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What Do Civil Engineers Do?

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If you are interested in pursuing a career as an engineer but are not quite sure where to focus your education, it is a good idea to take a look at the different engineering specialties that are available, including civil engineering.

Civil engineers can work on a variety of different projects and in different capacities. It is an interesting career to pursue for those who are passionate about design, have a strong foundation in math and science, work well with others, and want to impact big projects in their community and even abroad.

Keep reading for more information about what a civil engineer does.

Civil Engineer Job Overview

At its most basic level, civil engineering is a profession that deals mostly with infrastructure and construction projects. Though there are different specialties within the profession, civil engineers most typically work on large scale projects such as:

  • Highways & Roads
  • Mass transit such as trains
  • Sports Stadiums
  • Skyscrapers
  • Water Management Systems

The civil engineers on these projects can do anything from studying survey reports and working on initial plans to supervising construction and even inspecting finished buildings for regulatory purposes.

At their core, civil engineers are problem solvers who must work closely with teams of people including architects, designers, and contractors, to bring projects to life and do so safely.

Civil Engineering Specializations

Some of the most common specializations for civil engineers, and a brief outline of what those specialties do, follow.

  • Construction engineers: Supervise the planning and execution of large scale construction projects including skyscrapers and stadiums. These types of engineers typically work for construction companies and may work with other civil engineering specialists, particularly geotechnical engineers and structural engineers.
  • Geotechnical engineers: Study rock and soil composition for large scale projects to ensure the safety of structures through proper foundations as well as protecting groundwater supplies during the course of construction projects.
  • Transportation engineers: Design, construct and help to maintain large scale transportation projects in order to move both people and goods efficiently with positive environmental impact. These projects might include highways, streets, canals, rail systems, airports, and mass transit systems.
  • Structural engineers: Design and analyze such structures as highway overpasses, tunnels, buildings, and bridges for structural integrity taking into consideration load bearing, weather, and other factors.
  • Environmental engineers: Work largely within the public health sector to construct sanitation systems, deal with hazardous waste from construction and manufacturing, and clean contaminated sites effectively.
  • Water resources engineers: Study and design resources for the collection, transportation, and conservation of water for safe human use. These types of engineers are in particularly high demand in developing nations.
  • Earthquake engineers: Design structures, including retrofitting older structures, to withstand powerful earthquakes
  • Coastal engineers: Work along coastlines to protect natural resources and prevent erosion with construction and development projects.

Keep in mind these are not the only specialties available within the discipline of civil engineering, but it should give you a good overview of just how diverse the different profession is.

Common Employers

While many different companies and organizations employ civil engineers, federal and state government jobs are quite common. Civil engineers may work within the department of transportation, for public utilities, or for regulatory agencies as inspectors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 28% of civil engineers are employed by government agencies.

In terms of private sector employment, civil engineers will frequently work for or with construction firms, with those jobs making up approximately 50% of all civil engineer positions.

Typical job titles for a civil engineer might include:

  • Construction inspector
  • Project engineer
  • Supervising engineer
  • Associate civil engineer
  • Civil engineer
  • City engineer
  • Field engineer
  • Development manager

Day to Day Tasks for a Civil Engineer

The day to day tasks for any civil engineer will depend largely on the specialty a civil engineer chooses to pursue, but there are some common tasks that most civil engineers will have to contend with on a daily basis.

Management is often a large component of what civil engineers do on a daily basis. Civil engineers are often responsible for large teams that are involved in the design, planning, and construction process and so must meet and manage these team members on a regular basis in their supervisory role.

In addition to management, civil engineers themselves will spend significant amount of time designing and planning projects to present to clients, as well as engaging in these presentations. From design to budgeting and needs assessment, civil engineers may be involved in all these activities or may supervise others who create the initial plans or proposals. Presentations might involve the presentation of plans in an office setting or consultation with clients on site to ensure that a project’s plans meet client expectations and needs.

Civil Engineer Work Environment

Although engineers are certainly expected to do a lot of detail oriented designing and calculations in an office environment, civil engineers usually have a fairly varied environment overall. Supervisors will make frequent trips to construction sites and other outdoor areas for surveying and analysis. Civil engineers also work closely with many other professionals in meetings, design stages, and project execution, making the profession quite interesting and engaging.

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