what is civil engineering 2018-01-27T23:41:45+00:00

What Is Civil Engineering

Houses, roads, drains and other infrastructure.

Civil Engineering City Square

Understanding Civil Engineering

Civil engineering is the improvement of civil society through the application of scientific knowledge. Civil requirements in today’s society are focused on meeting basic human needs and assisting people in their daily lives. These needs are met by improving infrastructure and common utilities.

Civil Engineers understand the environment and how they can use it safely and smartly to improve our quality of life. Environmental consideration ensures that all structures and utilities they implement are safe, economical and environmentally-sound. Education and skills are focused on understanding the environment and its natural elements. Coupled with expertise in construction techniques and design skills allows civil engineers to work on massive skyscrapers and bridges. The daily activities of a civil engineer vary according to the industry they settle into. The most common duties include design of structural elements, supervision of material extraction and general project management. Generally they work as part of large teams and will be sent out ‘on site’ to supervise and monitor the progress of a project.

As the civil world is so diverse, civil engineers have the most varied career options out of all the major disciplines. They work on both the small and large scale of construction and infrastructure. Opportunities exist for some to start their own business and contract their services to private developers for large projects.

Students who excel at organising and planning large projects are well suited to this discipline. The civil course structure focuses on construction techniques, environmental concerns and social impact. Compared with the other disciplines, it is technically less challenging and broader in its content. If you strictly prefer the calculation and mathematical side of things, chemical, electrical or mechanical are more suitable. Civil engineers are very well rounded and are educated in most areas of business and management. They tend to work on larger projects as part of huge teams, with less opportunity for individual work.

Common Industries for Civil Engineers

Below is a list of the most common industries civil engineers work in. Within each industry there is a wide range of positions available for civil engineers.

  • Mining and Drilling
  • Residential Construction
  • Commercial Construction
  • Urban Planning
  • Water and Gas Infrastructure
  • Sewerage Systems
  • Renewable Energy
  • Transportation Agencies
  • Government Agencies


Civil Engineering Salaries

Now the important part, how much civil engineers get paid! Engineers are paid quite well, usually well above the average salary for many other professions. It should be noted that these figures are not comparable between countries, are subject to change at any time and should be used only as an indication of average salaries within each discipline.

    Average Civil Engineering Salaries:


  • Australia: AU$ 144,799 (includes senior and management positions)
  • India: Rs 150,515 – Rs 833,466 (salary range)
  • United Kingdom: £ 19,218 – £ 46,566 (salary range, excluding senior and management positions)
  • United States: US$ 74,600

Sub-Disciplines of Civil Engineering

The sub-disciplines of civil engineering are well established fields with opportunity for growth. A graduate majoring in civil engineering has knowledge in most, if not all of the sub-disciplinary areas. They do not possess expertise in these sub-disciplines, allowing them to usually look at the big picture of a project (leading to management positions). If you know which type of work or field you would most enjoy, it is advisable to choose the relevant sub-discipline to give yourself the best chance of success.

Architectural Engineering

Architectural engineering is a broad discipline that includes all methods in building design and construction. Architecture is the design of buildings and artificial structures with a large emphasis on aesthetics. Architectural engineering combines building design and aesthetics with a focus on functionality. This discipline is a mix of many other disciplines and varies depending on the country. All architectural engineers have structural knowledge and as well as the creativity that architects are known for. Graduates may specialise in any area of commercial building design such as heating, ventilation, fire protection, electrical or acoustics. Supervision of the construction process is a fundamental skill obtained in this discipline.

Professional accreditation is required in most countries due to the specialised skill set and liability that architectural engineers are faced with.

Construction Engineering

Construction engineering is the management and delivery of construction projects. Construction is considered to be any building projects used for residential or commercial applications. Civil engineers that are educated in the field of construction management are classified as construction engineers. They are required to plan construction activities, supervise structural elements and inspect the building upon completion. Construction engineers work with architects and engineering technicians on building design and on-site problem solving. Construction engineers also compile reports which detail the cost feasibility and estimation of the project.

Use of Computer Aided Design software is common, although not to the same extent as a structural engineer. Construction engineers combine project management skills and mathematical knowledge. Construction engineers may specialise in residential housing, bridges, skyscraper, industrial warehouses or any other infrastructure that exists. The health of the construction industry in each country determines the demand for construction engineers. Their unique skill set ensures that they are highly sought after in most countries.

