As part of National Careers Week, civil engineer Janet Benefo explores what skills will help you go far in the industry.
I was inspired to become a civil engineer at an early age by my father who is also a civil engineer (now retired).
He would sometimes bring engineering drawings home and explain to me how the different parts of the buildings were defined with line thicknesses and shading. This was in the days when drawings were done by hand using tracing paper and ink pens.
I had the opportunity to visit some of my father’s projects, and it was a great feeling to see the translation of his drawings into finished buildings. It was that which made me decide that I wanted to play a part in developing and improving our infrastructure.
What I love about the role of a civil engineer is that it can be quite varied, so you never get bored.
I’ve worked in a variety of civil engineering roles including:
- Designing road layouts to prevent flooding.
- Inspecting old bridges to ensure they were well maintained.
- Supervising the construction of a bridge over a railway line.
- Project managing the construction of multi-storey buildings overseas.
The main principles of civil engineering have been the same for hundreds of years but the way in which we carry out our work is always evolving.
An example is the use of drones to inspect dangerous structures or provide aerial views of landscapes. Another example is the use of virtual reality to ‘walk’ in and around structures before they are built to enhance the design and identify any potential issues.
From my 20 years of experience, the following are what I think are some important skills that civil engineers need to have.
What skills do civil engineers use?
1. Communication skills
I realised early on in my career that aside from the science and mathematical knowledge (technical skills) there are many other skills that I needed to carry out my job effectively, especially communication.
It's very important that civil engineers can express themselves clearly and in a way that's receptive to their audience.
My ability to communicate with people at all levels helped me to be successful in getting a job and doing the job well. I would always consider who I was going to meet and how I would deliver my contribution in a way that they could appreciate and understand.
I’ve designed schemes and then carried out public consultations, displaying my drawings and explaining the details of the scheme and how it would affect the people living and working in the local area.
I learned from these events how to explain some quite complicated technical things to non-engineers and get them ‘on board’ to see the positive changes the project would bring for their community.
2. Analytical and reasoning skills
Civil engineers use analytical skills to identify a problem and brainstorm the possible solutions. We use reasoning skills to weigh up the pros and cons to decide the best way forward and we communicate these findings back to colleagues, clients and others involved.
3. Organisational skills
Organisational skills are also very important.
When I'm given a brief for a project, the first thing I do, after identifying what is required, is to list the various items/activities and organise those items into a sequence with timeframes to create a programme of delivery.
This skill helped me to become an effective manager, as I was able to identify the extent of the work on a project and the resources needed. And learning how to carefully monitor the work, I’m able to make sure projects don’t overrun or go over budget.
4. Being a team player
The ability to be a team player is an essential skill in civil engineering because we collaborate with many other professionals on our projects.
For example, working on a bridge project I talked with geotechnical engineers about the ground conditions to give me an idea of what type of foundation would be suitable, as well as consulting with the gas, electricity, water and telecommunications companies to make sure we didn’t damage their services during construction.
5. You love finding out about other cultures
I was fortunate to work on civil engineering projects overseas in Ghana, which I loved.
Although the technical aspects were the same in Ghana as they are in the UK, some of the terminology was different and this became clear to me very early on, and so I made a point to clarify items with my Ghanaian counterparts to ensure we were on the same page.
Also, the health, safety and welfare culture in Ghana varied from project to project and I found the attitude to be very laid back.
However, despite the cultural differences, engineers have a common technical language, and with professional qualification from ICE, you're equipped to work anywhere you want in the globe – from Tasmania to Timbuktu.
So, have you got what it takes?
Find out how to get into civil engineeringincluding how to win scholarships for studying at university or college.
Search our civil engineer profiles for more on what civil engineers do and love about their jobs.
Read the rest of our National Careers Week special content.