What you need to know
Civil engineers conceive, design, build, supervise, operate, construct, and maintain infrastructure projects and systems in the public and private sector, including roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment.
Civil engineers generally work in a variety of locations and conditions. It is common for them to split their time between working in an office and working outdoors at construction sites so that they can monitor operations or solve problems onsite. Most work full time.
Some of the things a civil engineer might do:
- Analyze long-range plans, survey reports, maps, and other data to plan and design projects
- Consider construction costs, government regulations, potential environmental hazards, and other factors during the planning and risk-analysis stages of a project
- Compile and submit permit applications to local, state, and federal agencies, verifying that projects comply with various regulations
- Oversee and analyze the results of soil testing to determine the adequacy and strength of foundations
- Analyze the results of tests on building materials, such as concrete, wood, asphalt, or steel, for use in particular projects
- Prepare cost estimates for materials, equipment, or labor to determine a project’s economic feasibility
- Use design software to plan and design transportation systems, hydraulic systems, and structures in line with industry and government standards
- Perform or oversee surveying operations to establish building locations, site layouts, reference points, grades, and elevations to guide construction
- Manage the repair, maintenance, and replacement of public and private infrastructure
- Decision-making skills: Civil engineers often balance multiple and frequently conflicting objectives, such as determining the feasibility of plans with regard to financial costs and safety concerns. Urban and regional planners often look to civil engineers for advice on these issues. Civil engineers must be able to make good decisions based on best practices, their own technical knowledge, and their own experience.
- Leadership skills: Civil engineers take ultimate responsibility for the projects that they manage or research that they perform. Therefore, they must be able to lead planners, surveyors, construction managers, civil engineering technicians, civil engineering technologists, and others in implementing their project plan.
- Math skills: Civil engineers use the principles of calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced topics in mathematics for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.
- Organizational skills: Only licensed civil engineers can sign the design documents for infrastructure projects. This requirement makes it imperative that civil engineers be able to monitor and evaluate the work at the job site as a project progresses. That way, they can ensure compliance with the design documents. Civil engineers also often manage several projects at the same time, and thus must be able to balance time needs and to effectively allocate resources.
- Problem-solving skills: Civil engineers work at the highest level of the planning, design, construction, and operation of multifaceted projects or research. The many variables involved require that they possess the ability to identify and evaluate complex problems. They must be able to then use their skill and training to develop cost-effective, safe, and efficient solutions.
- Speaking skills: Civil engineers must present reports and plans to audiences of people with a wide range of backgrounds and technical knowledge. This requires the ability to speak clearly and to converse with people in various settings and to translate engineering and scientific information into easy-to-understand concepts.
- Writing skills: Civil engineers must be able to communicate with others, such as architects, landscape architects, urban and regional planners. They also must be able to explain projects to elected officials and citizens. Civil engineers must be able to write reports that are clear, concise, and understandable to those with little or no technical or scientific background.
The average pay for civil engineers in the United States ranges from $60,550 to $133,320 as of May 2021.
The specific pay depends on factors such as level of experience, education and training, geographic location, and specific industry.
Employment of civil engineers is projected to grow 8 percent from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
As current U.S. infrastructure experiences growing obsolescence, civil engineers will be needed to manage projects to rebuild, repair, and upgrade bridges, roads, levees, dams, airports, buildings, and other structures.
The work of civil engineers will be needed for renewable-energy projects. Thus, as these new projects gain approval, civil engineers will be further involved in overseeing the construction of structures such as wind farms and solar arrays.
Civil engineers need a bachelor’s degree. They typically need a graduate degree and a license for promotion to senior positions. Although licensure requirements vary from state to state, civil engineers usually must be licensed if they provide services directly to the public.
Further education after the bachelor’s degree, along with the PE license and previous experience, is helpful in getting a job as a manager.
Discover some of the courses you will take pursuing a degree in Civil Engineering.