Construction Engineer Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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Get the truth about a construction engineer's salary, licensure requirements and career prospects. Read the job description and see the pros and cons of becoming a construction engineer.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Construction Engineering

Construction engineers help build public works projects that are integral to improving the viability, safety and prosperity of cities and communities. Learn more about the pros and cons of being a construction engineer to decide if it's right for you.

Pros for a Construction Engineering Career
Above-average earning potential ($82,050 median annual salary for civil engineers in 2014)*
Bonuses and overtime pay*
Opportunities to work inside and outdoors*
Earn a living improving the safety and security of communities**

Cons for a Construction Engineering Career
Long hours (may be on call 24 hours a day)*
Economy can hinder project funding in some states*
Work under tight deadlines*
High level of responsibility (must ensure structural integrity and functioning of important infrastructure, like airports, bridges and water systems)*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Society of Civil Engineers

Career Information for Construction Engineers

Duties and Responsibilities

Construction engineers are involved in major development projects, such as mass transit systems, bridges, buildings and dams. They are responsible for supervising many facets of the construction process, including costs and budgeting, materials, construction defects, scheduling, government codes and regulation compliance. They may also anticipate the long-term impacts of a structure and may modify plans to minimize adverse environmental impacts. These professionals often need foresight to consider factors like earthquakes and other natural disasters. Construction engineers often use computer software in the planning and design stages of a project, and may also use technology to ensure that new or upgraded structures are compliant with industry standards.

Occupational Outlook

Earnings for these workers can vary according to level of experience, responsibility and employer. As a whole, median annual salaries among engineers are higher than the median annual salary for all occupations in the U.S. economy. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary as of May 2014 for civil engineers was about $82,050, and those in the top ten percent earned about $128,110 or more (www.bls.gov).

The BLS projected jobs for civil engineers to grow at an average rate of 20% between 2012 and 2022. Driven by population expansion and a growing emphasis on security, the BLS predicted that more construction engineers will be required to design safer buildings, airports, transportation and pollution control systems. These workers will also be needed to repair and replace roads, bridges and other public structures as they deteriorate. Because the construction industry hires high numbers of civil engineers, opportunities can vary by geographic location and are often subject to fluctuation as the economy goes through upward and downward cycles.

What are the Requirements?

A bachelor's degree in civil engineering is typically the minimum requirement to work as a construction engineer. Some schools offer degrees directly in construction engineering, though it is most commonly offered as a concentration within civil engineering programs. You might also choose to earn a master's degree in civil engineering. Experience may be gained by completing internships, taking coursework that focuses on engineering principles in a lab setting or working in other areas of construction.

Most engineers need to become licensed to offer services directly to the public and to supervise engineering technicians and other workers assigned to construction projects. Licensure as a Professional Engineer (P.E.) is administered through state licensing boards, and specific requirements can vary by state. According to the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), becoming a P.E. generally involves earning a bachelor's degree from an ABET-accredited school, gaining work experience under a licensed P.E. and passing two qualifying exams, as well as continuing education to maintain licensure on an ongoing basis (www.ncees.org). Some additional skills that are typically desired in construction engineers can include:

  • Management skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Decision-making skills

What Employers are Looking for

Individuals seeking a career in construction engineering should prepare to deal with all of the challenges it presents. Construction engineers are involved in many complex construction projects that require high levels of technical knowledge. The following list includes a few job profiles that real employers posted in April 2012. While not a complete picture of the job market for construction engineers, it can help give you an idea of the kinds of skills that employers often desire.

