Careers in Civil Engineering

What Do Civil Engineers Do?

The civil engineer's job usually begins with the consideration of a need. It may be the need to relieve a town from increasing traffic, the need to provide clean water for an isolated community or to build a bridge to provide better access. The civil engineer will investigate possible sites, analyze soil and rock samples, predict environmental effects and consult local people; there may be several solutions and the civil engineer will recommend the best option to meet the need. Then the detailed design process begins. Computers are becoming increasingly important in design and can produce detailed drawings of projects and predictions of long term effects. On site, civil engineers are employed to oversee the work. They organize and supervise the workforce, plant and materials, and ensure that the project is completed as designed and planned to budget and to time.

Career Opportunities

Civil engineers are employed by various organizations, including consulting/design firms, construction firms, local, state or federal government, laboratories or research/development firms, law firms, insurance firms and colleges/universities. Below is a description of the various areas of specialization for civil engineers:

Structural civil engineers work with architects and builders to assure that steel and other material used in construction projects exceeds the needs of a given project. With advances in technology and an abundance of creative new building materials, structural civil engineers work on a wider variety of projects than ever before. For example, structural engineers work with entertainment companies to design state of the art amusement park rides that hurl patrons through twists and turns at otherwise unsafe speeds. Structural engineers work in the petroleum industry, developing innovative new offshore oil rigs in locations that were previously considered unstable. These professionals also contribute their efforts to other large construction projects, like inner-city light rail systems and underground supports for new skyscrapers.

Geotechnical civil engineers help builders excavate underground projects and work with experts who manage challenging land renewal projects. When cities want to expand their underground mass transit systems, the call in geo-technical engineers to oversee the tunneling. As more developers erect skyscrapers and other large buildings in urban centers, geo-technical engineers assure that the bedrock can safely sustain the pressure of new structures and the people they will support. Outdoors, geo-technical civil engineers work with emergency management planners to reinforce the banks of flood-prone rivers near new housing developments. They help plan dams and levees to regulate water flow through the area. They even coordinate the placement and the design of landfills and quarries to minimize environmental impact on surrounding homes and businesses.

Transportation civil engineers help us all move around our communities and our country. They work with local and regional planning boards to identify areas of growth and development. They also look for opportunities to alleviate traffic snarls. Once they understand the needs of drivers in a region, they design plans and develop cost estimates for construction projects. Once a new plan has been funded, transportation engineers oversee a variety of subcontractors who build new roads, highways, and bridges. Once the building has been completed, transportation engineers assure citizens that roads are properly maintained and repaired as necessary. Throughout the process of serving the public, transportation engineers must comply with a myriad of local and federal policies for safe construction and maintenance.

Construction civil engineers combine their engineering and leadership skills to ensure that building projects are completed on time and under budget. Construction managers must coordinate the efforts of teams of engineers and laborers to meet tight production schedules. They are often the most visible hub of connection between architects, developers, and construction specialists. Though not all construction managers have civil engineering degrees, this path of study can benefit a future construction manager in a variety of ways. By communicating on the same level and in the same language as specialist engineers, construction managers can develop positive work relationships with consultants and team members. They can also spot potential errors more easily on their own, without having to wait for consultants to arrive to the job site.

Environmental engineers work hard to turn back the clock to a time when we breathed cleaner air and drank cleaner water. They work closely with business leaders and government officials to institute new air pollution standards that reduce harmful emissions from factories without negatively impacting industrial output. They design complex treatment systems that remove contaminants from our air, water, and wastewater.  Environmental engineers also examine the quality of our soil, assuring us that harmful toxins do not seep up through the ground we walk on. They work with agricultural businesses to assure consumers that pesticides and soil nutrients do not affect the quality of the food we eat. They also assure residents of new developments that homes have not been built on contaminated land.

Hydraulic/Hydrology/Water Resource civil engineers redirect water to benefit residents and businesses in a community. They construct canals to speed up shipping while preserving the natural flow of wild fish through a region. They build dams that generate vital electricity while opening up potential new parcels of land for development. They design pipelines that safely transfer fresh water to remote areas, allowing new communities to thrive.  Water resource engineers also oversee projects designed to protect the environment. They develop complex soil drainage systems that prevent new development from negatively impacting existing communities downstream. They help conserve water by installing sophisticated rainwater collection systems for irrigation and grounds keeping purposes.