Earthquake Engineering

Earthquake engineering is a specialised field in geotechnical engineering. Earthquakes are simply a series of vibrations in the earth’s crust that potentially causes immense damage above the Earth’s surface. Engineering is applied to the study of earthquakes to protect the environment and people from being harmed. It is achieved by identifying areas that are at risk of earthquakes and by using design and construction techniques to strengthen buildings. Simulation and failure mode analysis helps engineers to design structural elements that can withstand earthquake exposure without major structural damage.

Earthquake engineering is a small niche that provides opportunities in a limited number of countries.

Ecological Engineering

Ecological engineering is a specialised field in environmental engineering. Ecology is about the interaction between organisms and their environment, called ecosystems. The engineering of ecosystems centres on their construction and maintenance. Engineers can either focus on natural ecosystem maintenance or the construction of artificial ecosystems. Fish living in a lake is an example of a natural ecosystem. An engineer will consider the health of the fish and the impact of factors such as water quality and bacteria levels.

Environmental Engineering

Environmental engineering is used to create strategies to protect and improve the Environment. The environment includes everything created by nature (air, water, flora and fauna). Engineering is used to maintain the quality of water, air and land. This discipline is civil engineering with an emphasis on sustainable practice, methods and results. Environmental engineers implement strategies to deal with pollution, waste management and noise levels. They conduct case studies and then create plans to prevent natural disasters and pollution. Most of their work is completed in an office, with a big emphasis on data analysis and statistics. Unlike other civil engineering disciplines, environmental engineers rarely use design or simulation software. Due to the complex environmental laws, graduates of this discipline tend to have a better handle on ethics and social problems. You must have a passion for the environment to work in this field.

Environmental engineers are wanted for government projects and by parks departments. Some private companies utilize environmental engineers if their activities have a potential adverse effect on the natural environment. Consultancy work is another possibility, with many research positions opening up across universities.

Fire Protection Engineering

Fire protection engineering is a specialised field in environmental engineering. Fire safety relates to all factors that affect the safety of humans in the event of a fire. Fire safety engineering creates plans and tactics for reducing smoke and fire damage in houses, buildings and cities. Fire safety engineers work closely with architects and builders during the design phase of a building. Alarm systems, stairwells, insulation and ventilation are the main concerns for fire safety in an enclosed space. First aid and additional safety courses are needed along with the bachelor’s degree for a graduate to begin working in industry.

Fire safety engineers are employed by construction and development companies. There is the option for engineers to become inspectors, who determine the causes and probable preventions of a fire accident.

Geotechnical Engineering

Geotechnical engineering is the practical application of geology. Geology comprises the dynamic and physical history of the earth including the rocks, minerals and elements it is made of. Application of this field occurs with an understanding of materials and construction techniques. Geotechnical engineering investigates the quality of land and how structures can be constructed within it.

Engineers use their understanding of earth materials to determine the appropriate supports and foundations needed for massive buildings. Firstly, they undertake a feasibility study of a site by testing for soil quality, ground slope and rock features. They also design foundations and put measures in place to prevent natural hazards such as earthquakes. As with all civil disciplines, geotechnical engineers consider sustainable practices when investigating and planning any construction. Graduates have a broad skill set that includes economic and project management capability.

Many career positions exist in the mining and petroleum industries due to the reliance on steel and fuel in modern society. Geotechnical engineers are highly paid and are able to specialize into mining or earthquake engineers.

Highway Engineering

Highway engineering is a specialised field within transportation engineering. Highways are a major feature of any industrialized country. This discipline considers the design of the roads themselves, as well as their relation to pedestrians. Highway engineers study the traffic volumes and patterns to determine strategies to prevent collisions and damage to the road structures. They design highway systems with the aim of optimising traffic flow and safety for all vehicles that travel through them. A new area of focus for this discipline is intelligent transport systems that will eventually revolutionise the way humans travel day to day.

Hydraulic Engineering

Hydraulic Engineering is a specialised field in environmental engineering. Hydraulic systems are operated or fuelled by the pressure of fluid (water, oil etc.). Hydraulic engineering deals with the technical challenges involved with water infrastructure and sewerage design. This discipline is really all about fluid flow and how it behaves in large quantities. The main focus is on the design of water storage and transport facilities. Dams, channels, canals and lakes are all used to store and control water. Machinery which uses hydraulic power is also designed by engineers in this discipline. Daily activities include designing structural elements that can withstand intense water pressure.

