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Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming an Engineering Project Manager

Step One: Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)

After graduating from high school, an aspiring engineering project manager must first obtain a bachelor’s degree, ideally at a program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). There are not many undergraduate programs that focus specifically on project management, and the few that do generally neglect the engineering side of the equation. Aspiring engineering project managers should use their undergraduate years to build solid engineering fundamentals in the area they wish to do project management, such as civil engineering eventually.

University of North Dakota

As an online option, the University of North Dakota offers a BS in civil engineering. Recognized as a top online engineering program by U.S. News & World Report, its students focus on engineering, design, project management, construction, contract administration, technical support, and research. The university also offers a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in civil engineering which can be completed in less time.

The program consists of 128 credits and includes classes such as introduction to civil engineering; structural mechanics; civil engineering materials laboratory; soil mechanics; environmental engineering; elementary differential equations; and transportation engineering.

Graduates of the program will have a wide range of job opportunities in engineering design and development, construction management, water resources engineering, geotechnical engineering, structural engineering, site development, transportation engineering, hydraulic engineering, and environmental regulation.

  • Location: Grand Forks, ND
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 to 60 months

New York University

For an on-campus option, NYU offers a BS in civil engineering. Strongly practice-oriented, with a heavy emphasis on design, the program is modeled off of ABET’s seven fundamental outcomes to cover the full range of skills and knowledge necessary for modern engineers.

The program consists of 129 credits and includes classes on topics like calculus for engineers; general chemistry for engineers; general physics laboratory; introduction to civil engineering; analysis of determinate structures; structural engineering; geotechnical engineering; construction project management; computing in civil engineering; water resources engineering; engineering mechanics; and fluid mechanics and hydraulics.

Electives are available in subjects such as construction project administration, construction scheduling, and cost estimation.

  • Location: New York City, NY
  • Accreditation: ABET; Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months

Step Two: Establish State Licensure (Timeline Varies)

After you have earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering, you may be eligible to sit for state licensure. Not all states require engineers to be licensed in order to practice, and the requirements vary from state to state, but precise guidelines can be found on the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) website.

The first step in the licensure process is to pass the fundamentals of engineering (FE) exam. The exam is offered in several subdisciplines, with the civil engineering exam being most relevant for aspiring engineering project managers with a focus on construction engineering. The 110-question exam takes approximately six hours to complete, and a passing score qualifies one as an engineer in training (EIT) or engineering intern (EI). Regardless of the licensure requirements in your state, passing the FE can lead to greater opportunities on your path to becoming an engineering project manager.

Step Three: Obtain a Master’s Degree (9-24 Months)

After you have earned your bachelor’s degree and passed the FE exam, the next step is to obtain a master’s degree. Unlike the undergraduate level, there are plenty of master’s degree programs in engineering project management.

University of California, Berkeley

One such program is available at UC Berkeley, which offers an MS in engineering and project management (EPM). The program seeks to marry solid civil engineering fundamentals with innovative leadership strategies.

Students take classes in topics such as lean construction concepts, supply chain management, advanced project planning, law for engineers, civil systems and the environment, individual research or investigation in selected advanced topics, and technology and sustainability. The program consists of 24 credits and may be completed in nine months or more.

Graduates have a wide range of employment opportunities in the public sector and the private industry, for example in building, engineering consulting, transportation, and industrial construction firms, as well as in private and public owner organizations, both domestically and internationally.

  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Accreditation: WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Nine months

Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering

Another option is Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering, which offers a master of science in project management (MPM) degree. Students may choose from five sub-specializations: architecture-engineering-construction (AEC) business management; construction management; real estate development; sustainability; and transport management.

Students take courses such as managerial finance; project scheduling; project funding; project feasibility analysis; cost engineering and control; building construction estimating; principles of project management; real estate development; construction management; intelligent transportation systems; and lean construction. The program may be completed in nine months or more. A minimum of twelve courses are required to earn this degree.

Applicants to the program must have an undergraduate degree in engineering or architecture, a minimum grade point average of 3.0, an official transcript from each institution attended, GRE or GMAT scores (waivers available), three letters of recommendation, a current resume or CV, a personal statement, and TOEFL or IELTS test scores for international student applicants whose native language is not English.

Graduates are prepared for leadership roles in major civil and environmental engineering projects’ operation, management, and construction.

