What is a Civil Engineer and What Do They Do?

What is a Civil Engineer and What Do They Do?

Since the evolution of technology, engineering has become a very popular profession, and today there are over 422,000 people employed as engineers in Australia1. According to the United States Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) systems, there are 17 engineering specialities that are recognised as professional societies2. While many of these specialties were introduced with the evolution of technology, civil engineering is arguably one of the oldest engineering specialities, and has many subspecialties within itself. Civil engineering encompasses the built environment and is the foundation of modern civilisation. As a result, this profession can be dated back to the first time someone put a roof over their head, or placed a log over a river to help them get across. Civil engineering has obviously come a long way since then, and this article endeavours to shed some insight into civil engineering as a discipline, the different subspecialties within this discipline, and what type of work is involved.


What Is Civil Engineering?


Civil engineering involves the design, construction, and maintenance of the physical and naturally built environment. Civil engineering includes structures like roads, bridges, buildings, canals, and dams, so naturally there are many subspecialities within this discipline to cater for the wide range of applications that are needed. Intricate knowledge of topics such as structures, geography, materials, geology, hydrology, soils, and mechanics are required to complete the wide-range of civil engineering projects. Essentially, civil engineering solves society’s problems through the application of physical and scientific principles, with strong links to mathematics and physics.


The earliest practice of commercial civil engineering took place between 4000 and 2000 BC, when humans abandoned their nomadic existence and created a need for shelter to protect them from the forces of nature. Around the same time, the need for transportation also became important which lead to the introduction of the wheel and boats. An example of one of the first types of large scale constructions was the Pyramids of Egypt, which was constructed between 2700 and 2500 BC3.


While today many people associate civil engineering with common structures such as roads and buildings, there are also an abundance of less visible creations of civil engineers that the majority of people don’t think about. Everytime you go to wash your hands, you open the tap and water comes out without thinking that civil engineers made this happen. And what happens to this water when it goes down the drain? The old discipline of sanitary engineering has become so prevalent in today’s society that most academic institutions have changed their name to civil and environmental engineering. Basically any type of infrastructure that is required in our modern society, civil engineers need to be involved to ensure that it’s safe and that it functions properly.


Subspecialties Of Civil Engineering


As discussed in the abovementioned, the physical and naturally built environment encompasses a huge amount of applications, and as a result there are many subspecialties of civil engineering that are quite diverse. This section will explore some of the different subspecialties of civil engineering and the type of work involved to give you a clearer understanding of this discipline as a whole.


            Construction Engineers and Managers


Construction engineers and managers are the decision makers in construction projects that must have good managerial skills such as planning, contracting, costing, and risk assessment. Their jobs are very rewarding as they see their projects evolve from nothing to completed assets, such as buildings and bridges. Construction engineers and managers are responsible for projects that range from small, such as in residential construction, to extremely large, such as in the gas and oil industries. Their work can be done either in the private or public sector, and their skills are internationally recognised.


            Geotechnical Engineers


Geotechnical engineers are responsible for the design of a large number of infrastructure projects, such as bridges, tunnels, roads, railways, dams, and landfills. Their main role is to ensure that these infrastructure projects are safe and serve the required purpose, both during the construction phase and well into the future. This includes gathering information required to complete the design, and analysis from site investigations, such as the risk of landslides and earthquakes, in order to minimise the risk of these disasters from occurring.


            Structural Engineers


Structural engineers develop and maintain new and existing structures using their creativity and scientific education. They produce structural solutions to withstand loads and other forces along with developing methods to ensure safe load paths for these forces. There is a high level of mathematical and scientific application involved as this type of job presents huge challenges. Structural engineers work closely with architects, builders, contractors and other engineering disciplines.


            Transport Engineers


Transport engineers require excellent mathematical and strategic planning skills to develop creative engineering solutions for problems that affect people every day. Transportation is a huge task for Governments and proper research and planning needs to be undertaken to ensure their city’s infrastructure is as efficient as possible. Transport engineers work both in the private and public sector and provide technical and managerial advice to a vast range of transportation projects.


            Water Engineers


Water is one of the most important resources in Australia, so water engineers are responsible for long-term, holistic approaches to water from catchment to ocean in order to protect our country’s water future. As a result, there are many types of water engineers, such as those working with water levels, flood prediction, groundwater, coastal engineering, water quality, and sanitation. Water engineers are responsible for building, repairing, and maintaining structures that control water resources (such as pumping stations and reservoirs). Some of the challenges that water engineers face are global warming, population growth, ageing infrastructure, and higher quality living standards.


Without a doubt, civil engineering has an extremely important role in today’s society to ensure our country can grow at a healthy rate, our population is safe, and our standard of living continues to be one of the best in the world. Civil engineering is an exciting career path for many, and there is a wide range of subspecialties that students can choose to pursue that all make a huge impact on our society. One of the most important aspects of civil engineering is the infrastructure they use to complete a project. Choosing the right scaffolding and formwork company is paramount for civil engineers to ensure their workers can perform safely and accurately in constructing the best product possible.


Uni-Span are one of the most reputable and trustworthy scaffolding and formwork companies in Australia that supply the best products and engineers for a huge range of projects. For more information about Uni-Span’s products and services, visit http://uni-span.com.au/




  1. https://www.engineersaustralia.org.au/Government-And-Policy/Statistics
  2. https://www.studentscholarships.org/professions/679/employed/engineers.php
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_pyramids