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Civil engineer salary & career outlook

If you live in a home, drive on a road or take showers, your life has undoubtedly been touched by a civil engineer. Virtually every road, bridge and community is planned, designed and maintained by these professionals. The importance of their work can win them a great deal of job security and a good paycheck. Read on to learn more about civil engineering, including important career and training trends.

What civil engineers do

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2011), civil engineers design and supervise large-scale construction projects such as buildings, roads, airports, bridges, and water or sewage systems. While their duties can vary, most complete variations of the following tasks:

  • Soil analysis
  • Building material testing
  • Project cost estimation
  • Survey reports, maps, and other data analysis
  • Planning and designing transportation systems or structures in compliance with government standards
  • Overseeing construction sites

How to become a civil engineer

Civil engineering is a highly technical field, so higher education is a must. According to bls.gov, all civil engineers must earn at least a bachelor's degree to enter the field; advanced degrees are typically only necessary for those who want to enter managerial, research or academic positions. Those who want to sell their services publicly must also be licensed, a process that requires them to attend civil engineer training programs approved by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. In some cases you can pursue at least some of this civil engineer training online.

Employment outlook for civil engineers

An aging infrastructure and growing population could spell opportunity for civil engineers: bls.gov projects that employment for these professionals will grow by 19 percent between 2010 and 2020. Bls.gov also notes that because infrastructures must always be maintained, civil engineers enjoy some degree of job security even when governments are forced to tighten their purse strings.

The U.S. Department of Labor (dol.gov, 2011) expects employment for civil engineers to grow across all states, but the following should fare best:

  • Utah (33 percent growth)
  • Maryland (31 percent growth)
  • North Dakota (29 percent growth)

Civil engineer salary: 2011 ranges and other information

In 2009, PayScale (payscale.com) ranked civil engineering among the top five most financially rewarding engineering fields in the nation, and with good reason: According to bls.gov, the national median civil engineer salary in 2011 was $77,990, with the middle 50 percent earning between $61,910 and $98,270 as a national median salary. The top 10 percent earned up to a $119,620 median national salary. It's important to note that salaries can vary tremendously from one industry to the next. According to bls.gov, commercial and industrial machinery companies paid the most in 2011, followed by specialized design services and heavy civil engineering construction firms.

Location is another factor that can influence a civil engineer's earnings. The following states were among the better-paying areas for these professionals in 2011, as reported by bls.gov (2011):

  • California ($95,070)
  • Alaska ($91,420)
  • Texas ($89,840)

The top-paying metropolitan areas for civil engineers in 2011:

  • St. Mary's County, Md. ($113,560)
  • Kingston, N.Y. ($103,570)
  • San Jose - Sunnyvale - Santa Clara, Calif. ($102,930)