Dams, bridges, roads and tunnels are awe-inspiring structures. As our population grows, we will likely need more of them, and those that exist will need to be repaired and maintained. It is important work -- and much of it falls to civil engineers. Here is a glimpse into what civil engineers do, how to become one and what to expect in the field.
What civil engineers do
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics civil engineers design and oversee major construction projects. In addition to the projects noted above, these professionals can also design buildings, roads, airports and water or sewage treatment centers. Some choose to specialize in a specific area of the field, like transportation, structural or geotechnical engineering. Duties can vary by employer or specialty, but may include the following tasks:
- Planning projects by analyzing maps,survey reports and other data
- Estimating construction costs
- Considering government regulations, environmental hazards and other factors when planning a project
- Determining foundation strength and adequacy via soil testing
- Testing building materials
- Providing estimates of labor, equipment and materials costs
- Using design software to plan transportation systems, hydraulic systems and other major projects to government standards
- Managing or participating in surveys to establish grades and elevation
- Presenting their findings for public record, bid proposals and environmental impact statements
The BLS notes that keen problem-solving, decision-making and leadership skills are important qualities for civil engineers; so are writing, math and project management savvy. Many of the more practical skills demanded of them are mastered in civil engineer schools.
How to become a civil engineer
Civil engineering is a highly technical, skilled profession, so the proper training is a must. According to the BLS, civil engineers must earn bachelor's degrees to enter the field, but one in five earn master's degrees, which may be a requirement for advancement to managerial positions. Civil engineer schools typically require four years of study; classes can include engineering mechanics, fluid dynamics and mathematics. Some students can complete at least part of their civil engineer education online.
The BLS reports that civil engineers who want to sell their services publicly must be licensed. Licensure is also required of engineers who lead major projects or supervise other engineers and technicians. Licensing requirements may vary from one state to the next, but usually involve at least one formal exam. Some engineers must pass a series of exams and accrue a minimum number of field hours to advance through the licensing process. For example, some states require one to become a civil engineering intern before they can become a civil engineering professional. All licenses require one to attend civil engineer school.
Civil engineer salary and career outlook
Here's a look at the type of salary or job growth numbers civil engineers may expect in the coming years:
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