Civil engineers design and supervise large construction projects, including roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment.
Many civil engineers hold supervisory or administrative positions ranging from supervisor of a construction site to city engineer. Others work in design, construction, research, and teaching. They work with others on projects and may be assisted by civil engineering technicians and technologists. Their work typically involves the following:
Civil engineers work on complex projects, so they usually specialize in one of several areas. Geotechnical engineers work to make sure that foundations are solid. They focus on how structures built by civil engineers, such as buildings and tunnels, interact with the earth (including soil and rock). Additionally, they design and plan for slopes, retaining walls, and tunnels. Structural engineers design and assess major projects, such as bridges or dams, to ensure their strength and durability. Transportation engineers plan and design everyday systems, such as streets and highways, but they also plan larger projects, such as airports, ports, and harbors.
Various levels of government employ civil engineers to do many of the same things done in private industry, except that the government-employed civil engineers may also inspect projects to be sure that they comply with regulations.
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Civil engineers generally work indoors in offices. However, they sometimes spend time outdoors at construction sites so they can monitor operations or solve problems at the site. Occasionally, civil engineers travel abroad to work on large engineering projects in other countries.
Civil engineers need a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or one of its specialties. The degree should be from a program approved by ABET (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). A program accredited by ABET is needed in order to gain licensure, which is required to work as a professional engineer (PE).
Programs in civil engineering typically take four years to complete and include coursework in mathematics, statistics, engineering mechanics and systems, and fluid dynamics, among other courses, depending on the specialty. Courses include a mix of traditional classroom learning and laboratory and fieldwork.
About one of every five civil engineers has a master’s degree. Further education after the bachelor’s degree is helpful in getting a job as a manager. A civil engineer needs both a license and experience to become a manager.
Civil engineers work at the highest level of design and plan large infrastructure projects, such as airports and roadways, which requires solving complex problems. Civil engineers must determine the feasibility of plans, especially regarding financial costs and safety concerns. Urban and regional planners often look to civil engineers for advice on these issues. Civil engineers are ultimately responsible for the infrastructure project’s design and implementation. Therefore, they must be able to lead surveyors, construction managers, civil engineering technicians, and others to implement the plan.
Civil engineers use the principles of calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced topics in mathematics for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work. Only licensed civil engineers can sign the plans for infrastructure projects. This makes it imperative that civil engineers be able to monitor and evaluate the work at the job site as a project progresses. Civil engineers must be able to communicate with other professionals, such as architects, landscape architects, and urban and regional planners. This means that civil engineers must be able to write clear reports that people without an engineering background can follow.