  • A corporation in Illinois was seeking a construction engineer with a minimum of a bachelor's degree in construction engineering from an accredited school and seven or more years experience in a construction-related area. The company preferred candidates with leadership and customer service experience.
  • A Napa, California company sought a construction engineer to provide support services, inspect construction activities, review work plans and update drawings. The requirements included 2-5 years experience in civil construction, a degree in civil engineering and proficiency in Microsoft Office and AutoCAD.
  • A Chicago employer was looking for a senior-level construction engineer to inspect, assess and identify the causes of structural failures, construction defects and site issues for various assignments. The position required a bachelor's degree in civil or structural engineering, a P.E. license and at least 15 years relevant experience.
  • A company in Pennsylvania was hiring a construction engineer to manage the development of a project, including review of compliance standards, permit approvals, zoning and certifications. The job required knowledge of environmental and safety regulations, a bachelor's degree in engineering or equivalent work experience and at least five years experience in the telecommunications industry. The employer also desired construction management skills and knowledge of emergency, electrical and hazardous regulatory guidelines.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

Continuing Education

Earning a master's degree can be helpful in qualifying for managerial positions within the industry, according to the BLS. For instance, you could earn a Master of Civil Engineering or Master of Science in Engineering with a specialization in construction engineering and management. In addition, consider enhancing your skill set by taking courses that focus on the practical aspects of the field, such as in AutoCAD and other computer programs useful in the civil engineering or construction field. Professional organizations, like the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), offer various training opportunities, such as webinars, on-demand courses and seminars. These training programs are often designed with engineering professionals in mind to help them stay on track with changes in the industry and remain competitive in the workforce.

Get Certified

Professional certification can help construction engineers demonstrate competence in their field and qualify for management roles within the industry. Several professional organizations offer credentials relevant to the construction engineering field. For instance, the ASCE offers certification in specialty areas, such as water resource, geotechnical and coastal engineering. Certification through ASCE generally requires a P.E. license, master's degree and ten years experience (www.asce.org). Those working in managerial roles may consider earning the Certified Construction Manager (CCM) credential offered by the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA). The CCM credential is awarded to those who have a certain combination of education and work experience and who pass a qualifying exam (www.cmaanet.org).

Related Career Paths to Consider

Construction Manager

If you'd like to build a career overseeing construction projects but aren't sure the engineering field is the right fit for you, a career in construction management may be an attractive alternative. Construction managers are involved in a variety of supervisory tasks, from the initial planning phases of a construction project to the final phases of development. Construction managers have high earnings potential without advanced degree requirements. In fact, the BLS reports that, while a bachelor's degree is preferred, an associate's degree combined with work experience can be sufficient to qualify you for some construction management jobs. As of May 2011, construction managers earned a median annual salary of about $84,000, with the top ten percent earning over $149,000, according to the BLS. Construction management jobs were projected to grow at an average rate of 17% between 2010 and 2020, also according to the BLS.

Surveyor

If you'd like to work in other areas of the construction field, you could apply a civil engineering degree towards a career as a surveyor. Working alongside civil engineers and other professionals in the construction industry, surveyors map areas of development to establish water lines and property boundaries. They also measure construction sites, verify accuracy of spatial data and provide related information about land that is often needed for land acquisitions and real estate. As with engineering, states regulate the practice of surveying, and the licensure process is similar to that for a P.E., according to the NCEES. While the median annual salary as of May 2011 for surveyors was lower than that of civil engineers, at about $56,000, these professionals could expect above-average job growth between 2010 and 2020, about 25% according to the BLS.

Civil Engineering Technician

If the strict education and licensing requirements to become a construction engineer don't appeal to you, you may consider becoming a civil engineering technician. This career path may also make more sense for those who don't want the added pressures that come with overseeing large construction projects. Civil engineering technicians assist licensed civil engineers in the planning and design of construction projects. Their work often involves evaluating site conditions, reviewing designs for any problems and ensuring that design plans conform to codes and regulations. Civil engineering technicians typically only need an associate's degree in civil engineering technology, preferably from an ABET-accredited school. A certificate or diploma in the engineering technology field may also be sufficient for some positions. The BLS projected average job growth for these workers, at 12% between 2010 and 2020, and the median annual salary was about $47,000 as of May 2011.

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