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What is Civil Engineering

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

Civil Engineers Ensure the Safety of U.S. Infrastructure

While your friends built little houses and vehicles with toy building materials, you built entire cities. In fact, you were often accused of "hogging" too many of the miniature bricks as you tried to bring your elaborate designs to life. In your capable hands, the family's box of toothpicks miraculously became a bridge that remained standing. If any of these scenarios sound like you, a career as a civil engineer might be ideal.

Job Description

Civil engineers are the safety-conscious, builder-planners of the world. They design infrastructures such as roads, buildings, bridges, tunnels and municipal systems, making sure they are structurally sound and designed to be safe for years to come. To do this, they may conduct research, analyze data, test soil samples, search maps, decipher government regulations, assess an area's grade and elevation for project suitability and consider the costs and feasibility of various building materials. They present their findings in project meetings, to clients and to the public, explaining proposals and costs or the potential impact on a community or the environment.

The Delaware Aqueduct, built in 1945, is an example of civil engineering design that was built to last. It can still claim title to the longest tunnel in the world as it provides fresh water to New York City. The very idea of building a bridge that will safely carry millions of vehicles, each weighing two tons or more, across large bodies of water for decades to come is itself a marvel largely dependent on the skills of civil engineers.

Yet, civil engineers do more than plan in advance for projects to come. They also assess the stability of bridges and other structures that have undergone years of use. After Mexico experienced two devastating earthquakes in September 2017, a team of U.S. civil engineers from the American Society of Civil Engineers Infrastructure Resilience Division traveled to the country to study how well various parts of its infrastructure held up, or didn't. Their goal was to better understand how to design the most resilient structures in the future.

Education Requirements

Civil engineers can start work with a minimum of a bachelor's degree in civil engineering, civil engineering technology, or a specialty of civil engineering. Coursework includes numerous math courses, including statistics. Depending on the specialty, it may also require courses like fluid dynamics and engineering mechanics and systems. The curriculum usually includes internships to help future civil engineers put their education to work. Some schools include co-op situations where students attend school and work, either at the same time or in alternating terms.

To advance to management positions, civil engineers may need a master's degree and a Professional Engineer (PE) license. Licensing requirements vary by state, but may include graduating from a program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) and/or a degree in engineering technology.

Civil engineers earned a median salary of $83,540 in May 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This means that half earned more and half earned less. The median salary for CEs in the federal government was $92,320; for those in non-residential building construction, $77,170.

About the Industry

Most civil engineers (43 percent) are employed in firms that provide engineering services. Others work for federal, state and local governments and in non-residential building construction. They may spend time indoors working on plans, and outdoors overseeing or checking on construction. Most work a full-time, 40-hour work week, although those in management positions may work more hours to oversee projects and ensure that deadlines are met.

Years of Experience

One good aspect of a job in civil engineering is that you can get started in the field with just a bachelor's degree and no experience except for internship or co-op work. Of course, you'll be supervised by a PE to be sure your calculations are accurate, since they may determine a project's safety. New grads typically take and pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam and are employed as an Engineer in Training (EIT) or an Engineer Intern (EI).

After several (typically four) years of work experience under the supervision and guidance of a PE, you can take the Professional Engineer exam. If you pass it, you will then become a PE, eligible to supervise EITs and EIs, approve and sign off on plans and projects, and work directly with the public.

Job Growth Trend

The need for civil engineers is expected to grow 11 percent between 2016 to 2026, which is faster than the average for job growth. As the U.S. infrastructure continues to age, civil engineers will be needed to assess and oversee its maintenance and repair. And as the population continues to grow, new infrastructure will need to be built to serve growing communities.