- What do structural engineers do?
- Structural engineer career path
- Structural engineer salaries
- Qualifications and training
- Structural engineer skills
- Pros and cons of being a structural engineer
- Structural engineer work-life balance
- Typical employers hiring structural engineers
- Related jobs
Are you fascinated by structures? Do you want to spend your working life making interesting constructions? If you’re creative but with an analytical mindset, working as a structural engineer could be perfect for you.
Are you interested in a career as a structural engineer? Explore the engineering sector jobs available to you right now.
What do structural engineers do?
Structural engineers typically work on projects that require expertise in the impact of forces like the weather and gravity on structures at height. As a structural engineer, the projects you work on are most likely to be tower blocks, office buildings, bridges and other tall structures. You can specialise in an area that most interests you by getting experience throughout your career. Despite the many types of projects you could work on, here are the main tasks and responsibilities that you have as a structural engineer:
- Meeting with clients to understand their requirements for a build. This could be the main purpose, any details they want to include and anything else that they think is essential for the work
- Researching the work done in the field to know the best practices and best materials to use to save you from testing or suggesting a material which is not suitable
- Making designs for the client
- Meeting with colleagues and clients to discuss your designs and editing them based on their comments and suggestions
- Testing the materials that you intend to use to make sure they’re right for the purposes and safe to use
- Overseeing the construction to make sure it’s up to your standards and safe
- Reporting on your progress to colleagues and client
- Looking at existing constructions and making suggestions for repairs
Structural engineer career path
Structural engineers typically work for engineering firms but they can work as a specialist for construction companies. There are also possibilities of other careers that you can explore on the way, for example taking a side step into another type of engineering or into project management. Here are the typical positions in the career path that you could have as a structural engineer:
You begin your career as a junior structural engineer. This role is specifically designed for graduates and young workers to learn how to do the job successfully and gain the skills they need for their future career. Therefore, all your work is signed off by a supervisor or manager in this role. You get your own projects but you also help senior colleagues on their projects by making drafts, contacting clients and other admin-based jobs that are important but don’t need to be done by the senior colleague.
To prepare you for any conversation with your supervisor in an entry-level position, take this module to learn about resilience and taking feedback.
With experience, you progress to a mid-level structural engineer role. In this role, you’re given more independence, being allowed to work on your own projects which a colleague might view but not have to sign off on like in a junior position. You meet and liaise with clients, having the freedom to discuss your work with them. This role includes many of the same responsibilities as the junior equivalent but for your own projects.
With years of expertise under your belt, you progress to a senior structural engineer role. You work on the most high profile or most complex projects and bring in junior colleagues to help you with the work. You supervise junior colleagues, overseeing their work and signing off on it when it’s a good standard. You liaise with clients to discuss the work they want done and other specifications of the project. This role has the most freedom but also the most responsibility.
Structural engineer salaries
Whilst you can work your way up in an engineering firm, you expect your salary to match your growing skill level. Here are the salaries associated with structural engineering positions:
- In an entry-level position like junior structural engineer, you earn between £24,000 and £30,000 per year
- In a mid-level structural engineer position, you earn an average of £35,000 per year
- In a senior structural engineer position, you earn an average of £45,000 per year, ranging up to £55,000 per year depending on the firm and your experience
Qualifications and training
Having the right education and experience sets you up really well to impress any hiring manager in the field. Here’s the qualifications and training that you need to succeed as a structural engineer:
You typically need an undergraduate degree to work as a structural engineer. This gives you the relevant theoretical knowledge and background information to make designs that fit with existing work but are safe and interesting. You could also do a more general engineering degree and specialise in structural engineering at master’s degree level. Having a master’s degree isn’t usually a requirement of the job but can be appealing to hiring managers because it shows your dedication, interest and high education level. You can explore the current university courses with the UCAS search tool.
Another option is looking for an apprenticeship in structural engineering. Apprenticeships include learning by working with industry experts on their projects. You gain practical experience of the work and learn how to work well in that environment. Some apprenticeships include a more traditional education element where you complete a degree whilst working for the firm. You can explore the current apprenticeships with this government apprenticeship search tool.
Having relevant work experience looks great on any structural engineer application. Work experience teaches you the type of work you do, the environment that you’re working in and how to succeed in the job. Often, engineering courses include time in industry where you work for an engineering firm as part of your studies. You can impress a hiring manager even more if you have experience on top of this, for example through an internship. You can do an internship in your summer break or after graduating from your degree. If you’re interested in internship opportunities, you can explore the internships available right now and take this module on converting your internship into a permanent job.
When working in engineering, you can get a number of professional qualifications. These demonstrate to any client or employer that you’re experienced and have a great skill set for the job. The highest level of professional development is becoming a chartered engineer. You can learn more about becoming a chartered structural engineer and much more information through the Institute of Structural Engineering.
Structural engineer skills
Alongside your education, you need the right skillset to secure a great job. Here are the skills that you need for a structural engineering role:
- Engineering. You need a great background knowledge of engineering techniques. You need to know the best materials to use, how to combat natural forces like the wind and rain and how to conduct yourself well at a construction site. Having this background information and general knowledge is a basic requirement of working as a structural engineer.
- Big structural engineer projects. You should know about the main projects in structural engineering that have happened in the past and are happening right now. This keeps you up to date on the advancements in the sector and how you can implement any new thinking into your own designs.
- Software. You need to be able to use the design software relevant to the engineering firm you work for. This is so you can make accurate designs for your clients and share them easily amongst your colleagues.
- Problem solving. As a structural engineer, you have to find ways around problems that you face in a build. This could be anything from adverse wind conditions when building tower blocks, to loud road noise negatively impacting homes. Working your way around the problems and coming up with manageable solutions is an important part of the job.
- Leadership. You need to confidently discuss the plan for any project, informing clients, colleagues and construction crew of your plans. Being a good leader also means listening to any constructive criticism and suggestions for the work and taking these into account if necessary.
- Flexibility. Some requirements of the work might change during its course of construction. Your client may add a requirement which you need to incorporate into the designs, a permit may not be granted or any number of issues might come up on the construction site. Being flexible and able to make the required changes helps you take these problems on and not increase your stress load.
You can learn more about presenting by completing this module on developing effective presentation skills.
Pros and cons of being a structural engineer
As with any career path, there are positive and negative points that you should consider. Here are the pros and cons of working as a structural engineer:
- Your work is quite diverse as you have many projects to do throughout your working life
- Since you need to go to construction sites, this adds a small element of travel to the job, particularly if the site is not in the town or city you work in
- It’s a relatively well paid career
- You have job stability since there are lots of structural engineering projects
- You get to see a project from start to finish
- Travel to and from a construction site could add time to your working day
- You have to coordinate with lots of people in different companies which can be stressful
- If your project has outside funding, this could be withdrawn based on factors out of your control
- Your work is outside so you have to work in all weather conditions
Structural engineer work-life balance
Your working times are typical working hours of 9am to 5pm on Monday to Friday. This could increase around big deadlines. You may also have to deal with any projects which require work outside of these hours, for example major faults on a bridge or building. Since some of your work involves travel, this adds to your working day, increasing your time away from home and making having a good work-life balance difficult.
Your work is split between an office, a testing facility and a construction site. The office is where you make designs and initially meet with clients. The testing facility is where you make sure the materials you’re using are right for the job and safe for the conditions you’re working with. The construction site is where the actual building takes place. This could be building a new structure or fixing an existing one.
Typical employers hiring structural engineers
Knowing the types of employers that could hire you as a structural engineer means you can research them and find out which employers are ideal for you. Here are the typical employers hiring structural engineers:
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