What Does A Civil Engineer Do?
Reviewed by Jacob Imm
Jul 17, 2023
What Does a Civil Engineer Do?
Most people have probably heard of civil engineering—from a relative, on the news, or on the web. But because the work of a licensed civil engineer typically occurs behind the scenes, many may be unsure of what these licensed engineers actually do.
So, what do civil engineers do? To clear up any questions you might have about civil engineering and what it looks like as a career, we’ll outline the daily responsibilities of these hard-working professionals, as well as the skills they employ and the paths they can take.
What is Civil Engineering?
As the name suggests, civil engineering is a branch of engineering—it takes the scientific approach to building and design. According to the book “An Introduction to Civil Engineering” by Valdengrave Okumu, as cited by Civil Engineering Portal, the term “civil engineering” was originally coined in the 18th century to mean the opposite of military engineering, which was the dominant form of engineering at the time.
The field of civil engineering includes the conception, construction, and maintenance of public and private structures. Specially trained and licensed engineers develop roadways, dams, pipelines, buildings, waste management systems, and other vital aspects of our communities.
Ultimately, a civil engineer’s goal is to improve the lives of those around them through safe, thoughtful and efficient infrastructure projects.
The Everyday Responsibilities of a Civil Engineer
Once you grasp the definition of civil engineering, you can start to form an abstract understanding of what civil engineers work to accomplish. But what are the day-to-day responsibilities of a civil engineer?
Exact duties will vary by industry, but according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most civil engineers will be responsible for the following tasks (and more):
- Designing new public or private civil engineering projects
- Analyzing and preparing reports, maps, and budgets
- Organizing permit applications
- Meeting with project managers and government officials to discuss planning
- Developing plans to repair or replace existing infrastructure
- Staying up to date on changing zoning laws and regulations
As they gain work experience and move up in rank, some civil engineers may enter project management roles. In these supervisory positions, engineers oversee projects to ensure workers follow safety and legal guidelines.
Skills Every Civil Engineer Should Have
If you’re wondering how to become a civil engineer, there are a few skills that employers will look for. To complete their daily tasks, civil engineers rely on various hard and soft skills. If you’re considering a civil engineering career, it will be important to have an aptitude in areas like:
- Reading maps and blueprints
- Computer skills (specifically, proficiency with software like Civil 3D and AutoCAD)
- Technical writing
- Critical thinking and problem solving
- Teamwork and communication
- Time management
If you haven’t mastered these skills yet, don't worry: these are exactly the competencies you’ll focus on throughout your post-secondary schooling. The most important thing is to have some grounding and a strong interest in these topics, as they are all a big part of being a civil engineer.
Common Industries for Civil Engineers
In many ways, civil engineering is the backbone of our society. From the sewage systems underfoot to the power lines overhead, many essential services wouldn’t exist without a trained construction engineer.
With constant confusion between civil engineering vs architecture and so many types of infrastructure, it should come as no surprise that civil engineering jobs exist in dozens of exciting industries, including:
- Federal, state, and local government
- Oil and gas
- Waste treatment and disposal
- Water management
When asking, “How much do civil engineers make?” the answer will depend on the specific job. That said, there are a tremendous number of benefits to pursuing civil engineering as a career, but one of the most noteworthy is the ability to work in an industry that inspires you. Because there are opportunities in dozens of industries—and in locations across the country—finding a civil engineering job in a sector that ignites your passion is well within your reach.
Other Civil Engineering Careers
Those with a civil engineering degree can do much more than work as civil engineers. You can find professionals who studied civil engineering in various roles, each with a unique catalog of skills and responsibilities.
Some of the many civil engineering career paths you can pursue with a civil engineering degree include:
- Environmental Engineer – Through the lenses of engineering, chemistry, and biology, environmental engineers address the relationship between humans and the natural world. Their work often focuses on improving recycling, water management, and air pollution levels according to the BLS.
- Urban or Regional Planner – Urban planners shape communities through land-use planning. An average day might involve field investigations, meeting with government employees, and studying changes in zoning laws according to the BLS.
- Surveyor – Using GPS and GIS (Geographic Information Service) technologies, surveyors measure and shape boundary lines to ensure land is used safely and legally according to the BLS. Most surveying work occurs outdoors, though surveyors also spend time in the office meeting with engineers and preparing maps.
No matter where your degree in civil engineering leads you, you’ll always have a compelling list of duties to carry out.
Find Out First-Hand What a Civil Engineer Does
Reading about civil engineering can only take you so far. The best way to understand what civil engineers do is to dive into a hands-on program at a renowned institution.
One such school is North Central College. Through a partnership with the Illinois Institute of Technology, the college allows undergraduate students to explore the wonders of engineering in all its forms, with an opportunity to earn a master’s in civil engineering later on.
Start your civil engineer career on the right foot—apply to North Central College today!
Jacob Imm is an associate director in the North Central College Office of Institutional Communication. He has 13 years of collegiate communications experience and has worked with hundreds of college students. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree from Northern Illinois University.
Updated on July 17, 2023.
Civil Engineering Portal. Civil Engineering History. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from https://www.engineeringcivil.com/history.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021, September 8). Civil Engineers: Occupational Outlook Handbook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved January 10, 2022, from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/civil-engineers.htm.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2022, January 4). Environmental Engineers: Occupational Outlook Handbook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved January 10, 2022, from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/environmental-engineers.htm.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021, September 8). Urban and Regional Planners: Occupational Outlook Handbook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved January 10, 2022, from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/urban-and-regional-planners.htm.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2022, January 4). Surveyors: Occupational Outlook Handbook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved January 10, 2022, from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/surveyors.htm.