Civil engineers plan and design bridges and tunnels, as well as highways, airfields, harbors, water and sewerage systems, and buildings.
They also supervise the construction of such projects to ensure that they are built according to the carefully drafted plans. Civil engineers are employed by all levels of government, by construction companies, and by engineering and architectural firms. Some civil engineers do independent consulting work. Others work for public utility companies or in such industries as the iron and steel industry. Still other civil engineers teach at colleges and universities. Civil engineering is such a broad and varied field that most engineers specialize in one area. Some of the main specializations are structural, construction, hydraulics, sanitary, environmental, transportation, and soil mechanics engineering. Structural engineers are experts in building structures safely and efficiently. They work with architects to design large buildings, bridges, and tunnels. Construction engineers supervise the actual construction of projects once they are designed. They decide on the best materials and methods to use in building such structures as skyscrapers. Civil engineers who work in hydraulics design canals, flood-control systems, and irrigation systems. They study water sources and try to develop ways of using water that will benefit the community. For example, a hydraulic engineer builds a dam in a river in order to construct a reservoir to safeguard the water supply of an area. Sanitary engineers design systems to purify water and treat wastes in order to provide a safe and economical supply of water. They work with environmental engineers to control water and air pollution. Transportation engineers plan and build highways, subways, airports, and railroads. Soil mechanics engineers develop ways to use soil so that building foundations can be improved. Civil engineers work with architects, other engineers, and construction personnel. These professionals often bring their specialized talents together to work on urban planning projects. Civil engineers must be accurate and consider the safety of the thousands of people who will use the structures they design and build. Civil engineering is an intellectually demanding field that requires a high aptitude for mathematics and the physical sciences. You will need the ability to think logically and creatively to work successfully in this field. You must have a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering to enter the field. Many colleges offer 4- or 5-year engineering programs that include courses in thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, circuitry, stress analysis, and structural design. Some colleges offer cooperative programs in which you can divide your time between classes and work experience. If you want a career in research, development, or teaching, a graduate degree is required. Some companies help pay students’ tuitions. Once you have a degree, you must get field training. A state license is also needed before you can be a civil engineer in private practice. Most states require you to have about 4 years of work experience before taking a licensing examination. Even after licensing, civil engineers must be willing to continue their education in order to keep up with their field. Many civil engineers work for the government on the state, federal, or municipal level. A good way to start looking for a job is to take the civil service examination, which is required for government work, and then check the specific openings listed at your local state employment office. Some engineers work for consulting architectural and engineering firms and in the major manufacturing industries. The placement services of your college may know of some job openings. Contact construction and engineering companies directly. Check professional journals and local newspapers about job opportunities. Job banks on the Internet may also provide some leads. There are many opportunities for advancement. Civil engineers who work in civil service can advance from junior engineer to assistant engineer to associate engineer, and then become the head of a department. Promotion of this type also occurs in large firms. Engineers can advance from project management to an administrative position as a consulting engineer, department head, or chief engineer of a large construction firm. In smaller companies advancement takes the form of specialization. Self-employment or partnership in a company is possible for those with exceptional ability and capital. The employment outlook for civil engineers is good. Approximately 195,000 civil engineers are now working in the United States. Urban renewal, growth in rapid transit and industry, and an expanding economy will create an increasing demand for civil engineers. Civil engineers work in many different places, depending on their specialization and their employer. They can work in offices as well as at construction sites. Civil engineers doing research may work in laboratories. In most fields of engineering, there is steady employment. However, engineers working in construction may experience periodic layoffs. Those who work for government agencies enjoy a job security not found in other types of engineering. Regardless of where they work, civil engineers must face the strain of deadlines and tight schedules. Their work is exacting. They must be very accurate because their work involves costly projects. They must work as part of a team and be able to communicate their ideas to the other specialists with whom they work. Problem solving sometimes requires innovation and the ability to make decisions. The personal satisfaction in this work usually outweighs the pressures. Currently, beginning government civil engineers earn starting salaries of about $36,100 a year. Engineers with master’s degrees earn starting salaries of about $42,300, and those with doctoral degrees may start at about $58,600. The average salary for all civil engineers is $54,660. Government-employed engineers receive the same benefits offered to other civil service workers. Private firms generally offer retirement plans, life and health insurance, and paid vacations and holidays to their engineers.
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