As a structural engineer, your work involves designing and constructing buildings. You will work within a wider team of architects, builders and engineers.
What is a structural engineer?
A structural engineer oversees the structural integrity of building designs. You will ensure buildings are appropriately created to stay stable and strong while being used for their purpose and weight boundaries. You will be involved at planning level, checking engineering designs, as well as assessing buildings on completion to ensure they meet set standards. You will work alongside architects and a wider construction team to do this, ensuring buildings are safely built and fit for purpose from a variety of professional perspectives.
Once you have chartered engineer status, you’ll be able to add additional designations to your name. As a fully chartered member you will use MIStructE, while associate members use AMIStructE.
As a structural engineer you could work in a variety of different construction areas. You might work on domestic spaces, as a structural engineer for houses and large housing developments, or more commercial complex buildings like skyscrapers, hospitals, and educational buildings. Your work could be in rural spaces or in large cities.
Your responsibilities as a structural engineer will depend on the buildings you work with and the company you work in.
These are the most common duties, however:
- Designing plans for structurally sound buildings, factoring in physical engineering laws to ensure that plans facilitate safe, user friendly structures.
- Using computer aided design (CAD) software and physical hand drawings to plan out building plans.
- Using mathematical models and calculations to assess particular design components or plans.
- Analysing the best materials to use for particular structural work and building designs, assessing strength, durability and flexibility depending on the type of building being built.
- Analysing plans produced by other professionals in your team, such as architects, to ensure that the buildings will be structurally sound while meeting aesthetic requirements and user function.
- Working alongside construction managers and workers, giving explanations and information around safe construction practices.
- Taking feedback from construction managers on the practicality of particular design measures, adjusting plans accordingly while ensuring buildings are still safe to use.
- Troubleshooting issues faced during construction, giving advice on the safest practices to ensure an appropriately designed building.
- Presenting final plans to stakeholders and clients, especially if working within a large team of professionals.
A structural engineer salary will depend on your location, seniority and the type of company you work in. The closer to London you are, the more likely you are to attract higher salaries. Equally the more senior you become, and the larger and more prestigious the company, the more likely you are to earn higher figures.
The average structural engineer salary is around £32,000. Graduate structural engineering jobs or early career engineers are more likely to earn closer to £25,000, while experienced engineers could earn closer to £45,000 and beyond. If you become a chartered engineer with the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE), you are more likely to attract higher salaries by being eligible for highly skilled engineering positions.
Structural engineering is largely seen as a graduate profession. You’ll usually need a degree in some form of mechanical or civil engineering in order to be eligible for structural engineer jobs. You’ll usually need a minimum of 5 GCSEs at grades 9-4 (A*-C) and 3 A Levels, sometimes with a science or maths based subject, to apply.
Examples of degrees that would align you well with this career include:
- Civil Engineering degrees
- Civil and Structural Engineering degrees
- Mechanical Engineering degrees
- Structural Engineering degrees
Some engineers start their career by studying for a more generalised degree. They then take on masters level structural engineering study at a later date.
Some generalised degrees that would align well with further study include:
Training and development
Much of your training as a structural engineer will happen as part of your degree or apprenticeship studies. Once you join the profession, you’ll usually aim to become chartered with the IStructE at associate or chartered level.
You’ll begin by completing Initial Professional Development (IPD) to become a full chartered or associate member of the IStructE. This involves personal, engineering and management skills. You’ll combine training, shadowing, and analysis of your development against core structural engineering values. You’ll be expected to keep record of this via an e-portfolio, which will be assessed prior to membership being granted. You’ll need to sit an IStructE exam on top of this to prove your abilities in the field.
It’s a good idea to build up some experience in industry prior to applying for structural engineering jobs.
Once you have chartered engineer status, you’ll be able to add additional designations to your name. As a fully chartered member you will use MIStructE, while associate members use AMIStructE. You’ll be required to undertake regular continuing professional development (CPD) after this to retain your status as a chartered engineer. This could involve regular audits of your practice, attendance of training, webinars and conferences, as well as wider reading and volunteering.
Your skills as a structural engineer combine academic knowledge, technical ability and commitment to ongoing development.
- A robust knowledge of engineering processes and physical laws for designing safe and appropriate buildings.
- A good understanding of health and safety legislation and requirements to ensure all buildings are compliant.
- Excellent team working skills - you’ll work collaboratively on projects with a wider team of construction professionals from architects to construction managers.
- Confidence in hand drawing designs for initial planning with your wider team.
- Excellent listening skills - you’ll need to take on the opinions and judgements of multiple professionals when compiling a building plan.
- Ability to use CAD software to create more advanced design mockups to be used by a large team of professionals.
- Excellent communication skills - you’ll need to work with colleagues in various disciplines, so you’ll need to be an effective communicator with individuals from all walks of life.
- Excellent understanding of the mathematics and physics involved in your role to ensure calculations are correct.
- Strong attention to detail - you’ll need to assess the structural integrity of completed buildings, spotting the most minute of issues to ensure safety of large structures.
- Willingness to complete CPD to keep on top of professional updates and new techniques to apply to client work.
- Strong negotiation skills - your work will often involve combining the aesthetic requirements of architects with the practical constraints held by construction managers.
It’s a good idea to build up some experience in industry prior to applying for structural engineering jobs. Some universities offer a year in industry as part of their engineering degree courses, offering an excellent opportunity to apply the academic concepts learned during your degree in a professional capacity. If this isn’t available to you, or isn’t something you’re interested in, it’s worth reaching out to your course providers to see if they have connections in your industry that you could tap into. Short placements are still highly valuable and will give you vital experiences of how your knowledge can be applied practically.
You could also reach out to engineering firms near you to ask if they allow shadowing students. It’s worth taking detailed notes of what you observe to use in any application processes in the future, to show that you’re a reflective practitioner.
Alternatively, you could study for structural engineer apprenticeships before applying for structural engineering roles. These training options give you on the job training, while providing a qualification on completion. There are options to take a standard apprenticeship or a degree apprenticeship. It’s worth noting that if you take a standard apprenticeship route without degree incorporation, you would not be eligible to become chartered as a structural engineer, but as a technician.
Working as a structural engineer is a highly skilled occupation with plenty of opportunities for development. Many engineers begin their work as a graduate structural engineer, working towards chartered engineer status and taking on more senior positions once they’ve achieved this. You could aim to become an overseeing manager of a large team of engineers.
A structural engineer oversees the structural integrity of building designs.
Many engineers move between different firms in order to advance in their career. This is especially true if there isn’t a pre-set pathway with their employer. You could move between different forms of engineering, from domestic to commercial, building upon your expertise and upskilling as you go. With the right level of experience you could also work as a structural engineer consultant, giving advice, plans and guidance to firms that require an extra pair of hands, or do not have an employed structural engineer in post.
You might also choose to go down the teaching route. This would involve teaching trainee undergraduate engineers or apprentices at universities and colleges. You’ll usually need to be a chartered engineer to do this.
- Average Structural Engineer Salary in United Kingdom — Payscale.com Retrieved 23 September 2022.