How to Become a Structural Engineer

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 26 June 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Structural engineers play a major part in building the structures that keep the world running. They're involved in the design and construction of safe structures like bridges, buildings and stadiums. Understanding the steps you can take to become a structural engineer can help you plan your career. In this article, we discover how to become a structural engineer, what a structural engineer does and the skills they need to succeed.

How to become a structural engineer

The following steps outline how to become a structural engineer:

1. Complete a Bachelor of Engineering

Engineers in all specialties require a bachelor's degree. Most universities now offer a generalised Bachelor of Engineering course where students can major in their preferred speciality. You can major in civil or structural engineering to become a structural engineer.

In this course, you'll develop basic scientific, mathematical and practical skills. You'll use these skills to solve engineering problems and develop your structural engineering capabilities. You'll learn how to calculate material and truss stresses, study engineering concepts and learn about the commercial side of engineering.

2. Complete vacation work

Most universities require Bachelor of Engineering students to complete 12 weeks of vacation work to complete their degree. Vacation work is similar to volunteer work experience or an internship. You'll join an engineering firm and work alongside professional engineers to achieve the required amount of hours.

This experience is designed to help you implement the skills you learned in your studies. You'll gain real-world experience that boosts your capabilities and makes you a more appealing candidate to future employers. Many students create connections and a network of professional engineers in their vacation work that helps them later in their careers. It's even possible to be offered a graduate position after you finish if the company you volunteer at is hiring.

3. Consider completing a master's degree

After completing your undergraduate degree in engineering and undertaking vacation work, you should be ready to land a graduate job. You can also consider improving your employability by completing a master's degree.

A master's degree can teach you more advanced knowledge that gives you a competitive advantage in structural engineering. It can also offer the opportunity to specialise in an area you're interested in, like rail infrastructure, for example.

4. Join a structural engineering institution

Structural engineering is an advanced field that is impacted by evolving technology. Joining an institution can help you stay up to date with the latest industry news and trends that aid your career growth. The Institution of Structural Engineers focuses on supporting its members and promoting structural engineering in Australia. Joining an institution can help you network with other engineers and create unique career opportunities.

What does a structural engineer do?

Structural engineers work to ensure the strength and integrity of structures. Buildings, bridges and other structures must endure the excessive and specific amount of pressures from their environment. These can come from high winds, earthquakes or just the weight of the materials and people that use the structure.

Determining the strength of a structure involves complex mathematical and scientific calculations. Structural engineers evaluate various materials and building methods against the mechanical stress they expect their structures to endure. They may then create engineering solutions to make their designs more robust or flexible. Structural engineers can also work as consultants for people who need to evaluate the integrity of their existing building to make expansions and renovations.

Responsibilities of a structural engineer

A structural engineer typically has the following responsibilities:

  • Evaluating the properties of different materials

  • Calculating the stress that a structure may encounter

  • Creating and testing designs using computer software, such as CAD

  • Calculating the current stresses of existing buildings and evaluating their safety

  • Recommending changes to support the integrity of existing buildings

  • Monitoring the construction of new structures

  • Collaborating with other professionals to agree on the best solutions

  • Meeting with clients to determine project requirements

  • Developing construction project budgets and schedules

  • Ensuring structures meet the appropriate building codes and health and safety requirements

Relevant skills for structural engineers

Structural engineers need specialist hard skills that they can develop through their studies. They also rely on some specific soft skills to work on large projects with multi-disciplined teams. Below we outline relevant skills for structural engineers:

Problem-solving

Structural engineers work on some of the world's most complex projects. They need problem-solving skills to determine solutions for the problems that arise in projects like these. They also develop plans and designs for unique structures. Working on original structures with unique problems requires problem-solving skills. Employers may look for candidates who can demonstrate their problem-solving skills, as it's one of the key engineer skills.

You can develop your problem-solving skills by practising online brain games that are designed to exercise your critical thinking. You can aid your problem-solving abilities through research too. It's also helpful to ensure you have all the available information and weigh up the options before deciding on a solution.

Communication skills

Structural engineers have a bank of technical knowledge from their studies and work experience. They need to translate this knowledge to other professionals working on the same project. Structural engineers rely on strong communication skills to convey their findings, express their ideas and implement their designs.

You can develop communication skills through practice. Ask a relative or friend if you can explain some of the engineering concepts from your studies to them. This can help you break down the information and figure out new ways to communicate it to someone who doesn't have the same background.

Teamwork skills

Large-scale and complex projects in structural engineering require collaboration from professionals with different expertise. Working well together as a team is the best way to ensure these projects are a success. Structural engineers need good teamwork skills to work efficiently in their field and play their part towards the project's success.

You can develop teamwork skills by placing extra effort in how you collaborate with people. During your studies, you'll likely participate in some group work. Try your best to listen actively to others in the group while contributing your own ideas. At the end of the group work, you can ask your team members for constructive feedback that may help you improve your teamwork skills.

Pressure management

Structural engineers can often feel under pressure, given the scale of some of their projects. They also have to work within a schedule and budget, which can be stressful. Being reliable under pressure is an excellent skill for structural engineers to develop to help them succeed in their career.

You may experience stressful situations in your engineering studies. To improve your pressure management skills, try to raise your awareness of when you might be feeling stressed at university. This can be an excellent time to practice alleviating the pressure by reaching out to your tutor, who can give you advice. Mindfulness practices and meditation are also fantastic tools to manage pressure.

Frequently asked questions for structural engineers

Below we answer some frequently asked questions from people interested in becoming a structural engineer:

Is it hard to become a structural engineer?

With enough effort and determination, becoming a structural engineer is possible for most people. Tertiary engineering studies can be demanding and heavily technically focused. But universities can offer you all the tools you need to succeed.

You can complete some required prerequisite qualifications to be eligible for most undergraduate engineering degrees. Many universities will only accept students that have studied specialised maths, physics or chemistry in their ATAR year of school. A bachelor of engineering assumes a particular level of understanding before starting the course. If you want to pursue structural engineering but didn't do these subjects at school, there are some great bridging courses to reach the required level of understanding.

Is structural engineering a good career?

Structural engineering is an excellent and rewarding career for people interested in structures, science and engineering. Structural engineers can create iconic buildings and infrastructure that helps society function. They're also responsible for protecting people's lives through the safety of these structures. A career in structural engineering allows people to use maths and science for the benefit of society.

How much money does a structural engineer make a year?

Structural engineers earn an average salary of $112,001 per year. They can work as consultants, contractors or in-house for construction companies. The tight schedule of some projects means that some structural engineers may work overtime when necessary. Their salary can range widely and depends on their work environment and experience within the industry.

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