Civil engineering was one of the earliest engineering disciplines and it continues to be in demand. Civil engineers design the infrastructure we rely on every day, from roads and bridges to water supply and sewage systems. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of civil engineers is expected to grow by 24 percent from 2008 to 2018--much faster than the national average. Driven by an expanding population and aging infrastructure, this growth means plenty of job opportunities for qualified civil engineers.
What Does a Civil Engineer Do?
Civil engineers design and oversee construction on roads, buildings, tunnels, dams, bridges, airports, water supply and sewage systems. When designing each of these infrastructure elements, civil engineers must be aware of the overall project cost, the expected lifetime of a project, government regulations and environmental hazards such as hurricanes and earthquakes. Civil engineers generally specialize in a given discipline such as construction, transportation, water resources, structural engineering or geotechnical engineering.
Before construction begins, civil engineers must complete the following tasks:
- Discuss project goals with builders, city officials and engineering team
- Analyze the forces that will act on a structure (gravity, wind, seismic activity, friction, etc)
- Analyze soil, ground surveys and other geologic data
- Compute load requirements, water flow rates and stress factors
- Determine the best materials to use
- Estimate total cost of materials and labor
- Design structures using computer-aided design software and traditional drafting techniques
During construction, civil engineers must:
- Visit construction sites to monitor progress
- Manage staff members at construction sites
- Give advice regarding structural repairs, construction and design modifications
- Ensure construction meets design specifications
Civil engineers rely on technology to help them with the design and construction process. In addition to understanding tools like compasses, electronic distance meters and drafting scales, civil engineers must also be expert users of computer-aided design, map creation and project management software.
Steps to Becoming a Civil Engineer
Education is key to becoming a civil engineer. Most entry-level positions require a bachelor's degree in civil engineering, and some research positions require a graduate degree. Civil engineers are generally detail-oriented, analytical, creative and strong in math and science.
To become a civil engineer, take the following steps:
- In high school, challenge yourself to take advanced mathematics and science courses, including honors and Advanced Placement courses (if available). Demonstrating your abilities in math and science will help you gain admission to an undergraduate engineering program.
- Attend a four-year college or university with a reputable engineering program and major in civil engineering. You will likely spend the first two years taking mathematics, science, introductory engineering and humanities courses. In the last two years, you will take more advanced engineering courses and specialize in a given area of civil engineering.
- Complete a civil engineering internship while in school to gain experience and decide on a field within civil engineering.
- As you approach graduation, apply for an entry-level civil engineering job. You can expect to work under an experienced engineer to get started.
- After working for four years, apply for State licensing if you plan to offer services directly to the public.
Following these steps should have you well on your way to a career in civil engineering. As a civil engineer, you can expect to earn a generous salary--according to the BLS, civil engineers earned a median income of $76,590 in 2009.
How to Become a GREAT Civil Engineer
After earning a bachelor's degree in civil engineering and beginning a career, you can move to the top of your field by taking the following professional and educational steps:
- On-the-Job Training. As a recent graduate, you will start out working under the supervision of an experienced engineer and your employer might require formal training sessions and seminars. As you gain experience, you should be given more responsibility and the chance to work independently on projects.
- Licensure. Engineers who offer their services directly to the public are required to be licensed by their State. In addition to earning a bachelor's degree, you must work for four years and pass a State examination to become licensed. Licensed engineers are referred to as professional engineers, or PEs.
- Continuing education. Civil engineers must stay up-to-date with new technology and building methods, so continuing education is important for a long-lasting career. PEs must attend continuing education courses in order to renew their licenses.
- Professional Certification. Professional certification is available from a number of professional engineering organizations, including the American Society of Civil Engineers. Certification indicates expertise in a certain area of civil engineering and it can help you advance to managerial and senior technical positions.
Civil engineering is a growing field responsible for maintaining and expanding America's infrastructure. With a bachelor's degree in civil engineering, you can become part of this exciting field and expand your role through licensure, continuing education and experience. Now that you know how to become a civil engineer, you can work your way to a rewarding career.