Hydraulic engineers use fluid dynamics theory to predict how flowing water interacts with its surroundings. Students learn how to use computational fluid dynamics software packages which allow for complex simulations of fluid flow. Typically, Hydraulic engineers are required by utility companies for storm water and sewerage maintenance.

Mining Engineering

Mining Engineering is a specialised field in geotechnical engineering. Mining is the act of extracting coal and metal bearing rocks and minerals (ore) from mines. Mining engineering deals exclusively with the extraction and processing of ore, unlike geotechnical which can consider any aspect of earth materials. A mining engineer is used from the discovery of mineral deposits to design and analyse the mining site. Mining engineers are mostly in offices where they analyse data from drilling and geological reports before planning and designing the site. Occasionally they will visit the site either to supervise or inspect the progress of a project. Students are trained in CAD and finite element software, where they learn mechanical design skills to solve problems.

One downside is the remote location of mining sites, usually requiring lengthy travel and extended working time (such as 8 days on, 8 days off work). Mining engineers are amongst the highest paid in the world and are multi-skilled in many areas of engineering.

Railway Engineering

Railway engineering is a specialist field in transportation engineering. Railways are designed exclusively for the movement of trains to transport people and/or freight. The design, construction and operation of trains and rail systems are all dealt with in this discipline. Railway engineers possess mechanical design skills and knowledge of propulsion systems that allows them to design train vessels. Railway engineers are frequently on site, either supervising the rail system or in a ‘hands on’ capacity.

Structural Engineering

Structural engineering focuses on the design of structures that are required to withstand loads and environmental elements. Structures can be categorized into houses, buildings and monuments. All of these structures are composed of a number of components arranged to use the fewest amount of material possible to produce the most stable construction. Collaboration with architects is required on most structural applications. Architects provide the external design and aesthetic appeal, while the engineers design the internal skeleton and foundations to ensure the building does not collapse.

Structural engineers prepare drawings and specifications of the structural elements. They have an exceptional understanding of materials and their properties, allowing them to select the best ones for every situation. Graduates possess fundamental design skills and require in-depth knowledge of building codes and regulations. Most opportunities are present in commercial and industrial construction companies. Many experienced structural engineers have their own consulting businesses.

Traffic Engineering

Traffic engineering is a sub-set of transportation engineering. Traffic specifically refers to the movement of people and vehicles, usually through roads and highways. Traffic engineers modify the technical aspects of road design to maximise traffic flow and reduce congestion. Road geometry, traffic lights, road signs and pedestrian walkways are all related and optimized to achieve one common goal; reducing traffic congestion in a safe manner. Skills used on a daily basis by traffic engineers include data analysis problem solving skills when assessing traffic and accident reports.

Transportation Engineering

Transportation engineering is dedicated to the improvement of transportation vehicles and logistics. Transportation of people, goods and structures are all targeted by this discipline. Engineering of transportation activity is divided by managing the current systems and researching new technologies to improve transport in industrialized countries. Engineers in this field spend most of their time planning and managing the various tasks that come together to make transport occur. They cast an eye to the future and consider the needs of society and how transport will affect their lives.

Graduates are trained in identifying structural integrity of roads and obtain a basic understanding of vehicle propulsion and maintenance. You have the option of specialising in a mode of transport such as air, road, pedestrian or rail. The sub-disciplines of transportation engineering cater for these modes; highway, traffic and railway. Many Government bodies employ transport engineers to work on projects and safety investigations. Private transportation companies also hire teams of engineers to maintain efficiency and reduce the costs of their vehicles and systems.

Water Resource Engineering

Water resource engineering is the study of water throughout the world. Water resources include drinking water and any water that must be stored or distributed from one place to another. This discipline is really all about fluid flow and how it behaves in large quantities. This discipline considers the quality and logistics of all water systems used the world. It differs from hydraulic engineering which considers the technical aspects of storing and channelling water. Engineers plan and manage the tasks that are required to maintain water quality. They ensure water can be channelled where it is needed in a safe and efficient way. Common projects include wetland restoration, stormwater and sewerage system design and planning.

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