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9 Different Types of Civil Engineering Jobs (Career Opportunities)

Civil engineer holding a blue hard hat and blueprints overlaid with cityscape.

Civil engineering jobs relate to the design of infrastructure and implementing these designs in the physical environment. Other types of civil engineering jobs specialize in water or geotechnical matters, environmental issues, and many other areas besides.

Have you ever stood on a high bridge over a deep ravine, and thought who built this magnificent structure? Or jump on the subway – or a freeway – to reach the far end of the city within minutes? Or escaped unharmed from an earthquake because your house was constructed in a preventative way?

It was all thanks to a civil engineering job done well!

On the back of globalization, infrastructure projects abound all over the world. And so are civil engineering careers: careers where work is appreciated for the difference it makes in society and where handsome rewards are reaped!  It may be for you, who knows?

The Scope of Civil Engineering

Civil engineering is based on human intervention in our physical environment.

As such, we find that the profession naturally falls into categories of jobs that relate to:

  • The study of the environment to determine its suitability for a project
  • Those that revolve around the design and architecture of the intervention
  • Those that oversee the construction of the designs
  • Those that maintain the built structures
  • Those that study materials and designs after things went wrong to determine what needs to be improved for future projects.
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These categories represent the main areas in civil engineering – each with several civil engineering jobs as they relate to different fields of specialization.

In the next parts of the article, we will discuss specific civil engineering jobs.

The Project Engineer

Project engineer drafting mechanical parts using calipers.

Project engineers oversee all aspects of a particular project, such as a new water reservoir, for example.

Apart from the pure engineering aspects of the reservoir (design, structural integrity, strength of materials, and similar responsibilities), the project engineer also has the responsibility to deliver the project on time and to make sure all aspects of the project stay within the project budget.

The project engineer is sufficiently experienced in civil engineering to coordinate and manage the other engineers that contribute to the project. 

The Structural Engineer

Structural engineers working in a construction site.

Structural engineers focus on the design part of civil engineering projects.

These engineers analyze and design the structures of physical infrastructures like overpasses, complex platforms, bridges, offshore structures like oil rigs, and many other types of structures.

A structural civil engineer makes measurements and assumptions about:

  • The pressures and loads that the structures will have in their lifetime,
  • Its future impacts and
  • How it can be safe for long-term use.

Transportation and Highway Engineers

Transportation and highway engineer working on road construction.

The next category of civil engineering finds expression in transport and highway- related fields. Two main types can be distinguished here: transportation engineers and highway engineers.

Transportation engineers are concerned with efficient and sustainable transportation systems, such as tunnels, overpasses, mass rapid transportations such as subways and railways. 

Highway engineers, on the other hand, are concerned more with the construction of highways as such.

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The Planetary Environment Engineer

A few categories of civil engineer focus and specialize in matters that relate to physical aspects of the planet itself, as opposed to the other categories of civil engineering discussed above (which have their main areas of focus on the built physical structures).

These are the water, geothermal, environmental, coastal, and earthquake specialists.

Engineers checking the quality of water  at a waste water treatment plant.

Water engineering is about understanding the interaction between natural water bodies and human intervention. The chief goal is the protection of the potable water sources of the planet – which is depleting rapidly.

It is also increasingly forced to focus on the prevention of floods and droughts.

Geotechnical engineers drilling for detection of magnetic anomalies with borehole detector.

Geotechnical engineering is that branch of civil engineering concerned with exploring the ground properties on which construction projects are made.

Their main area of responsibility is:

  • Checking the soil quality,
  • The quality of the rock layers and stones  
  • Will the construction be able to hold the project safely?
  • Detecting any vulnerability.

Based on these aspects, a geotechnical engineer must assess the feasibility of a project.

Environmental engineers working at a wind power plant.

Environmental engineering involves nature conservation and protection-related activities like:

  • pollution elimination
  • solid waste treatment
  • handling hazardous waste materials

The goal of these activities is the protection of densely populated areas, as well as the nearby natural resources.

Coastal engineers discussing blueprint near the sea.

Coastal engineering as a branch of civil engineering is concerned with the management and protection of coastal areas. The most important hazards that they try to fend off are floods, erosion, and other environmental factors.

A coastal engineer applies specialized techniques that help in the protection of the area.

Earthquake engineer checking damaged road.

Earthquake engineering involves producing and designing infrastructure in such a way that it can withstand the hazardous effects of earthquakes.

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The Forensic Engineer

Forensic engineer examining a commuter micro chip for microscopic damage.

This category of engineer used to be part and parcel of the other main engineering categories. In recent years, however, an enormous amount of new – man-made – construction material came into being.

Many of these presented an unknown quantity as far as their strength and reliability over an extended period, and soon spawned the forensic engineer to cover this crucial area.

Forensic engineers can be thought of as troubleshooters. They must determine what went wrong in particular construction and how this can be improved.

Their services are in high demand where man-made disasters came about  – such as the collapse of a bridge. While these are often caused by construction code violations, suspect or untested materials may also cause them.

Civil Engineering as a Career

Why consider civil engineering as a career? There are many advantages to this career; good remuneration, opportunities in the public as well as the private sector, opportunities for projects overseas, being able to help communities in disaster- stricken areas, and many more.

7.1 Remuneration: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, civil engineers (for which a bachelor’s degree is required) earn a median annual pay of above $85,000. Engineers working on critical projects can expect to earn good salaries.

