What Does Structural Engineer Do? (With Skills and Salary)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 6 April 2022

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.

Working as a structural engineer is a rewarding role where you're responsible for the integrity of new buildings and structures. Being a structural engineer can offer you the chance to use your maths and engineering skills. Understanding what a structural engineer does can help you determine if it's the right career path for you. In this article, we explain what a structural engineer does, the difference between a structural engineer and a civil engineer, the typical work environment, responsibilities and skills for a structural engineer and the average salary you could expect to earn.

What does a structural engineer do?

Knowing the answer to, 'What does a structural engineer do?' is important if you're considering entering the field. A structural engineer works to ensure the integrity and strength of structures. Structural engineering focuses explicitly on the design, construction and ongoing maintenance of infrastructure projects across private and public sectors. These projects may include roads, bridges, tunnels, buildings, dams, towers and airports. It's the responsibility of a structural engineer to ensure that these different types of structures can withstand external pressures, such as high winds, earthquakes or the weight of materials used in construction.

Structural engineers focus on the integrity of each structure element, for example, foundations, beams, floors and columns. They can also work to improve the integrity of existing structures. They typically use scientific and mathematical calculations to help determine the strength of a structure. Structural engineers usually assess several materials to understand their strengths in relation to different external pressures. Structural engineering is a speciality of civil engineering and can be a challenging job that requires ongoing training and a range of skills.

Difference between structural and civil engineers

Structural and civil engineers have similar roles, and they're technically within the same discipline, but they vary in a few aspects. Civil engineers focus on design, while structural engineers inspect the materials used in construction to ensure they can support the plan. Both structural and civil engineers can work on projects to develop existing and proposed structures.

Typical responsibilities of a structural engineer

Working as a structural engineer can often involve analysing a range of structures to test the strength and durability of the materials used in the construction process. They can also design and supervise the construction of a range of structures. Structural engineers often work outdoors and usually travel to various locations.

Some other responsibilities of structural engineers include:

  • preparing and reviewing building designs, noting any issues or areas requiring changes

  • calculating loads and stress that structures can withstand

  • determining appropriate construction methods and materials

  • designing structures to reduce any risk of collapse, bending or vibration

  • calculating a structure's reaction to weather using technology

  • organising any required regulatory permits

  • preparing cost estimates of structures

  • supervising building construction and working with project managers

  • liaising with other specialists and stakeholders to deliver the project, for example, architects, engineers and builders

  • managing projects and administering contracts

  • ensuring the structure is safe and up to all relevant codes and quality standards

  • comparing the structure against the original building plans to ensure no discrepancies

  • inspecting the project site at various stages of the construction and providing approvals to proceed to the next stage of construction

Structural engineer work environment

Structural engineers work in a range of industries, for example, government departments, construction companies, engineering consulting firms or utility companies. While a structural engineer can spend a lot of time on-site for projects, they also work in an office environment. Structural engineers typically work full time during standard operating hours, for example, 9am to 5pm. They occasionally work overtime or outside business hours, mainly to meet specific deadlines.

Skills required to be a structural engineer

Structural engineers benefit from having a range of skills including:

Attention to detail

Structural engineers design structures with durable materials to help keep a building in place, so having great attention to detail to select the right materials for each structure is essential. Attention to detail can help minimise any mistakes that may affect the structural integrity of the building. Structural engineers also rely on facts and figures to help them make the right decisions, so being precise with numbers and measurements is important.

Related: How to Improve Your Attention to Detail In 4 Steps

Good communication

Having both verbal and written communication is essential for structural engineers to help them communicate designs to stakeholders. Good presentation skills are also important, as structural engineers can frequently present to various audiences or produce written reports. To get the best outcomes for buildings, engineers can clearly communicate the projects with clients.

Organisation

When building a new structure or renovating an existing one, being organised is essential for structural engineers. Being organised can help them ensure the delivery of projects. Organisational skills help structural engineers locate and pass along the right documents to the next stage of the project.

Maths

To design structures, structural engineers often rely on using complex mathematical calculations. Understanding and calculating maths to a high level can be critical to creating structures that are solid and safe. Structural engineers also benefit from having a good understanding of physics to test different materials and understand their strengths.

Problem-solving

Structural engineers regularly use problem-solving skills to create solutions for their projects and designs. For example, if an engineer discovers an issue with a building plan, it's their responsibility to develop a solution. In addition, structural engineers often may use problem-solving skills to help solve problems with existing buildings, which can sometimes offer greater challenges than new builds.

Related: Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions And Examples

Leadership

Along with good project management skills, structural engineers benefit from being good leaders. Having good leadership skills allows you to manage a team effectively to deliver a project. Being a good leader can mean motivating team members to stay on track to meet deadlines.

Computer skills

A structural engineer typically uses different software as part of their role. Understanding how to use unique types of software used to model, design and document projects of any size or type is essential. Using familiar computer tools, including email, spreadsheet and word processing, can be crucial for day-to-day activities.

Related: Computer Literacy: What It is And How You Can Improve Yours?

How to become a structural engineer

Below are steps on how to become a structural engineer:

1. Obtain a qualification

To become a structural engineer, most employers typically require you to have completed a university degree or relevant qualifications. You may study for a bachelor's degree in engineering or a Diploma of Civil and Structural Engineering. Postgraduate studies can provide you with an opportunity to enhance your skills, which can be attractive to employers. For example, a Graduate Diploma in Engineering Science can offer you the opportunity to extend your knowledge and practical experience in structural engineering.

2. Get an internship

Most universities offering a Bachelor in Engineering require you to complete a set number of weeks of work experience while studying. This experience can help you build industry contacts with leading engineers and businesses and obtain practical experience. The work experience placement typically runs for 12 weeks and students document the practical engineering skills gained throughout their experience.

3. Gain work experience

In addition to an internship, you may apply for entry-level roles in engineering. This can help you gain more relevant experience. As you gain more industry experience, your career prospects may improve. If you're successful, you can advance to more senior roles.

4. Join an engineering institution

Having membership in a professional organisation is not typically necessary for structural engineers to practice, but having one can enhance your credentials. You can consider membership with The Institute of Structural Engineers to help build your network in the industry. Being part of an organisation may allow you opportunities to stay up to date with the latest technology and advancements within engineering. It can also be an excellent way to hear about job opportunities.

Related: What Is Professional Networking? (And Why It Matters)

What you can expect to earn as a structural engineer

The average salary for a structural engineer is $111,130 per year. Salaries can vary depending on several factors, for example, location. Your level of experience and area of specialisation can also impact how much you can earn as a structural engineer. The role of a structural engineer is available in both rural and metropolitan areas, often paying higher salaries in more remote areas. For example, the average annual salary of a structural engineer in Mackay is currently significantly higher than one based in Sydney.
Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.
Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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