So, you want to be a structural engineer?

Careers Advice
03 October 2018 | Careers Advice | Guest Author

Life as a graduate is tough. Free from the relative safety of University, the pressure is on to find gainful employment and ensure that the last three or four years of study were not in vain.

Luckily, gaining that elusive first job is somewhat easier in some industries than it is others. In recent years, the demand for structural engineers has increased in the UK and whilst most firms favour experienced, high calibre candidates, career opportunities abound.

For those of you thinking of embarking upon a career in structural engineering, this short guide will fill you in on everything you need to know about this buoyant industry and provide you with tips on how to gain your first big break.

The Importance of Structural Engineering

The importance of structural engineering cannot be overstated.

We often hear about the famous architects behind some of the World’s most iconic buildings (think Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry).

However, if it wasn’t for the scrutiny of structural engineers in examining the feasibility of such buildings, planning permission may never have been granted!

Building safety is paramount and it is the duty of structural engineers is to ensure that a building is safe for people to use and capable of withstanding the vertical and horizontal loads placed upon it.

The environmental impact of buildings is also important and the incorporation of sustainable building practices that encourage the use of natural resources and minimise waste, both during and after construction, is commonplace.

Because of these factors, demand for highly qualified, experienced structural engineers is high.

What does a structural engineer do?

Before we discuss routes to entry, it’s important to highlight the role of a structural engineer. This is particularly important for those with transferable skills looking to transition into structural engineering from other industry sectors.

Often demanding and never boring, the role of a structural engineer is varied, to say the least. Typical duties include:

  • Structural plans and calculations
  • Structural detailing
  • Beam design and the calculation of loads/stresses
  • Identifying the cause of subsidence
  • Party wall disputes
  • Strengthening and modification of existing buildings
  • Elements of geotechnical engineering (i.e. soil and rock mechanics)
  • Liaison with architects and other industry professionals

Structural engineers are client-facing and more often than not multi-disciplined. They can therefore be expected to liaise with site managers responsible for large construction projects, or home owners faced with domestic issues such as party wall disputes or building surveys.

Those with enough industry experience are usually promoted to the position of senior structural engineer and are responsible for drafting fee proposals and managing group projects alongside their regular duties.

Be sure to consult our sister website, Engineer Jobs, for more information on the daily routine of a structural engineer.

Civil engineering

Structural engineering and civil engineering are closely related and there is plenty of overlap between the two disciplines.

At HLN Engineering, for instance, the civil engineers in the team are multi-disciplined and get to work on building design projects alongside the more complex highways and drainage work they carry out on behalf of our clients.

If you have a degree in civil engineering you can work as a structural engineer, although structural engineers hoping to transition into a civil engineering role may require additional training.

Typical routes to entry

Generally speaking, you will need a degree or post-graduate degree in either structural or civil engineering. Employers also look for a range of attributes in potential candidates, including proficiency in maths, excellent interpersonal and problem-solving skills as-well as the ability to meet project deadlines.

Throughout your employment you will be expected to undertake regular continuing professional development (CDP) and will most likely be encouraged to pursue a chartership.

Depending on your previous experience, a chartership can help propel you further up the career ladder towards senior management.

It is possible to pursue a career in structural engineering if you have a degree in a related field (i.e. mechanical engineering), although you will need to complete a post-graduate degree in structural engineering beforehand and gain relevant work experience during your training.

Other routes to entry include obtaining a HNC or HND foundation degree in structural or civil engineering, coupled with on the job training, and apprenticeships.

Top Tips

If a career in structural engineering is beckoning, the following tips will help you stay ahead of the pack:

  • Work experience: during your studies, try to obtain as much work experience as possible. Whilst qualifications are vitally important, employers want to hire candidates that can hit the ground running.
  • Entry-level positions: many graduates leave University with high expectations of landing their dream job, only to fall at the first hurdle. As mentioned, employers are looking for experience, so consider applying for entry-level positions to show prospective employers that you are ready to take on more responsibility and have what it takes thrive in a busy office environment.
  • Further education: given the fact that 27% of employers are recruiting candidates with postgraduate qualifications for jobs that once only required a bachelor’s degree, a Master’s degree could help you stand out from the crowd. A serious financial commitment, graduates can now apply for career development loans of up to £10,000 to help offset the cost of tuition and living expenses.
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