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6 things people don’t tell you about becoming a civil engineer

06 July 2023

ICE President’s Future Leaders share things they love about the profession that they didn’t know until they started working.

6 things people don’t tell you about becoming a civil engineer
Collaboration is key to success in civil engineering. Image credit: Shutterstock

Whatever your path into civil engineering – be it university or perhaps an apprenticeship – there are things that you only learn once you've spent some time in the industry.

We spoke with some of our President’s Future Leaders (PFLs), past and present, to find out what some of these insights might be, and why they make them love the career even more.

1. The opportunities to help address the climate crisis

Civil engineers play a vital role in fighting climate change.

As demonstrated by our Time is running out exhibition, civil engineers work hard to secure our access to clean water, energy and transportation.

All the while making sure we’re still able to go about our day-to-day in the face of more extreme weather events.

Kaye Pollard, one of Rachel Skinner’s PFLs in 2020/21, highlights another way in which civil engineering is key: “I have only recently come to appreciate how much of the world’s carbon emissions are associated with infrastructure.

“As a civil engineer this presents a huge opportunity to help reduce global carbon emissions and prevent climate change... on a scale far greater than could ever be achieved by your individual actions alone.”

Rachel Hayden, 2022/23 PFL for Keith Howells, explains why: “So much of the world around us is designed, built and maintained by civil engineers and we have a huge role to play to make the world more sustainable and achieve net zero by 2050.”

2. The scale of the work civil engineers do

“I didn’t appreciate the immense scale of projects until I started working in the industry,” says Lucy Davison, PFL in 2022/23.

At times, the sheer size of the projects that civil engineers work on can be enough to stop you in your tracks.

From helping to cut water pollution by means of the super sewer Thames Tideway, to adding a new rail network to reduce congestion through the Hyderabad Metro Rail Project, the scale of these projects is often astounding.

Micheala Chan, PFL in 2020/21 for Ed McCann, says it wasn’t until she started working in the industry that she truly appreciated this scale.

“The breadth, shape, scope, and nature of the work that civil engineers do in service of others never ceases to amaze me.”

Delivering mega projects is no mean feat, so being part of a team that can do that is incredibly rewarding.

3. How it makes a tangible difference in people’s lives

Not every job has the ability to influence the lives of people around you. It’s one of the things that makes civil engineering so special.

As Kristina Dahyaraj, 2021/22 PFL, puts it: “I didn’t know how important the role of the civil engineer was in our day-to-day activities.

“From the tube network to the sewage system, it’s all possible because of civil engineering.”

Civil engineers often work on community orientated projects, such as the Connswater Community Greenway – a project which provides major flood protection, and a lovely park.

Other times, civil engineers choose to take the skills they’ve learned from the job and volunteer. For example, by building a netball court in Zambia and providing the community with a centre for social impact activities.

4. How much collaboration is needed

Collaboration is key to success in civil engineering. And not just across your teams at work, but across entire sectors.

A 2021/22 PFL, Rhona Kerr says that something she loves about this career is collaborating to achieve the best solutions for your project.

Blake Scott, 2022/23 PFL, agrees, adding: “Projects don’t just involve engineers and construction workers. You get to work with people from all backgrounds, and this allows you to develop your own understanding and view of projects and the world.”

This is what makes knowledge sharing key.

A priority at the ICE, we’ve created the Knowledge Hub, a one-stop-shop for continued professional development (CPD) content in a variety of formats – from case studies and infographics to audio and video ‘Tech Talks’.

Access the Knowledge Hub

5. The wide range of roles you can pursue

“From a highways engineer designing roads and cycle paths, a structural engineer working on bridges or dams to a water engineer designing water treatment plants or drainage, there is always room to find something you like,” says Benjamin Delmond, PFL in 2022/23.

Peter Simmons, PFL in 2021/22, couldn’t agree more: "The diversity of civil engineering roles is incredible. There are projects to work on across so many different industry sectors.”

And in fact, this diversity requires various skills.

“Civil engineering isn’t all just technical work and calculations. It allows you to develop so many different skills and choose from different career pathways,” adds Rohinee Pattani, PFL in 2022/23.

She cites the following examples:

  • You collaborate and communicate with other engineers, clients and stakeholders.
  • You can get involved in project management and leadership.
  • You also have opportunities for research and development.

6. That innovation in the sector leads to professional growth

Being at the forefront of addressing the climate crisis means that there’s constant innovation in the field.

“The complexities and challenges our industry faces mean that you’re continuously learning new skills and sharing knowledge every day,” says 2022/23 PFL, Kyle McLean.

He adds: “It’s quite exciting to think how much we will have developed and advanced in only five, if not 10, years’ time.”

It could be through new technology that helps reduce carbon emissions, or by making processes more efficient by implementing artificial intelligence.

There’s plenty of room for growth in this industry, and it's a very exciting time to join!

Interested in becoming a President’s Future Leader?

Applications to be one of Professor Anusha Shah’s President’s Future Leaders in 2023/24 are currently open.

The scheme is open to ICE student members on degree apprenticeships, graduate members working towards professional qualification and technician members.

Applicants should submit the completed application form, their CV, a reference from their line manager, and their answer to the question either in written or video format to [email protected].

The deadline is 12pm (UK time) on Friday 21 July 2023.

  • Ana Bottle, digital content editor at ICE