How to Become a Civil Engineer


Are you skilled in science and math? Are you interested in a career that involves designing and managing a variety of construction projects? If so, a career as a civil engineer is worth considering. Here are some quick highlights of working in this field:


• Excellent level of pay

• Diverse work settings

• Plenty of room for advancement

• Able to apply technical engineering and/or management skills

• You could work on everything from bridges and buildings, to transport links and sports stadia  

• You could work with professionals such as contractors, project owners, architects, bankers, lawyers or government officials


If you want to know more about the ins and outs of this career, then read on; we’ll fill you in on the details, including an overview of what these engineers do, how much they can earn, and what you’ll need to qualify!



Education Needed to Become a Civil Engineer

The basic educational requirement for working as a civil engineer is a four-year bachelor's degree in civil engineering from an accredited school. Some employers however, may require that you have a master’s in civil engineer, with a major in a field related to their operations.


For example, a municipal government looking to implement a public transportation plan may prefer to hire a candidate with a master’s degree in civil engineering, and a major in transportation.  





Civil Engineer Job Description

In general, civil engineers are responsible for designing large structures, systems and facilities, as well as overseeing their construction, maintenance, and decommissioning.

The types of projects they work on may include roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment. In addition to design and construction, civil engineers may work in research, consulting and education.



Areas of Specialization Within This Profession

Civil engineering is a fairly broad field. A career in this field offers many areas in which to specialize. For example, you could work as a:


Construction Engineer: Plan and manage the construction of public and private buildings and facilities.


Geotechnical Engineer: Provide information on soil conditions required to design and construct foundations, underground structures, tunnels, embankments and dams.


Infrastructure Asset Management Engineer: Develop strategies to protect the investment on municipal infrastructure.


Land Development Engineer: Coordinate with urban planners to implement engineering solutions for transforming lands into functional communities.


Structural Engineer: Work as part of a team that may include architects, mechanical and electrical engineers, construction contractors and project developers.


Transportation Engineer: Plan and design systems for the safe and efficient movement of people and goods.


Water Resource Engineer: Design systems that collect, store and distribute water.



Typical Duties of the Job

Although the job duties of civil engineers can vary greatly, depending on their level of responsibility and their area of specialization (among many other factors) they are generally responsible for the following:


• Prepare designs for projects

• Identifying the material, financial and human resources needed to complete a project

• Evaluating the potential settlement of buildings and the influence of slopes and landfills, groundwater seepage, sliding, frost action, earth shifts and earthquakes

• Analyzing the properties of soil and rock that support foundations, pavements and underground facilities

• Estimating project costs and monitoring expenditures

• Supervising the work of technical support personnel

• Liaising with professionals from other fields, such as architects, bankers, construction managers, government officials, and many others



Licensure and Certification Needed

You will need to be licensed as a Professional Engineer (PE) in order to exercise direct control of a public project and to supervise other civil engineers and civil engineering technicians. You will also need to have the PE designation in order to sell your own engineering services publicly.


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



Important Personal Characteristics to Have

If you plan on enjoying what you do for a living (highly recommended!) then having some of the following characteristics will help you a great deal.


• You enjoy being innovative

• You enjoy work that involves the application of engineering principles

• You enjoy doing work that requires precision, making decisions and supervising people

• You enjoy having variety in your work

• You enjoy working with people from a variety of professional backgrounds

• You like the idea of a well-paying and relatively stable career





Fundamental ‘Soft’ Skills Needed 

For a career in this field, it’s important that you have some fundamental skills, not including the technical skills and competencies you’ll learn in a civil engineering program and refine in the workplace.


Without these skills, it will be hard to make it through an engineering degree program, (or even qualify for one) let alone execute key job functions.


• Excellent abilities in math and science

• The ability to analyze large amounts of data

• A confident decision-making ability

• Able to communication ideas clearly, in writing and in person

• Good teamwork skills

• The ability to visualize three-dimensional objects from two-dimensional drawings

• The ability to think logically and solve problems

• A capacity for details



Crucial Technical Skills Needed 

Once you’ve graduated from your undergrad program, you’ll need to prove that you have the following technical skills, to prove that you can be an effective civil engineer.


• The ability to explain design ideas and plans clearly

• Project management skills

• The ability to analyze data, review calculations and prepare cost estimates

• The ability to work within budgets and to deadlines

• Full knowledge of relevant legal regulations

• Aptitude for general construction methods and materials

• The ability to read blueprints, schematics, field drawings and plans

• Proficient in the use of basic Microsoft Office applications

• The ability to research complex technical issues and find innovative solutions



Who Employs for Civil Engineers?

Civil engineers are typically employed by organizations in construction and related industries. These types of organizations may include:


• Municipal, provincial/state and federal government departments

• Engineering consulting firms

• Construction contractors

• Property developers

• Resource industries, such as oil & gas

• Public utilities

• Railroad companies

• Manufacturing firms

• Colleges and universities

• Companies that manufacture equipment used by civil engineers

• Self-employment (with enough experience and a strong network of contacts)



Job Postings

Our job board below has "civil engineer" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.


Typical Salary in This Profession

The salary level you could earn as a civil 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


Civil Engineer Salary - Canada (Alberta figures only): According to the 2018 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working in the Civil Engineers occupational group earn an average wage of between $37.81 and $57.76 per hour, with an overall average salary of $99,194 per year. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available for the rest of Canada.


Civil Engineer Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of Americans working in the Civil Engineers occupational group is $79,340 per year.



Working Conditions for Civil Engineers

Working Hours: Civil engineers typically work regular business hours, but due to the need to meet deadlines many have to work evenings and weekends on occasion. They may be on call, depending on the company they work for.


Work Setting: Working environments for civil engineers are as varied as the projects they work on. Their time may be divided between working at the office on a computer, sitting in a meeting, working in a lab, visiting a project work site, or in front of a public hearing.


Work Environment: Civil engineers usually work with a team that may include professionals from other engineering and scientific disciplines, as well as contractors, project owners, architects, bankers, lawyers or government officials.



Career Advancement Possibilities

As a civil engineer first entering the field, you will likely start as a junior engineer, and you would train under the supervision of a mentor 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 competence, you may qualify for advancement to senior technical positions, or even managerial positions, such as 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.

You may also choose to apply the knowledge you’ve gained into different kinds of roles. For example, you may choose to pursue a career in sales, as a Technical Sales Engineer.



Similar Career Profiles in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to civil engineer, as they may be in the same field, or they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and/or responsibilities.


• Architect

• Civil Engineering Technologist

• Construction Manager

• Environmental Engineer

• Land Surveyor

• Structural Engineer

• Transportation Planner

• Urban Planner



References for this Career Guide

To find out more about what a civil engineer does, what qualifications you’ll need, how much you could earn, and other details of this career, please consult the following resources:


Occupations in Alberta:Civil Engineer.” (March 31, 2018). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 6, 2019.

Architecture & Engineering:Civil Engineers.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 6, 2019.

Explore Careers:Civil Engineer.” (n.d.). National Careers Service website. Retrieved November 6, 2019.



Scholarships for Becoming a Civil Engineer

The 'Relevant Areas of Study' section below lists areas of academic focus that pertain to this career. Scholarships matched to that/those field(s) of study can be found on our Civil Engineering Scholarships page.


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!



Relevant Areas of Study

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point for becoming a civil engineer. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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