Countries with the highest civil engineering salaries are:

First: Switzerland

Second: Denmark

Third: Norway

Fourth: The USA

Fifth: Australia

Sixth: Canada

Seventh: Germany

Eighth: France

The highest paying civil engineering jobs are:

First: Engineering Project Managers
Second: Senior Civil Engineer
Third: Engineering Managers
Fourth: Civil Engineer
Fifth: Design Engineer
Sixth: Engineering Inspectors and Regulatory Officers
Seventh: Civil Engineering Drafter

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Job opportunities

Civil engineers working at a construction site.

Both the public and private sectors have opportunities for civil engineers.

Apart from this, new projects in developing countries, as well as aging infrastructure in developed countries necessitates a constant flow of civil engineering on the one hand, and abundant job opportunities on the other hand.

Limited resources

The planet has finite resources which are not always appreciated as they should be. This increasingly puts pressure on the finite resources of communities.

States and local governments all over the world regard water availability and quality as high priorities. This will likely lead to future civil engineering projects concerned with making water use more efficient.

Appreciation

If you are looking for a job where your work and contribution to society are appreciated, then civil engineering will answer that need.

Civil engineers are instrumental during emergencies such as droughts or natural disasters. They have the skillset and talents necessary to rebuild the community infrastructure – and their contributions are greatly appreciated by those in distress.

Apart from disasters and emergencies, civil engineers generally have high visibility in their community because they often work on projects with high visibility. They command respect for their abilities.

Problem-solving skills and technology

Civil engineers encounter projects with unique challenges and requirements.

They are constantly called upon to use their creative problem-solving skills. If you are a person that enjoys thinking “out-of-the-box”, this career may present many opportunities for you to do just that!

As part of their toolset civil engineers also often use new gadgets and software that the general public may have never heard of or used. If you like to be at the forefront of technology, you may find civil engineering gratifying in this respect.

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Travel opportunities

Few civil engineers spend all their time in the office. They visit project sites, and many get the opportunity to be involved in projects in other countries. So, if travel is for you, then so may a job in civil engineering be!

Civil Engineering Qualifications

A civil engineer in safety equipment at a construction site.

Many different qualifications for civil engineering are on offer from institutions around the globe. These include diplomas and degrees, such as BSc/BTech in Civil Engineering, Bachelor in Civil Engineering, BEng in Civil Engineering, as well as Master and Doctorate degrees in Civil Engineering.

Internationally respected Universities offering good civil engineering qualifications include Tongji University, Tsinghua University, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, University of California Berkeley, National University of Singapore, Southeast University, Beijing Jiaotong University, and the Delft University of Technology – among many others!

Countries With the Highest Demand

In recent years, Australia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, and China had the highest demand for civil engineers.

As Canada is expanding its infrastructure it has also brought attention to a shortage of civil engineers in the civil sector specifically.

As for the biggest civil engineering company in the world, it is deemed to be Bechtel in San Francisco.

States With the Highest Demand

The states with the highest employment rates for civil engineers  include:

  • California (38,050)
  • Texas (23,730)
  • Florida (12,720)
  • Pennsylvania (12,650)
  • New York (13,620)

Companies With the Highest Demand

In a recently compiled list, the 15 companies that were looking to hire civil engineers for more than $100,000 were ranked (visit https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/the-top-15-highest-paying-jobs-in-procurement- for more detail).

The following companies were listed:

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RANK COMPANY NUMBER OF CIVIL ENGINEERS WANTED
1 Comcast 600
2 Northrop Grumman 401
3 Lockheed Martin 397
4 Leidos Holdings 331
5 Boeing 320
6 The Aerospace Corporation 257
7 ManTech international 221
8 Stantec 216
9 Wood 181
10 CBRE 172
11 State of California 168
12 AECOM Technology Corporation 151
13 Jonas Lang Lasalle 147
14 Bechtel 143
15 Jacobs 116

From this list, it can be seen that there is high international demand for civil engineers and that remuneration is excellent.

Civil Engineers through History

Benjamin Wright

Benjamin Wright (1770-1842) is known as the “Father of American Civil Engineering.” He was in charge of constructing the Erie, Delaware, Hudson, Chesapeake, and Ohio Canals.

Five of Wright’s nine children followed in their father’s footsteps and became civil engineers as well.

John Smeaton

Living a few years before Benjamin Wright, John Smeaton (1724-1792) is considered to be the first civil engineer. He is often referred to as the “Father of Civil Engineering.”

He created windmills and waterwheels during the Industrial Revolution. He also published a paper about the correlation between pressure and velocity for objects moving through the air.

John Smeaton had an extensive series of commissions for the design of bridges, canals, harbors, and lighthouses.

However, before Wright or Smeaton’s years, Archimedes of Syracuse introduced the world to engineering.

Archimedes of Syracuse

While the term “civil engineering” still had no meaning at that time, Archimedes of Syracuse paved the way for generations that followed him.

He invented the compound pulley. This invention turned out to be one of the most important inventions in history.

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Archimedes also developed engineering principles for fluid displacement.

Conclusion

A variety of specialization areas exist in the field of civil engineering. These can be put into at least ten categories – each of which was discussed in this article.

There are many good reasons to consider civil engineering as a career. It can be a very gratifying job for those with the right aptitude and – as was shown in the article – remuneration for the right candidates is well over average. 

Many top-class institutions around the globe offer excellent qualifications in civil engineering.

Opportunities abound in the civil as well as in the public sector in many countries. In developed countries, the need revolves around maintaining and renewing aging infrastructure, while the need for civil engineers in developing countries has to do with establishing new infrastructure.