From bridges and dams to roads and sewers, civil engineering plays a critical role in nation-building in every society. And the UK is no exception. So, how do you become a civil engineer?

If you decide to become a civil engineer, you’ve already taken the crucial first step. The next step is knowing what the profession entails, so you can make your goal a reality. This article explores all you need to become a civil engineer in the UK and work in the public or private sector.

Three male civil engineering students of different ethnicities are looking at one student's laptop and laughing.

Who is a Civil Engineer?

A civil engineer is a licensed engineering professional who is skilled in designing and overseeing the construction of public works – buildings, roads, railways, bridges, sewage systems, pipelines, tunnels, dams, water systems and airports.

A civil engineer has the technical know-how needed to plan, design, construct and maintain structures – shelter and non-shelter – for public use. These structures must be safe for use and shouldn’t affect physical or environmental health. That requires civil engineers to know all applicable regulations

Becoming A Civil Engineer: What To Expect

Civil Engineers are some of the highest-paid employees in the United Kingdom. That’s because their profession is in high demand in the UK job market. To become a civil engineer, you must have an excellent understanding of relevant subjects such as structures, geology, mathematics, hydrology, soil science and mechanics.

Career Path

If you decide to become a Civil Engineer, here are some subdisciplines you can choose from. Potential job titles include geotechnical engineer, architectural engineer, highway engineer, bridge engineer, construction engineer, transportation engineer, and hydrology engineer, amongst others.

To get a job in any of these subdisciplines of civil engineering, you must first have a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or any of the specialised fields. This degree qualifies you for an entry-level position in the profession. The entry-level civil engineering salary in the UK is between £25,000 – £30,000. A bachelor’s degree qualifies you for the Incorporated Engineer (IEng) license.

You can also begin with a bachelor’s degree in another field of engineering, followed by a Master’s degree in civil engineering. This is ideal for people interested in engineering but change their minds about which branch to specialise in.

Read more: Learn about the career options for site managers

Progression

After some years of work experience, you can advance up the career ladder into managerial/senior positions such as construction manager, operational manager, and project manager.

However, to attain these positions, you must obtain a Chartered Engineer (CE) license. In the United States, it is known as a Professional Engineer (PE) license. This license certifies that the engineer can plan and oversee public projects, and is attained through years of work experience.

Chartered Engineers (CEs) are tasked with managing and overseeing the works of other engineers. The salary for Chartered Engineers in the UK is between £46,000 – £55,000.

Top Institutions to Study Civil Engineering Courses in the UK

The UK is home to over 160 universities. However, some of these institutions have set themselves apart when it comes to the civil engineering field. The national ranking is calculated using factors like the quality of research, the number of faculty members and the alumni network of the respective university. The best universities also partner with many of the largest companies in the construction business to give their students and graduates access to excellent internships and graduate schemes. This extra investment helps graduates to launch their careers.

The top universities to study Civil Engineering in the UK are:

1. Imperial College London

Founded in 1907, Imperial College London is currently the top university in the Civil Engineering discipline when it comes to research. This institution allows its students to learn from first-class researchers and enjoy access to state-of-the-art facilities.

Imperial College offers two different four-year undergraduate courses. Both are very similar in content, but one offers students the chance to spend a year abroad.

2. University of Sheffield

This public-research university is one of the leading universities in the United Kingdom. Its Department of Civil and Structural Engineering is home to staff who have proven themselves in pioneering cutting-edge research and have the industry experience needed to train the next generation of civil engineers.

The University of Sheffield offers a very broad range of degrees for undergraduates. You can choose between a BEng and MEng in Civil Engineering with or without a year in industry. For those who don’t have stellar A Level grades, Sheffield also offers the chance to study civil engineering with an extra foundation year. This option helps students build up their key knowledge before diving into the more challenging material of the BEng and MEng courses.

3. University College London

Besides being the second-largest university in the UK in terms of enrollment, University College London has one of the best civil engineering programmes in the country. The department has designed a three-year programme that equips undergraduates with the knowledge and skillset required to design and construct exceptional public and private projects.

UCL offers undergraduates the choice between a 3-year BEng and a 4-year MEng civil engineering course. The same department also offers an MEng in Engineering and Architectural Design, for those who want broader course content.

