Building Engineer Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a building engineer? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a building engineer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Building Engineer Career

Building engineers, also known as civil engineers or structural engineers, design buildings and other structures. Read below to learn the advantages and disadvantages of choosing a career in civil engineering.

Pros of Being a Building Engineer
Higher-than-average wages (about $87,130 mean wage in 2014)*
Growth in the field (8% growth from 2014-2024)*
Full-time work available for building engineers*
Work in several industries (architectural, engineering, government and non-residential building construction)*

Cons of Being a Building Engineer
Considerable preparation needed (bachelor's degree and licensure)*
Contract engineers might have to meet project deadlines*
May require travel abroad*
Work may be mentally strenuous and very demanding*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Building engineers plan, design and oversee the construction of buildings for residential, commercial and government use, and they may oversee other construction projects such as roads, railroads, bridges, dams and sewage systems. In order to plan projects and assess construction needs, they analyze maps, blueprints, aerial photography, drawings and geological data.

Building engineers estimate the quantities and costs of labor and materials needed for construction and may present public reports on topics such as environmental impact, bid proposals and deeds. During construction, they monitor or inspect project sites in order to ensure that design specifications and safety standards have been met. In designing structures, civil engineers utilize various technological mediums, including GPS devices, computer-aided design (CAD) software and spreadsheet programs.

Salary and Outlook Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that civil engineers earned a mean wage of around $87,130 in 2014. The states with the highest employment levels were California, Texas, New York, Florida and Pennsylvania. Additionally, the BLS projected that building engineers may see a fast-as-average growth of 8% from 2014-2024, which would mean an employment change of about 23,600 jobs.

Education and Training Requirements

Civil engineers must hold a bachelor's degree in engineering. For managerial or promotional positions, they typically need a graduate degree. Many universities will allow undergraduate engineering students to specialize in civil engineering. In these programs, students can take courses in engineering materials, steel and reinforced concrete design, structural analysis and environmental engineering. These programs also emphasize courses in the sciences and mathematics. In very general terms, the following concepts and skills are needed in order to succeed as a civil engineer:

  • Specialized knowledge of structural design
  • Solid foundation in mathematics
  • Strong decision-making skills
  • Project management
  • Leadership skills

Licensure

If you build structures for the public then you must be licensed, according to the BLS. In order to become licensed, you must complete an ABET-accredited program and pass a 2-part engineering test though requirements vary by state. The first part, Fundamentals of Engineering, can be taking directly after graduation; however, you must gain experience and pass additional tests to become a certified professional engineer.

Job Postings From Real Employers

Employers are seeking engineers with bachelor's degrees and relevant work experience in structural or civil engineering. Some employers may be willing to substitute work experience with internship experience. To get an idea of what the field looked like in April 2012, check out the real job postings below:

  • An engineering company in Minnesota was seeking a civil engineer to develop site designs, prepare project plans, design utility systems and create erosion control plans. This job required a bachelor's degree in civil engineering, two years of experience with CAD programs and experience through a civil engineering internship or at least one year of professional experience.
  • A building company based in Texas was seeking a structural engineer. This job required a bachelor's degree and at least four years of relevant work experience. Job duties included preparing preliminary and working drawings for metal buildings, managing projects in all phases of production, reading blueprints and exploring innovative design concepts.
  • A technical services company in Ohio was seeking a structural engineer with a bachelor's degree in civil or mechanical engineering. Job duties included determining seismic, dead, wind, thermal and static loads, performing stress analysis of structural steel and designing components and supports in accordance with customer needs.
  • An architectural and building construction company in Tennessee was seeking a structural engineer with extensive knowledge of industrial building framing and structural steel systems. Job duties included creating plans for building columns, shell and roof support structures and coordinating structural systems.

How to Stand Out in the Field

The majority of workers in this field hold bachelor's degrees, and by earning a graduate degree, you can stand out among the competition and may qualify for positions that require increased technical knowledge. In a graduate program, students can participate in the latest research projects and study more advanced topics in civil engineering; programs typically combine standard coursework with research and design projects. Some graduate programs will allow students to specialize in a particular branch of civil engineering, such as structural engineering or construction engineering. You can also choose to join a national society, such as the American Society of Civil Engineers, to gain access to continuing education, mentoring opportunities, certification and leadership tools.

Alternative Career Paths

Architect

Are you interested in designing buildings instead of just building them? You may want to consider a career as an architect. Architects consult with clients in order to determine the spatial and functional requirements of structures, such as private residences, office buildings and factories. They plan the layout of architectural projects and direct the activities of workers who prepare drawings and models of buildings through traditional drafting techniques and CAD software. To become licensed, you must complete a 5-year Bachelor of Architecture degree and at least 3 years of training. According to the BLS, architects earned a mean annual wage of about $79,000 in 2011. Between 2010 and 2020, employment in this field is projected to increase 24%, which is faster-than-average among all occupations.

Aerospace Engineer

If you are interested in the engineering field, but want to specialize in designing aircrafts, spacecrafts and missiles, then you should consider becoming an aerospace engineer. Aerospace engineers conceptualize and plan the design of aeronautical or aerospace systems and products, test aircraft and aerospace materials, analyze and compile engineering data and write technical reports that are used by customers, management or other engineers. To become an aerospace engineer, you will need at least a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering. The BLS projected that aerospace engineers will only see a 5% increase in jobs from 2010-2020; however, the mean annual wage was about $104,000 in 2011.

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