Career Guide

Civil Engineer

By Ben Maples  · Feb 28th 2023

One of the most popular jobs in the UK is that of an Engineer. An Engineer has many different incarnations for a business.

Two Civil Engineers look up at a crane while working.

Civil engineers work on large-scale construction projects. These projects can range from skyscrapers to total urban redevelopment projects. All civil engineers, whether contracting or consulting, need in-depth knowledge of health and safety, construction processes, and design.


Civil Engineering Career Guide

What is a civil engineer?

A civil engineer is someone who designs and manages large construction projects. Civil engineering contractors (sometimes known as a site engineer) will take the designs from consulting civil engineers and oversee the construction and work concerning the site.

There are two main types of civil engineers:

  • Consulting civil engineer: Civil engineers who advise on the design and construction of projects.
  • Contracting civil engineer: Oversees the actual construction of work on the ground and will work with consulting engineers to ensure work is carried out according to plan.

All civil engineers need in-depth knowledge of health and safety, construction processes and design. Civil engineers will either work on-site or in an office, assisting architects or site workers or providing remote support.

Responsibilities

The responsibilities you will have will depend on what type of civil engineer you are and what area you specialise in.

The most common responsibilities of a civil engineer are:

Consulting engineers:

  • Conduct technical evaluations and investigate construction sites.
  • Create comprehensive designs.
  • Evaluate project risks and handle risk management responsibilities.
  • Liaise with architects over designs.
  • Advertise trainee civil engineer jobs.
  • Mentor and manage junior team members.
  • Monitor and advise on site progress.
  • Oversee bidding processes and create proposals.
  • Use both creative and analytical thinking to solve design and development challenges.

Contracting engineers:

  • Communicate and negotiate changes with architects and other engineers.
  • Effectively interact with a variety of individuals, including clients, architects, other engineering professionals, subcontractors,
  • and members of the public.
  • Maintain health and safety on the worksite.
  • Manage the logistics and scheduling of materials and work.
  • Oversee the construction process.

These responsibilities can change as you move into more senior roles. You may also be responsible for training new civil engineers and carrying out post-construction reports and assessments.


Work experience is not essential for this role, but is highly desired.

Salary

The salary for a civil engineer depends on several key factors. Where you are working is one of the main influences. Those working in London earn more than those in other areas of the country. Another key factor will be your qualifications. Those with an undergraduate degree will typically have a higher entry point than those with a foundation degree or a higher national diploma (HND). The kind of civil engineer you are can also impact how much money you can potentially earn. The company you work for will also have an influence on your earning potential.

Typically, civil engineers (consulting and contracting) tend to start off with a salary range of £25,000 to £30,000. With experience, your salary can generally rise to around £35,000. Those who are members of the Institution of Civil Engineering (ICE) can earn as much as £55,000. Directors and other senior executives can earn substantially more, with salaries reported at around £126,000 in London and £89,000 in other areas.


Civil Engineering Career Guide

Qualifications

A degree is not required for this role but is highly desired. Most employers accept those with either an HND or a foundation degree; however, those with a degree tend to have a higher salary entry point.

The best subjects to study at university are:

Any qualifications you study must be accredited by the ICE.

Training and development

Civil engineers can also register with the ICE to achieve Chartered Engineer (IEng or CEng status). A degree is not required to achieve this status; however, you will need to have an ICE-approved equivalent.


A civil engineer is someone who designs and manages large construction projects.

Sometimes, civil engineers will need to take other qualifications to meet the requirements of the ICE’s educational base. In this instance, civil engineers will often study either an MEng (Master of Engineering) (Hons) or a BEng (Bachelor of Engineering) (Hons) and a relevant postgraduate degree. Generally, employers will have structured programmes in place to meet the requirements for ICE membership.

Those looking to gain charted status, will need to complete a continuing professional development (CPD). As this is a regulated industry, most professional organisations, such as the Engineering Council, will require you to complete one, as will most employers.

Skills

Civil engineers will need several key skills to be successful in their roles. The best skills for this role are:

  • Adaptability.
  • An ability to work in a team.
  • An ability to work on your own.
  • An ability to work to deadlines.
  • An understanding of technical issues.
  • Excellent IT skills.
  • Excellent attention to detail.
  • Excellent negotiation skills.
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills.
  • Flexibility.
  • Strong mathematical understanding.

These skills can be further honed through training and development.


Civil Engineering Career Guide

Work experience

Work experience is not essential for this role, but is highly desired. Your prior work experience does not necessarily need to be in the industry. Many civil engineers will have previously worked with accountants, law firms, or even areas of the civil service.

Of course, experience in construction is also helpful. Regardless of what level you have worked in construction, be it as a site worker, project manager, or even as an architect, experience in construction can be a huge benefit, even if it is not entirely essential.


A degree is not required for this role but is highly desired. Most employers accept those with either an HND or a foundation degree.

Many companies will offer work experience placements. You can find civil engineering apprenticeships or civil engineering placements, but you may be able to find placements that have more of a construction focus which will prove helpful later in your career.

Career prospects

The career prospects for a civil engineer are very exciting. Typically, you will start off at a graduate level as a graduate site engineer and work towards senior levels and eventually chartership. People employed by contracting companies typically work towards gaining chartered membership, which allows them to work on more prominent sites, take on more responsibility and move into managerial positions.

One popular route of progression is management. Here, you may work as a contracts manager or company director, where you will be responsible for teams of workers and for company policy moving forward.

Most civil engineers progress to specialist fields after gaining at least three years of experience. Specialisms include geotechnics, environmental or water engineering, coastal and marine, highways and transportation, tunnelling, and soil mechanics.

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