Why a Career as a Civil Engineer or Technician?


Why a career as a Civil Engineer or Technician?

From the pyramids of Egypt to the exploration of space, civil engineers have always faced the challenges of the future – advancing civilization and improving our quality of life.

Today, the world is changing quickly – new technology being discovered, population growth, environmental problems, and more, all create different challenges. The next five to ten years will be the most creative, demanding, and rewarding times for civil engineers, and now is the best time to find out if civil engineering is the right career for you.

  • Civil engineers today are designing methods and facilities to handle many of our planet’s most serious problems.
  • Civil engineers are problem-solvers. Whether it’s designing a new light-rail line, replacing an old bridge, making traffic more efficient, meeting energy needs, recovering from floods and earthquakes, or redeveloping urban communities, being an engineer means working to make things better.
  • You will be a person who accomplishes things. Being a civil engineer is all about bringing service to the community through development and improvement.
  • The opportunity for creativity is unlimited as each project is about solving a new set of problems.

What do Civil Engineers do? (ASCE):

Will there be civil engineering jobs for me in the future?

  • The timing couldn’t be any better!!!
  • All sources (including employers) are saying that in the next four to seven years almost half of all civil engineers will be retiring.
  • Many civil engineers were hired to design and update buildings and roadways in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s to handle the large population growth during those times. Today’s civil engineers will help continue these efforts and address new challenges.
  • By the way, when there is a shortage of something, the cost usually goes up! In this case, we are talking about your potential salary!

What kind of person makes a good Civil Engineer or Technician?

There is not one set of characteristics that make a good civil engineer. Some engineers are very technically proficient, some are creative and some specialize in working with people, including the public and elected officials. Some characteristics to consider are:

  • A person can be creative and have good problem-solving skills.
  • If you played with Legos, Lincoln logs, or train sets as a kid, civil engineering could be a great career for you! Playing with those types of toys shows an interest in creative building and design, which are important qualities to have as a civil engineer.
  • Engineers must have a good understanding of mathematics, science, computers, and new technology.
  • Since engineering projects are typically done by teams, an engineer needs to know how to communicate and work well with others.
  • Engineers must be aware of how their work impacts the environment and the needs of the public.
  • Engineers benefit from a good understanding of business practices, finance and management.

How do I further explore a career in Civil Engineering?

  • A great way to explore civil engineering is through the internet! Check out some of the websites and games listed throughout this website for great places to begin your search.
  • If you know anyone that is currently a civil engineer, don’t be afraid to talk to them and ask them questions about different projects that they have worked on to see if it sounds like something you would like to do.

What is the difference between a Civil Engineer and a Technician?

Civil Engineer

  • Civil Engineers require a four-year bachelor’s degree from a college or university.
  • An engineer is a designer and developer of new techniques and standards.
  • An engineer is often a project manager responsible for many parts of a project including financial planning and reporting, communicating with people, managing construction crews, and working with contractors.
  • An engineer is a partner with the public, listening to needs and ideas, and proposing solutions for different problems.

Civil Engineering Technician

  • Generally requires a two-year associate’s degree, although it may be possible to qualify for a job with no formal training.
  • Their work includes using computer programs to draft and design plans for construction, estimating project costs, surveying (recording and studying the features of an area of land), scheduling, and managing and inspecting construction projects. Some technicians, such as surveyor’s assistants, spend a lot of their time working outdoors.
  • The technician’s role is a critical one. Without a good technician, plans would never be drafted and important quality checks would not get done.

What can I do to prepare to become a Civil Engineer or Technician?

  • Take as many high school science and math courses as possible.
  • Computer courses are also highly recommended.
  • Join your school’s Speech Club, or write articles for the school newspaper. Having excellent public speaking and writing skills will help you as a college student, and will be very helpful in advancing your professional career.
  • Get involved in STEM related activities at your school or in your community to get exposure to science and engineering projects.
  • Different colleges, universities, and technical schools can vary in grade requirements for acceptance, but maintaining a “B” average is important.
  • For more information, speak to your school guidance counselor.

Do I have to be good at math and science to be a Civil Engineer or Technician?

  • Being good at math and science certainly helps. However, if you enjoy solving problems and helping others, that’s just as important. Remember that applying math and science to real-life problems is nearly always more interesting than textbook work, and even if you are an average student in school, you may succeed in applying these skills.