  • Location: Evanston, IL
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Part-time (18 to 24 months); full-time (nine to 18 months)

Ohio University

It’s also possible to pursue a master’s degree in a more concrete engineering subdiscipline, such as civil engineering, and look for further project management education and experience later on. As an online option, Ohio University offers a master of science in civil engineering (MSCE) that can be completed in five semesters or more.

This program offers concentration areas in construction engineering management, transportation engineering, environmental engineering, and structural engineering.

Students take classes in communication skills for engineers; construction planning and scheduling; applied civil engineering statistics; advanced steel design; prestressed concrete design; and in situ remediations. The program consists of 32 credits and may be completed entirely online.

To get accepted into the program, applicants must have a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from an ABET-accredited university with a grade point average of 3.0 or higher.

Graduates will be able to take up roles such as environmental engineers, transportation engineers, structural engineers, construction managers, surveyors, engineering managers, and sustainability engineers.

  • Location: Athens, OH
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Five semesters

Step Four: Gain Work Experience and Pursue Continuing Education (Timeline Varies)

After earning your master’s degree, it’s time to gain some valuable real-world experience. Engineering project management roles carry a huge amount of responsibility, and it will likely be impossible to lead large projects straight out of school. At this stage of their careers, engineering project managers should focus on gaining all the experience they can, putting their fundamental skills into practice, and building a resume of successful team projects.

Now is also the right time to gain further education in the area of project management, especially if your master’s degree wasn’t specifically geared toward the subject. And even if it was, adding certified education can give you a better chance of landing project management roles with which to cut your teeth.

One such option is a project management course for engineers and technical professionals hosted by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). During the three-day course, students learn to discern between projects, programs, and sub-projects; employ integrated case studies to create deliverables; identify techniques and outputs such as critical path, schedule compression, fast-tracking, and resource leveling; and apply project scheduling concepts such as the Activity Gantt Chart, resource-gram, and histogram.

Another option is Coursera’s specialization in engineering project management. Offered in collaboration with the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership, this one-month series covers three areas: initiation and planning; scope, time, and cost management; and risk, quality, teams, and procurement. Students gain a comprehensive understanding of how to manage an engineering project, and those who complete all three areas can simultaneously fulfill all their continuing education requirements for the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Project Management Professional (PMP) certification (see step six for more information).

Step Five: Become a Professional Engineer (Four Years)

After gaining four years of professional experience, passing the FE exam, and earning a master’s degree, you can sit for licensure as a professional engineer (PE).

The PE exam, also hosted by the NCEES, has no specialized test for project management, but it does offer an exam in civil engineering, within which one may specialize in either construction engineering or structural engineering. The 80-question open-book exam takes approximately nine hours to complete. If you earn a passing score, you will be licensed as a professional engineer, which serves as a mark of distinction for an engineering project manager and establishes them as an expert in the technical side of an engineering subdiscipline.

Step Six: Achieve Professional Certification (Timeline Varies)

After you have gained some real-world experience, the next step is to achieve professional certification. Professional certifications dedicated to project management can set you apart and identify you as an expert in this engineering sub-discipline.

The industry standard for certification is the Project Management Institute (PMI), which offers both the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) and Project Management Professional (PMP) certifications.

For those looking to manage larger projects and gain more responsibility, the CAPM establishes your understanding of the fundamental knowledge, terminology, and processes of effective process management through a three-hour, 150-question test. Applicants must have either 1,500 hours of project experience or 23 hours of project management education. Those who successfully earn the CAPM must recertify every three years.

For those looking to validate their competence to lead and direct projects and teams, the PMP is the gold standard, with those who hold it earning an average of 25 percent more than non-holders. This certification is for experienced project managers with over 4,500 hours of experience directing or leading projects and at least 35 hours of project management education. Applicants must successfully pass the four-hour, 180-question exam for certification. You must earn 60 professional development units (PDUs) every three years to maintain your PMP.

Helpful Resources for Engineering Project Managers

The world of project management is constantly evolving, and to keep pace, many engineering project managers choose to join professional societies closely related to their specialty area. These societies act as a bridge to the larger, global conversation and host conferences, educational resources, and further certifications for engineering project managers, acting as a critical link to the constant learning necessary to be a successful engineering project manager at the top echelons of the industry.

  • International Project Management Association (IPMA)
  • American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)
  • Project Management Institute (PMI)
  • American Academy of Project Management (AAPM)
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