You may already know that civil engineering covers many different exciting areas. But do you know what a career in each of those sectors involves?
‘Civil engineering’ is an umbrella term that covers a vast range of work. Six professionals talk us through their specialisms to help you to find out which area of civil engineering could be right for you.
Guy Wellings, director at consultant WSP Group
This sector takes in the engineering of all kinds of structures, including bridges and high-rise buildings. My decision to study civil engineering was sparked by a conversation with my cousin about the Thames Barrier when I was 18. I had always enjoyed maths and physics and secured a place at City University to study for a degree in civil engineering.
It was a ‘thin sandwich course’ involving several work placements. The first meant spending a cold winter in North Wales working on the A55 coast road, and the second meant working simultaneously on several structural engineering projects. I found the variety and shorter duration of the structural projects more enjoyable and this became my career development focus.
I’ve been with WSP for 10 years, during which time I’ve been instrumental in delivering the landmark Barclays Global Headquarters building in Canary Wharf, London, and winning a design competition for the U2 Tower in Dublin Docks. I’ve been guided by some truly inspirational engineers during my career and have worked on some great projects - and I’ve always been a member of the ICE. Professional qualifications have also been important in opening doors for me.
Hugh Gabriel, project engineer at consultant SLR Consulting
Geotechnical work means dealing with the ground and can include investigating ground conditions, building foundations and tunnelling. Projects in this sector can involve anything from foundation design for simple housing projects to designing the world’s largest dam.
The variety and opportunities are the best things about the job. I was drawn to a career as a geo-environmental engineer because of the diversity of the work, and the balance of site and office work. Since graduating from the Camborne School of Mines at the University of Exeter in 2007 I have worked for consultant SLR Consulting.
My involvement in projects varies. For example, I might be asked to design and implement the site investigation and work out what the sampling regime of the ground conditions should consist of. I also liaise with clients and undertake project management.
When I am on site, my work involves a combination of supervision of contractors during site investigation, and undertaking long term monitoring. When carrying out investigations my work involves the logging, sampling and specification of laboratory testing for later analysis to ensure the site is suitable for its intended use.
David Schofield, associate director for infrastructure and water with consultant Arup.
The water sector is extremely diverse - supply, sewerage, maritime, rivers and dams. A broad spectrum of skills is required and our Arup team has some very clever people.
Challenges in the sector include responding to climate change, ensuring that engineering solutions are sustainable and preparing for future problems. For example, surface water management design must be able to withstand extreme weather events and a 30% increase of peak rainfall intensity, which could happen due to climate change.
Changes to legislation mean that water engineers now have to innovate with their designs and make space for water. The water sector is constantly developing new solutions and technologies, and a robust understanding of traditional design will help to underpin modern thinking.
Peter Hinson, renewable energy development consultant at consultant EMP2
Energy is an exciting sector, as our energy networks are set to be transformed by alternative power sources such as wind, water, nuclear and solar.
I came into civil engineering as a trainee technician at a nuclear power station and later started in wind energy on the marketing side, so I had to learn new skills in planning policy, environmental assessment and lobbying. The basic skills of engineering - civil, mechanical and electrical - were applicable to the whole process.
I have worked with all types of people - from bankers to farmers - and have had to explain things so the public can understand them. Understanding the pros and cons of all forms of energy has been important and my experience shows there are a wide range of careers open to engineers in the energy sector.
Owen Ardill, graduate engineer at the Highways Agency
Civil engineers in the transport sector have lots of career options from designing ports and airports to managing road networks and railways.
I’ve always been interested in exploring my surroundings on my motorbike or in my car, and at 17 I started taking flying lessons. These hobbies helped me decide what to study at university.
I chose civil engineering so I could go on to specialise in transport and design roads, bridges and railways. I have since found a job with the Highways Agency, which manages England’s motorways and trunk roads.
As an engineer I can influence and redesign the things in the world that interest me. I am working with intelligent new technology for road transport and helping to make a real difference in the development of England’s motorways.
Joe March, engineer in flood and coastal risk management and asset system management at the Environment Agency
Flooding is a major challenge for civil engineers, who are involved with creating solutions to prevent, adapt to and repair flood damage. Working in this area is really interesting as we are at the forefront of dealing with climate change.
The 2005 Cumbria floods gave me early insight into what flood risk management engineers do during and after a flood event. I was one of the first people to undertake the Environment Agency’s foundation degree in River and Coastal Engineering in 2004. I completed the course in 2006 and found a job in the Environment Agency’s Asset Systems Management Team.
When Cumbria was hit by floods in 2009 I was a site controller, which meant liaising with emergency services, residents and the local council.