How to Become a Geotechnical Engineer: Career Path Guide
You have an excellent grasp of engineering and geology principles; you’d love a career that allows you to apply that knowledge on a daily basis. You should become a geotechnical engineer. Yep, it’s that simple.
Below, we’ll fill you in on many of the important aspects of what geotechnical engineers do, and how you can become one.
What is a Geotechnical Engineer?
Geotechnical engineers are specialists that use engineering principles and applications to assess the natural foundations of engineering project sites that are supported by rock or soil. Their ultimate goal is to ensure that man-made structures are stable.
Education Needed to Become a Geotechnical Engineer
The basic educational requirement for becoming a geotechnical engineer is a Bachelor's degree in geotechnical, civil or structural engineering, with a good base of coursework in geotechnical engineering.
You can also get into this field by pursuing a degree in a related field, such as geology, although it will take you longer to fully meet the educational requirements for becoming a Professional Engineer (P.Eng.).
Geotechnical Engineer Job Description
Geotechnical engineers are responsible for ensuring that the soil and rock of a proposed construction site foundation will remain stable when placed under pressure by the structures that will be built on them. They must also ensure stability of the structures against earthquakes, mudslides and other natural events.
In order to determine a site’s stability, they must collect and analyze geological data from the proposed construction site, which includes soil and rock samples. Performing this analysis will also give them insight into what the most appropriate tools, methods and materials will be for construction in that area.
The geological engineer will then create reports, designs and recommendations based on their findings, and present them to project stakeholders, which may include construction managers, architects and structural engineers, and landscapers.
General Geotechnical Engineer Job Duties
• Meet client onsite to identify which areas are to be targeted
• Plan and supervise the acquisition and analysis of geological data, including soil samples
• Determine the physical and chemical impact of geological formations on construction projects
• Use computer aided design programs to generate engineering designs
• Prepare engineering designs, reports and recommendations
• Present reports and recommendations to structural engineers, architects and construction personnel
• Conduct environmental assessments
• Develop plans for the safe disposal of waste and hazardous materials
• Develop and implement strategies to control landslides
Licensure and Certification Needed
As a geotechnical engineer, you won’t get very far without a license. As a rule of thumb, if you are doing unsupervised engineering work that affects public safety, you will need a license.
If you are not licensed, you may still work on engineering projects under the supervision of a licensed engineer. This is good news, because you will need that experience to become licensed.
Becoming Licensed in Canada
• Licensure as a Professional Engineer in Canada generally requires the following:
• A four-year bachelor's degree in a recognized engineering program
• At least four years (typically) of acceptable work experience under the supervision of a Professional Engineer
• A minimum of three acceptable references
• Successful completion of an approved examination in law, ethics and professionalism
Becoming Licensed in the United States
To be licensed in the United States as a PE, you generally need to meet the following requirements:
• A degree from an accredited engineering program
• A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
• Relevant work experience
• A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam
Skills Needed to be an Effective Geotechnical Engineer
In order to succeed in this field, you’ll need to have a certain knowledge base and skill set, including:
• A sound knowledge of various computer assisted design (CAD) software
• An excellent grasp of engineering and geology principles
• Knowledge of the qualities and properties of geological materials
• Excellent understanding of construction methods, tools and materials
• An awareness of the environmental impact of design ideas
Traits For Becoming a Geotechnical Engineer
To get the most out of any career, you have to truly enjoy what you do. In order to enjoy working as a geotechnical engineer, you need certain characteristics, including:
• You want to apply your geology and geotechnical engineering skills on a daily basis
• You really like being on the ‘ground floor’ of development projects (no pun intended!)
