The organisation or individual that commissions the project is called the client. To design and build the project the client gets together a specialist team of consultants then employs a contractor to build it.
Clients, consultants and contractors all employ graduate engineers, so your choice of employer depends on which stage of the process you would like to be involved in.
Some clients do not build enough to make it worth their while having engineers on their staff full time, so they bring in external consultants right at the start. However, others, such as the Highways Agency, Network Rail, Transport for London, water companies and property developers are responsible for building, running and managing assets that require the full-time input of engineers.
As a graduate engineer with one of these clients you could get involved in feasibility studies and outline designs, detailed design, project management and, ultimately, managing the finished asset.
At different stages in the process you will work with external consultants who bring specific expertise. Usually, once a project has been planned and the financing found for it, the client hands it over to consultants and contractors to do the detailed design and build it. At this stage the client's engineers are responsible for making sure the client gets the job it wants.
Consultants get involved with planning and designing projects. They have the engineering expertise to translate the client's ideas into something that can be built.
Consulting engineers may be brought in right at the start of a project to help with feasibility or costing, or may be called in later, when the client wants detailed design carried out. Work includes preparing tenders, technical design, preparing design calculations, site surveys and detailed drawings.
Much of a consultant's work is office-based, but they also supervise work on site, making sure the contractor is building according to the plans that have been agreed, monitoring safety, ensuring the contractor has all the information it needs and solving problems.
Some consultancies employ engineers for every sector of building and construction. Others specialise in certain types of projects – such as transportation or buildings – or are dedicated to one specialism like geotechnics or water.
Contractors build the projects, employing the labour and bringing in equipment and materials to translate the designer's plans into reality. Contractors employ engineers to implement the designs and manage the work on site.
All three of these sectors employ graduate engineers, often on a training programme recognised by the Institution of Civil Engineers that usually lasts about three years.
If you join a company that does not offer all the experience needed for the ICE's Professional Review, they may be able to second you to another company.
For example, working for a consultancy may not give you opportunities to work on site, so some consultants arrange a secondment with a contractor for six months.
It works the other way too, as engineers who work on site most of the time may need to join a consultant for a few months to get high-quality design experience.
If your management skills are stronger than your technical skills, you may want to get into project management.
Project managers need to be good with people, very well organised and capable of planning ahead, and working to a timetable. It is the project manager who pulls the team together and makes sure that the work is on track, whether that is on site or in the design office. You can do this with any employer – consultant, contractor, client or public sector – so ask when you apply what the opportunities are likely to be.
If you want to work within a community, the fourth option is to join a local authority such as a county or city council. Local authorities are responsible for providing all the services in their area, including roads, drainage, waste management and schools.
Local authority engineers can act in both the client and consultant role. Most of the construction is contracted out, but engineers are needed to supervise the work.
A graduate engineer's job with a local authority usually involves a range of design and site work, and dealing with the public.
FOR MORE INFORMATION...
Reading NCE every week will help you learn more about the vast range of work you can do as a civil engineer. The editorial will tell you who is doing what and where, while the recruitment advertisements will give you an idea of the jobs which are on offer once you are out in the world as a civil engineer.
If you join the ICE as a student member, which is free, you can receive NCE for only £20 rather than the usual £107. For more details go to www.ice.org.uk/students. Remember to tell ICE if you change address so NCE goes with you.