What Is a Civil Engineer and How to Become One

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.

A civil engineer's principal responsibilities involve planning, designing, managing and constructing modern infrastructure. Civil engineering is a fast-growing industry, and if you have the required skills and qualifications, it can be a lucrative career path. Learning about the role of a civil engineer can help inform your career choices. In this article, we explain what is a civil engineer and how to become one, and we provide answers to frequently asked questions regarding civil engineering.

What is a civil engineer?

Civil engineers work alongside architects and city planners to build and develop well-established cities. They plan, design, construct, manage and maintain a wide range of infrastructure. This includes roads, railways, buildings, bridges, airports, mines, dams, harbours, and water systems.

What does a civil engineer do?

A civil engineering role may include the following duties:

  • Planning and strategising various aspects of a project.

  • Developing detailed civil structure graphics using computer-aided design (CAD) software.

  • Surveying site locations and surrounding areas ahead of construction to determine the project's feasibility. This includes getting soil and rock samples at different depths.

  • Inspecting project sites to monitor progress and manage onsite labour.

  • Estimating equipment and labour costs for project feasibility and proceeding to make budgetary suggestions.

  • Ensuring compliance with relevant rules, guidelines and environmental regulations at every step of the project.

  • Completing project paperwork to ensure all involved parties fulfil their obligations and meet specific deadlines.

  • Creating effective proposals to convince clients or agencies about particular projects.

Because civil engineers work on a variety of public and private infrastructure projects, they may work for local government departments and agencies, consulting companies, mining corporations or civil engineering contractors.

Average salary for civil engineers

It's important to understand that a civil engineer's salary depends on the years of experience, level of education, location and employer. Civil engineers can earn good money. A civil engineer's average base salary, according to Indeed Salaries, is $105,369 per year. Civil engineers in these cities typically earn more than the national average:

  • Sydney: $110,003 per year

  • Brisbane: $115,826 per year

  • Gold Coast: $113,085 per year

  • Perth: $110,019 per year

Related: 10 Highest Paying Engineering Jobs

How to become a civil engineer

Here's a step-by-step guide on how to become a civil engineer:

1. Complete your education

First, to become a civil engineer you must complete a four-year Bachelor of Engineering degree, majoring in civil engineering, or a Bachelor of Civil Engineering. Entry to these undergraduate degrees is subject to your Year 12 results and meeting prerequisite subject requirements, which often include high-level mathematics, chemistry and physics.

Coursework

Depending on the university, coursework will include subjects like computing skills, mechanics, calculus, hydrology, structural design, construction methods, geotechnical engineering, project management principles and transportation engineering. Your fourth year usually involves practical experience and a design project.

Choose a specialty

Civil engineering typically comprises five principal areas: structural engineering, engineering construction and project management, geotechnical engineering, water engineering and transport engineering. During your undergraduate degree, you'll typically need to choose your specialty and complete certain electives in your third and fourth year.

2. Pursue higher learning

After your undergraduate degree, you can then complete a Master of Civil Engineering. Earning this qualification may increase your chances of becoming a consultant, manager or project leader. Earning a master's degree may also allow you to earn a higher salary.

3. Earn a certification

The Professional Engineers Act requires anyone performing a professional engineering service in Queensland or for Queensland to be an RPEQ (Registered Professional Engineer of Queensland). Alternatively, the Registered Professional Engineers of Professionals Australia (RPEng) is a national accreditation scheme offered to members of the Association of Professional Engineers Australia. Only qualified, ethical and experienced engineers can earn this accreditation.

Engineers Australia also provides Chartered Professional Engineers status and a Professional Development Program. Becoming a Chartered Engineer leads to global recognition, career progression and leadership development and is available to qualified engineers that have been practising for over five years. Engineers Australia also organises the National Engineering Register, which is a comprehensive directory of Australian engineers who have met the high professional standards expected within the industry. To register, you will need a recognised qualification, practical experience and Professional Indemnity Insurance.

Frequently asked questions about civil engineering

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about this profession:

What skills do you need to become a civil engineer?

What is a civil engineer's key skillset? To help them succeed in the workplace, a civil engineer should possess both practical and creative skills. For instance, a successful engineer needs to possess an aptitude for computing, mathematics and design. Here is a list of skills successful civil engineers possess:

  • Decision-making skills: Civil engineers oversee projects of various scales. During the development of a project, they must determine its feasibility and assess costs and safety standards. A successful engineer will use their knowledge and experience to make the right decision.

  • Problem-solving skills: Civil engineers plan, design and implement various infrastructure projects, so they must find efficient solutions for any problems they encounter. They need to analyse the project or scenario, predict potential issues and create viable solutions.

  • Organisational skills: It's essential for civil engineers to have proficient organisational and time management skills, as their role may involve monitoring the progress of a project and managing a team that includes both technicians and labourers. Organisational skills are also beneficial when working on several projects simultaneously.

  • Leadership skills: When implementing a new project, civil engineers often lead or consult a team that includes fellow engineers, technicians, surveyors, planners and labourers. Therefore, being able to work both independently and as part of a team is an essential skill successful civil engineers should possess.

  • Communication skills: Proficient oral and written communication skills are necessary, as civil engineers converse with a wide range of people, including colleagues, clients and onsite construction staff.

  • Math skills: Civil engineers need to have a thorough understanding of calculus, trigonometry and relevant architecture or constructed-related math skills, as they'll be a requirement when working on most projects.

Related: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

What professional organisations can civil engineers join?

Joining a professional organisation can help civil engineers continue their education and training, network with industry professionals and learn new industry techniques and technologies. Here's a selection of professional organisations civil engineers can join:

  • Engineers Australia**:** The profession's peak body, Engineers Australia exists to advance the science and practice of engineering for the benefit of the community.

  • Board of Professional Engineers of Queensland**:** An independent organisation, the Board of Professional Engineers of Queensland protects the public and manages the multi-faceted profession through a set of important principles.

  • Association of Professional Engineers Australia (APEA)**:** Run by engineers for engineers, APEA is a union and professional association.

What is a civil engineer's work environment like?

Civil engineers work in a variety of locations and environments, including the public and private sectors. They may work for large national corporations, local governments or non-profit organisations. Civil engineers often spend a lot of time in an office designing and planning projects. However, when they oversee these projects, civil engineers must work outside at construction sites where they're responsible for supervising and guiding teams. It's also common for civil engineers to move to different locations across the state and country, depending on a project's requirements.

Is civil engineering a solid career option?

Yes, if you consider future job prospects and average income, civil engineering is a sound career. As cities worldwide continue to grow, there may be a need for civil engineers. According to JobOutlook , the number of civil engineers grew strongly from 39,100 in 2014 to 56,100 in 2019.

Why is it called civil engineering?

John Smeaton coined the term in 1750 to distinguish engineers working on civil projects from military engineers, which was the preeminent engineering career. It's called civil engineering as it involves the construction of infrastructure civilians use in daily life, including water systems, roads, railways and airports.

What careers are like civil engineering?

If you're interested in the duties and skills of civil engineering, consider these similar positions:

1. Project engineer

National average salary: $115,147 per year

Primary duties: Plan, organise and supervise the construction of civil engineering projects.

2. Structural engineer

National average salary: $112,235 per year

Primary duties: Civil engineering specialists, structural engineers ensure the materials and framework used in the construction of load-bearing infrastructure is safe and can support the proposed design.

3. Civil designer

National average salary: $97,320 per year

Primary duties: Use computer-aided design (CAD) software to draft and create drawings and maps for infrastructure and construction projects.

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