Civil engineers are professionals who work in the construction industry designing and supervising projects such as constructing, repairing or maintaining tunnels, bridges, roads, buildings, airports and sewage and water supply systems. The responsibilities of civil engineers include analyzing data to plan projects, making budgetary considerations during the project planning phase, testing soil to evaluate foundation strength and testing building materials to decide which materials to use in a construction project. Civil engineers also use specialized design software to plan projects that meet the standards set up by the industry and the government. Civil engineers often hold positions as supervisors or administrators. They also work within the research, education and design fields.
Civil engineers need to earn a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or a related specialty from a program accredited by ABET, which will then allow the graduate to gain licensure, which is needed to practice as a civil engineer. For those civil engineers who would like supervisory positions, a master’s degree in a related area is recommended, since these types of positions require advanced degrees and experience.
A Day in the Life
Civil engineers work long, hard days. Construction projects have three phases and civil engineers are involved in all of them. The planning phase means long hours inside the office, planning and designing the construction project. The implementation phase or actual construction stage means many hours on-site, supervising and coordinating the project. This phase might include spending days at a time living on the construction site to be available to solve problems as they arise. Finally, after construction is completed, the infrastructure phase means the civil engineer works back in the office, evaluating the project, conducting stress tests and completing associated paperwork.
Common and Related Majors
To become a civil engineer, students can major in civil engineering or in one of the related specialties. These specialties include environmental engineering, structural engineering, urban engineering, forensic engineering, coastal engineering and materials engineering. The general civil engineering degree offers a solid foundation for students who want to continue their studies with a graduate degree in one of the many subspecialties.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, employment opportunities within this field are projected to grow 19 percent through 2020, which is about average growth and matches the growth of other professions. Much of this growth will be due to the needs arising from aging infrastructure, since roads, bridges, dams and other structures will need updating and repair. There is also a need to increase the number of water and sewage treatment plants to match population growth.
To continue to grow in the civil engineering field, professionals need to acquire as much practical experience as possible while also pursuing an advanced specialty degree. A civil engineering degree provides a base for professionals to choose career paths in a variety of industries and provides on-going opportunities for acquiring experience.
As of May 2010, the BLS lists the median yearly salary for a civil engineer as $77,560. However, the lowest 10 percent earned less than $50,560 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $119,320. Civil engineers who work for the federal government earned median salaries of $89,450, while those who worked for state governments earned median salaries of $74,300.
Best States/Countries for this job
Professionals can find many high-paying job opportunities across the country.
The top five states for civil engineers according to the BLS include:
- New York