A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer

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Civil engineers play an extremely important role in our cities and rural areas. It’s their responsibility to plan, design, and oversee the construction of both public and private infrastructure projects. Without civil engineers, we wouldn’t have intricate road systems, bridges, dams, and systems for water supply, among many other things we use every day.

Given this, you might be interested in becoming a civil engineer yourself. But before you commit to that career path, you might want to spend some time learning exactly what civil engineers do during an average day.

Keep reading to learn:

  • What an average day looks like for a civil engineer
  • What the process of becoming a civil engineer looks like
  • How to determine whether this is a good career choice for you

Where do civil engineers work?

Though civil engineers are intimately involved with large-scale construction projects, they don’t necessarily spend the majority of their time on job sites. 

Much of a civil engineer’s time is spent working on designs, which is work that can be completed inside of an office. Once a project moves out of the design and planning phase, then a civil engineer will likely begin spending more of their time at the site where it’s being built.

But it isn’t a civil engineer’s job to oversee the day-to-day actions of construction workers. Instead, when they’re on a job site, they typically interact with construction team leads with the goal of ensuring that different aspects of the project proceed in the correct way.

How much do civil engineers make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for a civil engineer in the United States is $88,570. That equates to about $42.58 per hour.

That being said, there can be quite a bit of variability in the amount that a civil engineer earns. For example, the highest 10% of civil engineering earners make $144,810 per year while the lowest 10% make $56,160.

Some of the factors that can impact how much a civil engineer earns include:

  • Where they’re located (civil engineers in areas with high costs of living tend to make more)
  • How much experience they have (more experience often means more pay)
  • What type of training they have (more training often leads to more pay)
  • Who employs them (federally-employed civil engineers tend to earn about $10,000/year more than those employed by engineering services)
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A day in the life of a civil engineer

A helpful way to think about whether becoming a civil engineer is a good move for you is to review what an average day might look like for you in this role.

Clocking in and getting started

Civil engineers typically begin their days between 8:00 and 9:00 in the morning. The first hour of a civil engineer’s day is often spent catching up with coworkers, checking out relevant industry news, and preparing for the day’s tasks.

It’s important for civil engineers to schedule some time for these types of tasks early in the day. They need to take some time to review requests from contractors, news from projects, and communications from supervisors in order to figure out what the rest of their day will look like.

Working on the day’s tasks

Once a civil engineer has gotten the opportunity to organize their day, they will begin working on the day’s tasks. This can involve many different things and will vary depending on the current status of the projects that the civil engineer is responsible for.

For example, a civil engineer may spend some time working on the designs for a new project. They might also respond to emails and spend time interacting with clients, suppliers, and inspectors.

Someone in this position will also spend some of their time in meetings and managing the people that are working on the projects that they’re overseeing.

A civil engineer will often go back to these tasks several times throughout the day. For example, they might spend their morning working on designs only to meet with a local official who makes a request that necessitates new changes to the design.

Most civil engineers say that they rarely need to leave the office to go on-site to a project, with this kind of trip typically only needed once a week or even less frequently.

Finishing for the day

Civil engineers tend to finish their day within regular business hours. Most will leave the office sometime between 4:30 and 6:00. A civil engineer may have to work later than this from time to time when an important deadline on a project is coming up. But working extra hours appears to be the exception instead of the rule for civil engineers.

Some civil engineers, while finishing up, will get themselves ready for the next day before going home. This makes it easier for them to dive right into their work when they return to the office.

Can you learn your trade on the job?

There are many industrial positions that allow new workers to learn on the job. However,  civil engineering isn’t really one of them. In order to qualify for a position as a civil engineer, you will probably need to have at least a bachelor’s degree in a field like civil engineering, civil engineering technologies, or construction.

While pursuing one of these degrees, you’ll take classes on concepts that are key to the work that you’ll do in this profession, including topics like:

  • Statistics
  • Engineering mechanics and systems
  • Fluid dynamics
  • Structural analysis and design
  • Strength of materials

Many civil engineers also choose to continue pursuing an education in this field after earning their bachelor’s degrees. Employers typically prefer to promote civil engineers with graduate degrees and licenses into senior positions.

One other thing to note is that you will likely need a state license to practice as a civil engineer. Sometimes simply earning a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering technology will satisfy the requirements for the license, but you’ll want to check in with your state’s rules to be sure.

Are the working conditions worth it?

Working conditions are generally very good for civil engineers. Most employees in this role spend the majority of their time in a relatively comfortable office setting and take short trips to job sites every so often.

However, some special types of civil engineers may face more demanding working conditions. For example, construction engineers spend much more of their time at job sites and may need to travel often.

That being said, you don’t have to take a job that requires you to travel often if you don’t want to. There are plenty of opportunities for civil engineers that will allow you to work a standard 40-hour workweek in an office setting the majority of the time.

Is becoming a civil engineer right for you?

Becoming a civil engineer can be a great career move for many people. But if you’re still trying to figure out whether it’s right for you, you might want to consider the following factors.

YOUR WILLINGNESS TO TRAIN

Unlike many other industrial positions, you will need to earn at least a bachelor’s degree before you can become a civil engineer. If you aren’t willing to complete a bachelor’s degree program in civil engineering or a related field, then you might want to look at other opportunities in the industrial sector instead.

YOUR SKILLSET

Civil engineers rely on a very specific set of skills on a daily basis. This is a list that includes:

  • Math skills
  • Leadership capabilities
  • Decision-making skills
  • Organizational skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Technical know-how

If you don’t possess all of these skills right now, that’s okay. It doesn’t mean that you can’t become a civil engineer. As long as you’re willing to spend time developing these capabilities, this may still be a viable career path for you.

YOUR JOB OPPORTUNITIES

The United States needs civil engineers to upkeep its existing infrastructure and oversee new projects that expand it. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for new civil engineers is only expected to increase at a rate of 2% from 2019 to 2029. 

The BLS classifies that as slower than average. That means you may face more competition for civil engineering job opportunities than you would for other types of industrial employment opportunities.

Learn more about civil engineers with Rock The Trades

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