• You enjoy the idea of working on large-scale projects
• You really enjoy seeing projects get from conception to completion
• You love meeting different people from a range of professional disciplines
• You’re okay with splitting work time between an office, a lab, and construction sites
Geotechnical Engineer Salary
The salary level you could earn as a geotechnical engineer can vary, typically depending on the following factors:
• Your level of education
• Your level of experience
• The specific responsibilities of your job
• The size and type of your employer
• The region in which you work
• Many other factors
There is no salary information available for the career Geotechnical Engineer from reliable sources. We can however, give you a good idea of what you would earn by looking at the salary level of engineers in very similar roles.
Geotechnical Engineer Salary Canada: According to Service Canada, the average salary level of Canadian workers in the Geological Engineers occupational group is $92,300 per year.
Geotechnical Engineer Salary United Kingdom: According to the National Careers Service, entry-level civil engineers can earn between £17,000 and £25,000 a year, while more experienced engineers earn between £25,000 and £40,000 a year. Chartered Engineers earn the most, at between £50,000 and £80,000 a year.
Geotechnical Engineer Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of American workers in the Civil Engineers occupational group is $79,340 per year.
Career Advancement for Geotechnical Engineers
Right out of the gates, you will start as a junior engineer, and you would train under the supervision of a licensed engineer in order to develop your technical knowledge skills. In order to advance your career, you would need to obtain the Professional Engineering (PE) license, because only licensed engineers can assume responsibilities for public projects.
Once you’ve gained licensure, you may qualify for advancement to more senior roles. Once you acquire even more experience and prove your ability to take on large projects, you may qualify for advancement to senior technical positions, or even managerial positions, such as Team Lead, Head Engineer, or Project Manager.
If you have enough experience, you might choose establish your own construction or consulting company. If you have a doctoral (PhD) degree, you may teach at a university, or conduct research.
Who Creates Jobs for Geotechnical Engineers?
As a geotechnical engineer, you could be employed by, or work on a contract basis for the following types of organizations:
• Colleges and universities
• Construction contractors
• Electrical utility companies
• Engineering consulting firms
• Mining companies
• Municipal, regional and federal governments
• Oil and gas exploration, production and transportation companies
• Petroleum services companies
• Public and private research organizations
• Real estate development companies
Geotechnical Engineer Jobs
Our job board below has "Geotechnical Engineer" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.
Working Conditions for Geotechnical Engineers
Working Hours: The hours you could work would depend on the type of project you are doing, and what tasks you’re performing for that project. If you’re in the lab, your hours would likely reflect the operational hours of the lab. If you’re in the field, you may be able to come and go on a daily basis if it’s close, otherwise you may be onsite for days or weeks at a time.
Work Setting: You might spend half of your total working hours outdoors, in order to visit sites that are earmarked for construction, or supervise construction activities. Depending on your specific role, you may also spend time working in a lab, in an office, or in universities.
Work Environment: In this field, you would work with professionals from all sorts of different disciplines; from civil engineers and land developers, to engineering technicians and construction supervisors. You may also be thrown some curve balls in your workday, such as having to ride in, or operate very large vehicles, on very small roads.
Careers Similar to Geotechnical Engineer
Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to Geotechnical Engineer, as they may be in the same field, or they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and/or responsibilities.
References for this Career Guide
To find out more about what a geotechnical engineer does, what qualifications you’ll need, how much you could earn, and other details of this career, please consult the following resources:
Alberta Learning and Information Service website - Retrieved September 2, 2015: occinfo.alis.alberta.ca
Government of Western Australia website - Retrieved September 2, 2015: www.careercentre.dtwd.wa.gov.au
National Careers Service website - Retrieved September 2, 2015: nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk
Service Canada website - Retrieved September 2, 2015: www.servicecanada.gc.ca
United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website - Retrieved September 2, 2015: www.bls.gov
Scholarships for Becoming a Geotechnical Engineer
The Applicable Majors section below shows fields of study relevant to a career as a Geotechnical Engineer. You can search for scholarships matched to those fields of study on our Civil Engineering Scholarships and Environmental Engineering Scholarships pages.
Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!
Becoming a Geotechnical Engineer: Applicable Majors
Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point for becoming a Geotechnical Engineer. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!