What is Civil Engineering?

Civil engineering is a broad area of study that can be broken down into many specialized disciplines, ranging from management of coastline erosion to design of public transportation systems. Since this field focuses on large-scale construction projects, professionals must become familiar with the principles of environmental, structural and geotechnical engineering. Due to the scope and cost of civil projects, successful engineers need to be thorough in their work and adhere to various legal regulations as well as contractual obligations. Senior positions often require advanced analytical, organizational and communications skills.

General and Specialized Fields

Most newcomers to the civil engineering profession begin as generalists, and some stay that way for the duration of their career. However, many engineers eventually pursue a more specialized career path by focusing on a sub-discipline related to their area of work. There are dozens of different engineering disciplines that professionals can pursue, including construction, coastal, environmental, transportation, utility and geotechnical. The American Society of Civil Engineers offers resources and detailed explanations regarding the various sub-disciplines found within their field.

Working as a Civil Engineer

In the United States, most civil engineers work on projects that are commissioned by local or federal government agencies. Individual engineers typically work as part of a much larger team that includes both generalists and specialists, as well as surveyors and a variety of contractors participating in different stages of the project. Engineers are involved at virtually every stage of a large project, including early planning, on-site development, and end-stage evaluations. Exact job responsibilities vary extensively depending on experience and project, but many engineers split their time between the office chair and outdoor work sites.

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Licensing and Professional Advancement

Licensing is an important obligation for civil engineers, as it is required to participate in most government projects. Every state in the US has its own certification board that creates and administers licensing requirements for engineers. As a national body that oversees examination and certification for engineering disciplines, the National Council of Examiners for Engineering (NCEES) offers a selection of resources regarding certifications and individual state board requirements. Since many states require civil engineers to participate in on-going professional development to maintain their license, the NCEES also helps members find qualifying opportunities to hone their professional skills.

Preparing for a Career

A Bachelor’s degree is typically required for entry-level employment as a civil engineer, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Students are advised to seek internship opportunities during their education, as it is a crucial part of their professional development. Internships also provide an invaluable practical experience that will be useful for passing licensing and certification exams.

There are many different roles and positions available to civil engineers as they gain experience, which gives them plenty of options for shaping their career path. The BLS also reported a median pay for the profession at around $80,000 in 2016, as well as a strong job growth outlook in the following decade. Civil engineering can be an appealing career choice, but prospective students shouldn’t underestimate the mental and physical demands of the job.

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