a four-year Master’s (MEng) Degree in Civil Engineering.

As is the case with all courses the entry requirements stipulated by different universities will vary greatly, so it is very important that you check the relevant prospectus to confirm the grades that you will need. Generally however, universities will require at least five GCSEs (grades A-C) and three A levels, including maths and a science subject (often physics).

It may be the case that equivalent qualifications such as an Access to Higher Education or Level 3 Diploma in Engineering may be enough for you to be awarded a place onto a university course, you should check the university’s entry requirements to see if this is the case.

If you need more information on any aspect of becoming, or indeed working as a civil engineer then you should pop over to the Institution of Civil Engineers  which is the qualifying body and regulator of the profession.

If however you fancy taking a different route, have a look at our career directory where will find loads more guides.


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