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Civil Engineer

Source of Information: Next Step / DirectGov / Careers Advice Service

Civil Engineer

The Work

As a civil engineer you would plan, design and manage all types of construction projects, from bridge repairs to the building of new sports stadia.

You could work in any one of the following specialist areas of engineering:

  • structural dams, buildings, offshore platforms and pipelines
  • transportation roads, railways, canals and airports
  • environmental water supply networks, drainage and flood barriers
  • maritime ports, harbours and sea defences
  • geotechnical mining, earthworks and construction foundations.

These branches can overlap, but in all areas, your typical duties could include:

  • discussing requirements with the client and colleagues
  • analysing survey, mapping and materials-testing data with computer modelling software
  • drawing up blueprints, using computer aided design (CAD)
  • judging whether projects are workable by assessing materials, costs, time and labour requirements
  • assessing the environmental impact and risks connected to projects
  • preparing bids for tenders, and reporting to clients, public agencies and planning bodies
  • managing, directing and monitoring progress during each phase of a project
  • making sure sites meet legal guidelines, and health and safety requirements.

You would normally work on projects alongside other professionals, such as architects, surveyors and building contractors.

Hours and Environment

You would normally work between 35 and 40 hours a week, Monday to Friday. You may also have to provide out-of-hours cover to deal with any problems.

Your time would be split between the office and on site. Sitework would be in all weathers and may involve extensive travel, sometimes overseas, depending on the contract.

Skills and Interests

  • excellent maths, science, and IT skills
  • the ability to explain design ideas and plans clearly
  • the ability to analyse large amounts of data and assess solutions
  • confident decision-making ability
  • excellent communication skills
  • project management skills
  • the ability to work within budgets and to deadlines
  • good teamworking skills
  • a comprehensive knowledge of relevant legal regulations.


You would normally need a three-year Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) degree or four-year Masters (MEng) degree in civil engineering for this career. These qualifications are important if you want to work towards incorporated or chartered engineer status (see the further training section for details). You could take other engineering-related subjects, but it may take you longer to fully qualify.

You will need at least five GCSEs (A-C) and two or three A levels, including maths and a science subject (normally physics), or equivalent qualifications to get on to a degree course.

You should check with colleges and universities for their exact entry requirements, as they may accept a relevant Access to Higher Education award.

If you already work in the industry as a technician, you could qualify as a civil engineer by studying part-time for a BTEC HNC/HND, foundation degree or degree in civil engineering.

You can find more information about engineering careers and courses on the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) website. The Engineering Training Council (Northern Ireland) has careers and course information for that area.


You would usually start as a civil engineer on a company's graduate training scheme. You would train under the supervision of a mentor, developing your technical knowledge and business skills. Training schemes can last between one and two years.

You could help your career development by working towards incorporated or chartered status. To do this, you should register with your professional industry body, such as ICE, then apply to the Engineering Council.

As an incorporated engineer, you would specialise in the day-to-day management of engineering operations. At chartered level, you would have a more strategic role, planning, researching and developing new ideas, and streamlining management methods.


You may find opportunities with local authorities, building contractors, power companies, environmental agencies and specialist consulting firms. You could also find work overseas with British consulting or contracting firms, working for foreign governments, and oil and mining companies.

With incorporated or chartered status, you could move into senior project management roles, specialise in a particular field or work as a consultant.

You could also work with international development and disaster relief agencies. Contact Engineers for Disaster Relief (RedR UK) for more information.

You may find the following useful for job vacancies and general reading: (links open in new window)

Engineering Jobs Network
The Engineer Online (list of structural engineering companies)

We do not accept responsibility for the content of external sites.

Annual Income

  • Graduate salaries are between 17,000 and 25,000 a year.
  • Experienced engineers earn between 25,000 and 40,000.
  • Senior Chartered Engineers can earn between 60,000 and 100,000 a year.

Figures are intended as a guideline only.

Further information

If you would like to discuss your career options with a learning advisor at the Careers Advice Service advice line, call 0800 100 900 or use our online enquiry form.
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