Where would I work as a Civil Engineer or Technician?

  • Almost anywhere and everywhere—the possibilities are endless.
  • You could work for the public as a Federal, State, County or City employee, for the military, or for a private company. Someday, you may even start your own engineering company!
  • You could work in a large city or a small town.
  • You can have the choice of an office career or working out in the field. Many engineering careers offer a bit of both experiences.
  • You can choose to work either here in the United States or another country.

Molly Swanson
Senior Engineering Technician,
City of Eden Prairie

Meet a Senior Engineering Technician

What do you want people to know about working for a local agency?

There are many benefits for working for a local agency.  First of all, working with a close group of people allows for relationships that make coming to work enjoyable, much like working with your friends.  The second benefit is more related to the specific work that I do.  The smaller geographical area that I work in, compared to others in my field, gives me the ability to become much more aware of how the overall drainage systems functions.  I am able to know where the problem areas are and can better focus stormwater management and water quality improvement project efforts for the maximum resource benefit.  Lastly, with the City of Chaska I am able to be involved with the review of development and redevelopment projects from the beginning of the planning phase or process.  This allows me to help guide the project in a direction that provides the best long-term resource protection.

What do you want people to know about working for a local agency?

I think it’s important for people to know that working for a local agency means that you most likely will have opportunities available to you that wouldn’t be available in the private sector.  Many folks that work for a local agency have a variety of responsibilities, and if you’re willing to learn, the opportunities are there.  Every day is different, there is variety to the work which is important to keep things new and exciting.  I have also found that the people that work for local agencies are passionate and work hard, the commitment to the public and local community is strong, and there is ownership of the work we do.

What attracted you to work for your current employer?

I had been looking for employment opportunities, hoping that I might find something at a local City government because after working for 10+ years in the private sector I felt that I needed a change of pace.  To be completely honest, I needed a more structured schedule where I wouldn’t have to be working late nights and weekends all the time just to keep pace.  I’d been working in a stressful environment in the consulting world for years, and it was wearing on me emotionally and physically.  So I was actively looking at City’s specifically, and I knew that a local agency would have a more attractive work schedule.  Now after working at the City for almost five years I’m finding that there are many more benefits that I hadn’t realized at the time I was looking for work.

Briefly describe your career path?

It has certainly been a long and winding road.  My first job after completing my 2-year tech school degree was with a small architectural firm and not long after starting there I discovered that architectural drafting was not for me.  From there I went to work for a single-family home design-build company where I learned the ins and outs of building a home, working with contractors and didn’t do much technical work at all.  Wanting to get back into more design work, I then began working for an engineering consulting firm and this is where I learned civil design and stayed at that firm for almost 5 years.  While working there, I ended up going back to school part-time and getting my bachelor’s degree in Child Psychology.  I had become disillusioned to some extent with the consulting engineering world, and I ended up working outside of the technical field for almost two years.  Eventually, I felt that my true talents were not being utilized outside of the technical realm, and decided to hop back into it.  I worked for two more consulting firms but found that not much had changed in that world – and I still felt the same way.  Wanting a more structured schedule and less stress, I actively searched for employment at a City.  I couldn’t believe my luck in finding an Engineering Technician position with the City of Eden Prairie, it offered everything I wanted.  I am doing civil design work, my bread and butter, but also learned on the job more about GIS mapping and analysis (and many other new-to-me responsibilities) which has been a welcome addition to my knowledge base.  I am also working to assist the Engineering Department in becoming more efficient and organized, helping to make decisions that will benefit the entire organization.  These are the kinds of opportunities I was not getting working outside of a local agency.  I’m happy after all the twists and turns that I ended up where I am.

When you reflect on your younger self, can you identify any hobbies, interests, or characteristics that led you to your current position/career?

Absolutely!  In junior high, a friend and I used to design and draw model homes and give them fancy names like “The Pemberton.”  I was intrigued by the built environment, I loved buildings – but when they were under construction, I was especially fascinated by their inner workings.  I was also very active and loved working with my hands.  I used to build model cars in my basement at home when I was young – I was not good at it at all, but I had a lot of fun building something.  Once I could take some introductory CAD classes at school, I found that I had an aptitude for the program and really enjoyed problem solving while doing design work.  In a way, I always knew I wanted to work in the technical field and do design work and I’m really happy I found a home at a local agency doing what I love to do.

%d bloggers like this: