Civil Engineers

Summary

civil engineers image
Civil engineers design and supervise large construction projects.
Quick Facts: Civil Engineers
2012 Median Pay $79,340 per year
$38.14 per hour
Entry-Level Education Bachelor’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2012 272,900
Job Outlook, 2012-22 20% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 53,700

What Civil Engineers Do

Civil engineers design, construct, supervise, operate, and maintain large construction projects and systems, including roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment.

Work Environment

Civil engineers generally work indoors in offices. However, many spend time outdoors at construction sites so they can monitor operations or solve problems onsite. Most work full time.

How to Become a Civil Engineer

Civil engineers need a bachelor’s degree, either in civil engineering or civil engineering technology. They typically need a graduate degree and licensure for promotion to senior positions. Though licensure requirements vary within the U.S., civil engineers must usually be licensed in the locations where they provide services publicly.

Pay

The median annual wage for civil engineers was $79,340 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of civil engineers is projected to grow 20 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. As infrastructure continues to age, civil engineers will be needed to manage projects to rebuild bridges, repair roads, and upgrade levees and dams.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of civil engineers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about civil engineers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Civil Engineers Do

Civil engineers
Civil engineers design major transportation projects.

Civil engineers design, construct, supervise, operate, and maintain large construction projects and systems, including roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment. Many civil engineers work in design, construction, research, and education.

Duties

Civil engineers typically do the following:

  • Analyze survey reports, maps, and other data to plan projects
  • Consider construction costs, government regulations, potential environmental hazards, and other factors in planning stages and risk analysis
  • Compile and submit permit applications to local, state, and federal agencies verifying that projects comply with various regulations
  • Perform or oversee soil testing to determine the adequacy and strength of foundations
  • Test building materials, such as concrete, asphalt, or steel, for use in particular projects
  • Provide cost estimates for materials, equipment, or labor to determine a project’s economic feasibility
  • Use design software to plan and design transportation systems, hydraulic systems, and structures in line with industry and government standards
  • Perform or oversee, surveying operations to establish reference points, grades, and elevations to guide construction
  • Present their findings to the public on topics such as bid proposals, environmental impact statements, or property descriptions
  • Manage the repair, maintenance, and replacement of public and private infrastructure

Many civil engineers hold supervisory or administrative positions ranging from supervisor of a construction site to city engineer. Others work in design, construction, research, and teaching. Civil engineers work with others on projects and may be assisted by civil engineering technicians.

The federal government employs civil engineers to do many of the same things done in private industry, except that the federally employed civil engineers may also inspect projects to be sure that they comply with regulations.

Civil engineers work on complex projects, so they usually specialize in one of several areas.

Construction engineers manage construction projects, ensuring that they are scheduled and built in accordance with the plans and specifications. They are typically responsible for design and safety of temporary structures used during construction.

Geotechnical engineers work to make sure that foundations are solid. They focus on how structures built by civil engineers, such as buildings and tunnels, interact with the earth (including soil and rock). In addition, they design and plan for slopes, retaining walls, and tunnels.

Structural engineers design and assess major projects, such as buildings, bridges, or dams, to ensure their strength and durability.

Transportation engineers plan, design, operate, and maintain everyday systems, such as streets and highways, but they also plan larger projects, such as airports, ports, mass transit systems, and harbors.

Work Environment

Civil engineers
Though civil engineers must work in an office setting to produce their plans, they must also spend much time on site to oversee construction.

Civil engineers held about 272,900 jobs in 2012. Civil engineers generally work indoors in offices. However, they sometimes spend time outdoors at construction sites so they can monitor operations or solve problems at the site. Occasionally, civil engineers travel abroad to work on large engineering projects in other countries.

The industries that employed the most civil engineers in 2012 were:

Architectural, engineering, and related services50%
State government, excluding education and hospitals13
Local government, excluding education and hospitals11
Nonresidential building construction5
Federal government, excluding postal service4

Work Schedules

Civil engineers typically work full time, and about 1 in 4 worked more than 40 hours per week in 2012. Engineers who direct projects may need to work extra hours to monitor progress of the overall projects, to ensure that the design meets requirements, and to ensure that deadlines are met.

How to Become a Civil Engineer

Civil engineers
Civil engineers need a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or one of its specialties.

Civil engineers need a bachelor’s degree. They typically need a graduate degree and licensure for promotion to senior positions. Though licensure requirements vary within the U.S., civil engineers must usually be licensed in the locations where they provide services publicly.

Education

Civil engineers must first complete a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or one of its specialties. A program accredited by ABET is needed in order to gain licensure, which is required to work as a professional engineer (PE). In many states, a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering technology will also suffice as an academic requirement for obtaining a license.

Bachelor’s degree programs in civil engineering or civil engineering technology include coursework in math, statistics, engineering mechanics and systems, and fluid dynamics, among other courses, depending on the specialty. Courses include a mix of traditional classroom learning, work in a laboratory, and fieldwork.

More than one of every five civil engineers has a master’s degree. Further education after the bachelor’s degree is helpful in getting a job as a manager, along with the PE license and previous experience. For more information on engineering managers, see the profile on architectural and engineering managers.

Important Qualities

Decision-making skills. Civil engineers often balance multiple and frequently conflicting objectives, such as determining the feasibility of plans with regard to financial costs and safety concerns. Urban and regional planners often look to civil engineers for advice on these issues.

Leadership skills. Civil engineers take ultimate responsibility for the projects or research that they perform. Therefore, they must be able to lead surveyors, construction managers, civil engineering technicians, and others to implement their project plan.

Math skills. Civil engineers use the principles of calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced topics in mathematics for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.

Organizational skills. Only licensed civil engineers can sign the design documents for infrastructure projects. This makes it imperative that civil engineers be able to monitor and evaluate the work at the job site as a project progresses to assure compliance with design documents.

Problem-solving skills. Civil engineers work at the highest level of planning, design, construction, and operation of multi-faceted projects or research with many variables that require the ability to evaluate and resolve complex problems.

Writing skills. Civil engineers must be able to communicate with other professionals, such as architects, landscape architects, and urban and regional planners. This means that civil engineers must be able to write reports clearly so that people without an engineering background can follow.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Civil engineers who sell their own services publicly must be licensed in all states and the District of Columbia. A license is required to exercise direct control of a project and to supervise other civil engineers and civil engineering technicians. A degree from an ABET-accredited program in civil engineering or civil engineering technology is generally required to obtain a license.

Early in the licensing process, a civil engineer must take and pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Examination. After passing this exam and meeting a particular state’s requirements, an engineer then becomes a Civil Engineering (CE) Intern or an Engineer-in-Training (EIT). Afterward, depending on the state, civil engineers must have a minimum of experience, pass more exams, and satisfy other requirements to qualify as a CE Professional. Each state's licensure board for professional engineers, which can be found through these state societies of professional engineers, can give further details.

Advancement

Civil engineers with ample experience may move into senior positions, such as project managers or functional managers of design, construction, operation, or maintenance. However, they would first need to obtain the Professional Engineering (PE) license, because only licensed engineers can assume responsibilities for public projects.

After gaining licensure, credentialing that attests to a Professional Engineer’s expertise in a civil engineering specialty may be of help for advancement to senior technical or even managerial positions.

Pay

Civil Engineers

Median annual wages, May 2012

Engineers

$86,200

Civil engineers

$79,340

Total, all occupations

$34,750

 

The median annual wage for civil engineers was $79,340 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half of the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $51,280, and the top 10 percent earned more than $122,020.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for civil engineers in the top five industries in which these engineers worked were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service$89,440
Local government, excluding education and hospitals83,670
Architectural, engineering, and related services79,470
State government, excluding education and hospitals74,180
Nonresidential building construction73,740

Civil engineers typically work full time, and about 1 in 4 worked more than 40 hours per week in 2012. Engineers who direct projects may need to work extra hours to monitor progress of the overall projects, to ensure that the design meets requirements, and to ensure that deadlines are met.

Job Outlook

Civil Engineers

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Civil engineers

20%

Total, all occupations

11%

Engineers

9%

 

Employment of civil engineers is projected to grow 20 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. As infrastructure continues to age, civil engineers will be needed to manage projects to rebuild bridges, repair roads, and upgrade levees and dams.

Moreover, a growing population means that new water systems will be required while the aging, existing water systems must be maintained to reduce or eliminate leaks of drinkable water. In addition, more waste treatment plants will be needed to help clean the nation’s waterways. Civil engineers play a key part in all of this work.

The work of civil engineers will be needed for renewable energy projects. Civil engineers prepare the permit documents for these types of projects, verifying that the project will comply with federal, state, and local requirements. With regard to solar energy, these engineers conduct structural analyses for large-scale photovoltaic projects. They also evaluate the ability of solar array support structures and buildings to tolerate stresses from wind, seismic activity, and other sources. For large-scale wind projects, civil engineers often prepare road beds to handle large trucks that haul in the turbines. In addition, they prepare the sites on shore or offshore to make sure that the foundations for the turbines will safely keep the turbines upright in expected environmental conditions.

Although states continue to face financial challenges and may have difficulty funding all the projects that need attention, some of the projects that have been delayed will ultimately have to be completed in order to build and maintain critical infrastructure.

Job Prospects

Although a bachelor’s degree is the typical requirement for entry, applicants who gain experience by participating in a co-op program while in college will have the best opportunities.

Employment projections data for Civil Engineers, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Civil engineers

17-2051 272,900 326,600 20 53,700 [XLS]

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of civil engineers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2012 MEDIAN PAY
Architects

Architects

Architects plan and design houses, office buildings, and other structures.

Bachelor’s degree $73,090
Civil engineering technicians

Civil Engineering Technicians

Civil engineering technicians help civil engineers plan and design the construction of highways, bridges, utilities, and other major infrastructure projects. They also help with commercial, residential, and land development. Civil engineering technicians work under the direction of licensed civil engineers.

Associate’s degree $47,560
Construction managers

Construction Managers

Construction managers plan, coordinate, budget, and supervise construction projects from development to completion.

Bachelor’s degree $82,790
Environmental engineers

Environmental Engineers

Environmental engineers use the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems. They are involved in efforts to improve recycling, waste disposal, public health, and water and air pollution control.

Bachelor’s degree $80,890
Landscape architects

Landscape Architects

Landscape architects plan and design land areas for parks, recreational facilities, private homes, campuses, and other open spaces.

Bachelor’s degree $64,180
Mechanical engineers

Mechanical Engineers

Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering disciplines. Mechanical engineers design, develop, build, and test mechanical and thermal devices, including tools, engines, and machines.

Bachelor’s degree $80,580
Surveyors

Surveyors

Surveyors make precise measurements to determine property boundaries. They provide data relevant to the shape and contour of the Earth’s surface for engineering, mapmaking, and construction projects.

Bachelor’s degree $56,230
Urban and regional planners

Urban and Regional Planners

Urban and regional planners develop plans and programs for the use of land. Their plans help create communities, accommodate population growth, and revitalize physical facilities in towns, cities, counties, and metropolitan areas.

Master’s degree $65,230

Contacts for More Information

For information about general engineering education and career resources, visit

American Society for Engineering Education

Technology Student Association

For more information about licensure, visit

National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying

National Society of Professional Engineers

For information about accredited programs in civil engineering and civil engineering technology, visit

ABET

For more information about civil engineers, visit

American Society of Civil Engineers

O*NET

Transportation Engineers

Civil Engineers

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Civil Engineers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/civil-engineers.htm (visited December 20, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014