Civil engineers design and supervise the construction and maintenance of public facilities, such as roads, bridges, pipelines, subdivisions, airports, waste water systems, and many others. Some specialize in more specific fields like construction, land development, structural or hydraulic design, soil mechanics, waste water treatment, or solid waste management. Civil engineers usually design the most important features of a project, then supervise others in drawing plans, writing specifications, and preparing budgets. Their work in the field most often involves surveying, site investigation, or construction inspection and supervision. They sometimes sample soil and materials in the field or in the laboratory.
In the field of structural engineering, civil engineers may calculate the structural requirements needed to ensure the viability of certain design features. They often check work in the field to make sure it is conforming to the design. They also consult on existing structures to determine if repair or replacement is necessary. In the transportation field, civil engineers design streets and highways, planning better traffic flow. They prepare reports on environmental impact, draw preliminary plans, and inspect construction materials.
Civil engineers must have an interest in community affairs and environmental issues, along with mathematical and mechanical aptitude. They need to be able to work effectively as part of a team. They should have the ability to communicate in writing and orally. These communication skills are vital in the field of civil engineering because civil engineers interact so often with many non-engineering specialists in a wide variety of fields. Civil engineers should be analytical, creative, detail-oriented, and inquisitive.
In 2002, civil engineers earned a median annual salary of $60,070. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $48,360, and the highest 10%, who earned more than $91,010. According to a 2003 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, bachelor’s degree candidates in civil engineering received starting offers averaging $41,669 a year, and master’s degree candidates averaged $47,245 a year. Ph.D. candidates averaged $69,079.
- Federal government — $67,410
- Local government — $62,210
- Architectural, engineering, and related services — $59,060
- State government — $58,350
- Nonresidential building construction — $54,190
Training and Education
High school students interested in becoming civil engineers should focus on college preparatory classes in chemistry, physics, English, shop, and drafting. It is important for them to take as many math classes as possible, such as algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus.
A bachelor’s degree is required for all entry-level civil engineering positions. Most programs include study in the biomedical specialty, as well as courses in mathematics and science. Many programs include a design course, along with a computer or laboratory class. Many colleges offer students the option of earning a 2- or 4-year degree in engineering technology, which include hands-on laboratory courses that prepare students for practical design and production work, as opposed to more theory-based jobs. While graduates of these programs may obtain the same kinds of jobs as graduates with a bachelor’s degree in engineering, they are not qualified to register as professional engineers.
Faculty positions and many research and development programs in civil engineering require graduate training. Some engineers earn degrees in business administration to enhance their education and give themselves more career options. In fact, many high-level executives in government and business started their careers as engineers. Engineers in the United States are required to be licensed if they offer their services directly to the public. When engineers become licensed, they are designated Professional Engineers (PE). PE requirements include a degree from an engineering program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), 4 years of relevant work experience, and successful completion of a State examination. Entry-level engineers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers, and may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a staff of engineers and technicians.
In 2002, civil engineers held about 228,000 jobs.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of civil engineers is expected to increase more slowly than the average. Many civil engineers are employed by construction-related services, which usually decrease hiring during slow economic times. Employment of civil engineers will also vary highly according to geographic area.
For more information on how to pursue this profession, please see our Computer Training and Technology Education directory.