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Skills That Civil Engineers Need

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If you've been fascinated since childhood by bridges and buildings and enjoy design and management, consider civil engineering as a potential career. These professionals design and oversee the construction of the basic structures that keep urban society functioning, including skyscrapers, roads, bridges, sewage systems, water systems, airports and more. Considered the oldest engineering profession by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, civil engineering promises decent future career prospects for those with the right skills.

An Interest in Science, Math and Technology

Enjoying school and the challenges of studying is a plus, as the undergraduate degree you'll need to get started in civil engineering will take four years of buckling down in the lab and hitting the books. More specifically, an interest in science and math is important. Chemistry and physics are particularly crucial in civil engineering. Knowing the chemical properties of a substance can help you decide whether it works for a building project. Being able to accurately calculate the forces acting on a bridge will guide its design and prevent disaster. Excelling at work with computers is also important, since you'll use programs for calculations and 3D modeling both in school and on the job.

A Willingness to Take Responsibility

Civil engineers design structures that people depend on, including roads, bridges and buildings. If they fail or collapse, lives can be lost. Being a civil engineer means recognizing what's at stake with every project and planning carefully to avoid missteps. It also means accepting responsibility for mistakes when they do happen. This field isn't for people looking for a low-pressure career.

People and Management Skills

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many civil engineers work in supervisory or administrative positions. Possible roles include construction site supervisor or city engineer. Although you might not be giving the orders in your first few years as a civil engineer, having a good cooperative work ethic is a prerequisite for moving up in your career. Learn to work well in group settings. Basic communication skills, as well as conflict-resolution abilities, negotiation skills and an ability to lead meetings are all important for realizing success as a civil engineering manager.

Analytical Mindset

Engineering of any type is about using your knowledge to fix real-world problems and devising practical systems to make things work better. Civil engineers have to design within budget constraints while also meeting client specifications and keeping an eye on public safety. For example, when designing a bridge, coming up with one blueprint won't suffice. You'll probably have many ideas that you have to eliminate based on project criteria, and you'll reevaluate and tweak your ideas as meetings bring new concerns and ideas to light. One seemingly minor change (for example, in the metal alloy used for construction) requires you to think carefully about the overall impact on the project. Sure, the bridge may be cheaper to build using a certain alloy, but perhaps it won't hold out as long without maintenance. You need to be able to deal with details, decide which ones are important and make choices based on priorities.


A professional writer since 2006, Colleen Reinhart has held positions in technical writing and marketing. She also writes lifestyle, health and business articles. She holds a Bachelor of Arts and Business degree from the University of Waterloo, and a Master's degree in speech-language pathology from the University of Toronto.

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