A Civil Engineer's job focuses mainly on construction of infrastructure and buildings, this might include project management in the commercial construction industry, geotechnical engineering, environmental engineering, hydrology and coastal engineering. Civil engineering is a very stable field of engineering to be in, and can also be very lucrative.
Many civil engineers continue their education with a Master's degree while working to become a PE (Professional Engineer), which can result in more career options and improvements in salary. To be a civil engineer, you'll likely need a degree. See below for some degree options or read our summary on the civil engineering degree for more information.
What Do Civil Engineers Do
There are two major branches of Civil Engineering, construction and structural engineering. Engineers who specialize in construction will often work as project managers. They are responsible for the time management of the project which involves the order of trades involved on a project, keeping the project on track and consulting with other engineers involved in the project such as architectural engineers and mechanical engineers.
Structural engineering includes the design of bridges or anything structural or load bearing in some capacity. In order to prepare a safe design, structural engineers consider many factors including the construction materials, the expected loads that will be placed upon the completed structure and special issues such as seismic or wind considerations. Structural engineers find employment with construction companies, design firms and private consultants.
Expected Salary for a Civil Engineer
Civil Engineers are paid based on their experience in almost all cases. As Civil Engineering is a very broad job description there are differences in salary across a number of industries. The median salary is approx. $75,000 while those with very little experience can expect to earn approx. $50,00 per year. A Civil Engineer with more than ten years experience would comfortably earn $100,00 per year.
A Civil Engineer won’t generally earn as much as some higher paying engineering jobs such as Petroleum Engineering, however the median wage is close to the average salary an engineer earns across all strands of engineering.
Construction Management Career
A major field of Civil Engineering is construction management. Civil engineers engaged in this capacity are contracted by the builder or developer to essentially time manage the project. This involves specialized knowledge of all trades involved and planning for contingencies such as weather. This is a demanding job and requires an ability to work under pressure. When a large development falls behind schedule many millions of dollars can be at stake which can create a high pressure environment to work in.
Geotechnical Engineering Career
A Geotechnical engineer is another specialty that is responsible for pipelines, water mains and other related infrastructure. One can also specialize in urban planning and transportation. Among the fastest growing branches of this discipline are environmental and water resource engineering. These two specialties address natural resources and how they should be managed including waste disposal, pollution and flood control. Other degrees under this category include earth science, surveying, materials and coastal engineering.
Environmental Engineering Career
As the name would suggest, environmental engineers are concerned with developing ways to prevent pollution of the natural environment and with remediating areas that have already been polluted by industrial activity or mining. Environmental engineering also encompasses aspects of urban planning as well as the health and safety of indoor environments. Environmental engineers are typically employed by private consulting firms and governmental regulatory agencies.
Transportation Engineering Career
Transportation engineers design and maintain roadways and public transportation systems. These engineers also work to improve traffic flow patterns, alleviate traffic congestion and prevent vehicle accidents. Most transportation engineers are employed by federal, state, county or municipal governmental agencies, although a small number work for private companies.
Soils and Geotechnical Engineering Career
Engineers who specialize in soil and geotechnical engineering are responsible for foundation design, slope stabilization and soil mechanics. This discipline also encompasses mining engineering. Engineers in this specialization are typically employed by large construction firms, private consultants, and mining and petroleum companies.
Hydraulics and Hydrology / Coastal Engineering Career
Hydraulics is a branch of civil engineering that deals with the flow of liquids through pipes and open channels such as drainage ditches or canals. Hydrologic engineering is a related field that deals with the flow of water overland and in rivers and streams. Design of storm-water retention and detention structures and dams are associated with hydro-logic engineering. Hydro-logic engineers are employed by pipeline companies, private consultants and governmental agencies.
Public Health Engineering (Water and Wastewater) Career
Water and waste water engineers are responsible for designing the systems that treat public drinking water and sewage. These treatment systems vary greatly in size and scope depending upon the number of customers served and the treatment technologies used. Water and wastewater engineers primarily work for private consultant and design firms, local governmental agencies and public and private utilities.
In some cases these civil engineering specializations overlap. For example, water and wastewater engineers often employ hydraulic principles in designing treatment plants. Engineers who design foundations must incorporate structural considerations when preparing a foundation design.