Career profile: Municipal engineer

The municipal engineer works to make the city a civilised place to live, work and play. They do this through the management of a wide range of infrastructure, acting as the link between the citizen and politicians.

Cities such as Copenhagen have invested extensively in cycle infrastructure. Municipal engineers will help shape the future of our cities and urban areas.
Cities such as Copenhagen have invested extensively in cycle infrastructure. Municipal engineers will help shape the future of our cities and urban areas.

This relationship helps everyone to understand the options available to ensure that public funds are spent wisely.

In the past, municipal engineers were employed by councils but are now, more often, employed by consulting engineers, contractors and partnerships. The traditional work of highways & bridges, traffic & lighting still forms a major part of the workload, but is increasingly supplemented by a range of schemes that can embrace everything that makes a city function properly. The design, planning, commissioning, maintenance and management of streets and town centres, parks and public places, leisure facilities and public buildings, water supply and drainage, domestic and commercial waste recycling. The list is as long as the facilities that people need around them.

What is enjoyable about the role?

A career as a municipal engineer can be rewarding in many ways. You will be involved in a variety of urban infrastructure projects, and will use your engineering skills to develop and present solutions that have a direct impact upon the quality of everyday life.

Municipal engineers also play an important role in the checking of structures for compliance with Building Regulations. Similarly, work is carried out in the public realm, improving the streetscape in conjunction with landscape specialists and architects. In coastal areas there is a significant workload both in renewing sea defences and in the on-going maintenance of these structures.

What has changed in the sector in recent years?

Although the technical principles of civil engineering are well established, municipal engineers must continue to develop their knowledge of health and safety, especially as it applies to facilities that are directly used by the general public. The technical management of public liability is a major risk that all public bodies actively consider.

The field of Design for All to ensure that disabled users have equal access is a rapidly developing field; as is equal access for all age groups, gender and social groups.

Future career potential and projects

New disciplines are increasingly being embracd by municipal practitioners. Specialisms such as 3-D modelling, geospatial and big data specialists are included within the team to apply these techniques into city management:

How do I become a municipal engineer?

Municipal engineers are qualified in the identical way to every other civil engineer, with an educational base that spans NVQ through to a Masters Degree. Our routes to nembership pages describe how technician (EngTech), incorporated (IEng) and chartered (CEng) membership is obtained.

Many public bodies now have a specific requirement that their suppliers have an apprenticeship scheme to train those without previous experience or the appropriate educational base. Details of these schemes are advertised locally in the area that the organisation serves. Most Councils will have a page on their website to show how to access this route.

How do I return to civil engineering as a municipal engineer?

For those who are already qualified as a civil engineer, you simply apply to any council, public body, consultancy or contractor that works in the field for a vacancy. Public appointments have to widely advertised in local media and a fair selection criteria applied. Companies working in the field will have their own recruitment policies but they will typically reflect public practice.

Consultants are often keen to recruit qualified engineers who have recent municipal experience because they have a deep understanding of the process and procedures of scheme development. The public sector often has a wide range of criteria that must be satisfied before a design can be adopted and this can be confusing to those who haven’t been exposed to it previously.

As an example Gatenby Sanderson frequently seek out experienced people for both permanent and interim roles in Local Government, their website list these opportunities, at all levels, across the UK.

Similarly Waterman Aspen recruit staff for consultants, contractors, local authorities & other public sector organisations working in the built environment throughout the UK and overseas. Their website claims that their approved Continuous Professional Development (CPD) programme provides all our staff with the structured support and guidance to ensure their skills, knowledge and experience exceeds the recommended industry standards and helps them become professionally qualified.

For civil engineers our training scheme is approved by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and we fast track technicians and graduate engineers to achieve a professional qualification. All of our staff are provided with continuing professional development to maximise their career prospects and potential.

I do not have a degree in civil engineering. What next?

If you do not have a civil engineering degree, or would prefer to take a vocational route into the profession, there is the role of a civil engineering technician. Technicians are often at the cutting edge of design, construction and maintenance; everything from highways to sewage systems. Technicians assist the designer in the production of technical work with all activities relating to the inspection, drawings and site supervision of construction.

Entering the sector as a technician is an opportunity to work within an experienced and dedicated team and a great way to progress your career. ICE offers a recognised engineering technician qualification. Many ICE members have followed this path. Today, many are now chartered engineers with ICE.

How can I learn more about the discipline of municipal engineering?

To help you discover more about about the role that civil engineers play in this discipline, we've collated a series of resources including recorded lectures and case studies.

Recorded lectures

  • Engineering a cycle revolution - The speakers at this event examine the nature of highways and traffic engineering that will be needed to help deal with a major increase in volumes of cycle traffic in urban areas
  • James Forrest Lecture 2015: Infrastructure innovation - This event focuses on the need for innovation in the infrastructure sector, and looks at how this innovation is on the cusp of transformational change
  • London 2050: Engineering the future - Covering the opportunities and challenges presented by increased demand for public transport, the lecture focuses in particular on rail services and the undergound in the capital

Case studies

  • New York: Adapting to the threat of flooding - This case study is the first in a series examining cities around the world to see how they have managed similar circumstances and what lessons can be learned
  • Building resilient cities - This case study looks at the challenges posed by climate change and sea-level rises
  • Rotterdam: Adapting to climate change - Learn more about how Rotterdam is adapting to the risks posed by sea-level rises and the policies it's adopting
  • Vancouver: Creating the world's greenest city - Vancouver, a city located on the Fraser delta, is one of the most densely populated cities in Canada. Learn how authorities are preparing to meet the expected challenges of climate change
  • Highways and Regeneration: the urban evolution of Etten-Leur - This case study explains how the relocation of existing highways infrastructure acted as a catalyst to regenerate the town of Etten-Leur
  • Midlands Highway Alliance - The Midlands Highway Alliance (MHA) is the first partnership of its kind in the UK. It comprises of eighteen local authorities and the Highways Agency, and works together to improve performance, share best practice and make efficiency savings in the delivery of highway services.

Browse all our municipal engineering knowledge

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