Structural and civil engineering
Civil engineering is all about creating, improving and protecting the environment in which we live. It provides the facilities for day-to-day life such as transport, and the infrastructure allowing industry to prosper.
Generally speaking, the work of civil and structural engineers will combine site and design work. However, consulting engineers tend to focus more on design whilst contracting engineers will spend more time on site work, which involves supervising the setting out and levelling of the site, surveying and site management. Civil engineers work on projects that involve multi-disciplinary teams including architects, quantity surveyors and building services engineers. Consulting engineers are responsible for working with clients to design, plan, manage and supervise the construction of projects.
Their work involves carrying out site investigations and feasibility studies; developing detailed designs; liaising with other professionals such as architects, building services engineers and quantity surveyors; and ensuring the smooth running of projects and completion within budget and on time. Contracting civil engineers turn the plans of designers into reality. They liaise with the design team and oversee the actual construction on site. Their work involves organising manpower and materials, observing safety standards, negotiating modifications with the designers, scheduling work, and supervising construction, including the work of subcontractors. They use specialist equipment to survey sites to ensure that the construction work is being carried out in the right place and that the structure is safe; for example, that steel reinforcement is correctly in place. Civil engineering offers graduates a high-tech career with the chance to travel and work outdoors. Due to current demand in this field, graduate starting salaries are often above average.
This career area is open to any engineering graduate, although a civil or structural background is advantageous. You will need to demonstrate strong technical competence and a creative approach to problem solving. Numeracy is essential for keeping financial records and managing budgets. Civil engineers also need excellent communication skills in order to liaise with other designers, contractors and subcontractors, other professionals and members of the public who may have objections to building work taking place. Report-writing skills, team-working, strong organisational skills and the ability to manage resources and people are also required.
Graduates considering a career in civil engineering should keep abreast of developments via Engineers Ireland (www.engineersireland.ie) and the Institutions of Civil Engineers (www.ice.org.uk) and Structural Engineers (www.istructe.org.uk) in the UK. Student membership of Engineers Ireland is free. Useful information about the sector is also available from the Construction Industry Federation (www.cif.ie). Graduate vacancies in civil engineering are advertised in university and college jobs bulletins, on gradireland.com and on the jobs area of www.engineersireland.ie as well as on company websites.
Structural engineering is a specialism of civil engineering. It is the science and art of designing civil engineering facilities so that they can safely resist the forces to which they may be subjected.
Structural engineers are key creative members of every design team; around the world they are committed to sustainably developing a safer built environment.
Structural engineers combine expertise with innovation to meet any building challenge and are concerned with the design and construction of buildings, bridges and special structures. They aim to design these structures with safety, economy and elegance. They form part of the team of professionals involved with construction projects and therefore work closely with architects, quantity surveyors and building services engineers.
- Undertaking technical and feasibility studies including site investigations
- Using a range of computer packages for developing detailed designs.
Undertaking complex and repetitive calculations.
- Liaising with clients and a variety of professionals including architects and subcontractors.
- Compiling job specs and supervising tendering procedures.
- Resolving design and development problems.
- Managing budgets and project resources.
- Scheduling material and equipment purchases and delivery.
- Ensuring the project runs smoothly and the structure is completed within budget and on time.
- Estimating the cost and quantities of materials, equipment and labour.
- Computing load and grade requirements, water flow rates and material stress factors to determine design specifications.
- Inspecting project sites to monitor progress and ensure the project is being constructed according to design specifications.
- Conducting studies of traffic patterns or environmental conditions to identify potential problems and assess how they will affect the project.
Structural engineers often work alongside civil engineers and architects as part of a construction team; “if a structure was a human body, then the architect would be concerned with the body shape and appearance, and the structural engineer would be concerned with the skeleton and sinews”, is how the Institution of Structural Engineers described the role of structural engineers.
Critical skills that a person needs in structural engineering include an in-depth understanding of physics and mathematics.
A structural engineer must also know the properties of various materials, such as their density, hardness, tensile strength, bulk modulus and bending strength. They need to be able to calculate how different materials will perform under stresses such as compression, tension, bending and twisting, as well as under various environmental conditions of temperature, pressure, corrosive gases and liquids, and even radiation. They also need to be able to predict how these materials will perform over an extended period of time.
Since 2012, Engineers Ireland require graduates to have an accredited Level 9 (Masters) qualification, or equivalent, to meet the educational standards required of a Chartered Engineer. In recent times significant employment opportunities for structural engineers in Ireland were filled by international graduates with Masters level qualifications. Graduates will have skills, competences and a higher qualification to enhance their employment credentials in the national and international market.