4. University of Strathclyde

Founded in 1796, the University of Strathclyde was the first technological university in the United Kingdom. The Civil and Environmental Engineering department is accredited by the Institution of Civil Engineers, Institution of Structural Engineers, Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation, and Insitute of Engineers. The department designed its curriculum to provide students with problem-based learning and mentoring in the industry.

Strathclyde currently offers 3 and 4-year courses in Civil Engineering and Civil and Environmental Engineering. Uniquely, Strathclyde also offers the Engineering Academy, an alternative route to a university degree. Students take an HNC course at one of seven partner colleges. Excellent performance there leads to guaranteed entry to one of the department’s engineering courses.

5. University of Leeds

Situated in Leeds, West Yorkshire, this university is a leading research institution in the civil engineering field. The University produces highly-trained civil engineering graduates who can provide world-class solutions to public works challenges. Students have access to an extensive library and laboratory facilities and receive practical sessions from faculty members.

Students at Leeds can study Civil Engineering with Project Management or with a specialism in transport. They can also study a combination of civil and environmental or civil and structural engineering.

6. University of Cambridge

The Civil Engineering department of this university was established to advance the planning, design, construction and maintenance of civil and structural engineering systems. The university has extensive research facilities that help undergrads become highly competent civil engineers.

There is only one undergraduate engineering course at Cambridge. For the first two years, lectures and labs are broad, covering fundamentals from many different disciplines. Then, for their third and fourth years, students can choose to specialise in civil, structural and environmental engineering. They also have the choice to study abroad in their third year, and they must spend at least 6 weeks completing an industrial experience placement.

7. University of Southampton

Ranked 15th in the UK, the University of Southampton is home to over 22,000 students. Over the years, it has produced some of the finest civil engineers in the industry. Equipped with a £48m National Infrastructure Laboratory, the university helps undergraduate and postgraduates gain knowledge in the subfields of soil mechanics, construction management, geotechnics and structural design.

The civil engineering department at Southampton also contains experts in maritime engineering. So, students can get insights into building effective structures on and off land.

Online Civil Engineering Courses

Studying within the four walls of a classroom is not the only way to get a Civil Engineering degree. Another available route is Online or Distance Learning.

Recognising that some students can’t be present on campus to study, some universities have created online degree programmes for different professions. Therefore, you can now access several civil engineering courses online.

Universities that offer online civil engineering courses include:

  • Coventry University
  • University of Portsmouth
  • Anglia Ruskin University
  • University of Southampton
  • University of Surrey
  • Heriot-Watt University
  • Loughborough University
  • University of Derby Online Learning

How to become a Civil Engineer without a University Degree

A university degree is not the only pathway to achieving your dream of becoming a civil engineer. If you are very passionate about the profession but can’t afford a university education, there are two options available for you:

1. Self-study on YouTube

YouTube is a university on its own. It is the largest university in the world because it allows you to learn varying topics and disciplines at your own pace.

This might sound weird, but it is possible to become an engineer by watching YouTube videos or tutorials. Engineering is all about principles and how they are applied to solve problems. You can also learn civil engineering principles from seasoned teachers on YouTube.

Furthermore, some universities upload videos of their courses to YouTube. Thus, it is possible to learn the step-by-step process needed to execute civil engineering projects. All you need to complete the learning process is to practice.

However, success in the learning process requires a great deal of hard work and discipline. You are not working with a defined curriculum, nor do you have academic staff to monitor your progress. But with determination, you can excel and attain the basics of civil engineering.

2. Apprenticeship

The engineering profession requires more practice than theory. It is the former that solves problems, after all. So, if you want to become a good civil engineer, you should train under an expert.

Signing up for an internship or apprenticeship with a civil engineer will give you hands-on experience on different public works projects. Working with a professional civil engineer for some time will equip you with the practical knowledge and skills required to design and construct different civil systems.

Whichever of the two options you choose, bear in mind that only a university degree allows you to be professionally called a civil engineer. You need to complete the degree before you can be licensed as an Incorporated Engineer (IEng) or Chartered Engineer (CEng).

Conclusion

Civil engineering is undoubtedly a noble profession. From technicians and technologists to engineers, the discipline trains its professionals to have analytical and problem-solving skills. Furthermore, succeeding as a civil engineer in the UK demands that you are up-to-date with the happenings in the construction industry and that you leverage innovation for productivity.

This goal has been made easy thanks to PlanRadar. PlanRadar is a site management platform that helps civil engineers to manage and monitor the progress of their projects.

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