ENGINEERING STUDENTS – did you know there’s a lot of crossover between engineering and construction careers? The ultimate blend of the two is civil engineering, which is a slightly different beast to structure and building services engineering…
Bridges. Dams. Sustainable power stations. Shopping megacentres. Football stadiums. Airports. Statement business buildings. Think about it – they’re all related to construction, but these projects would never have got off the ground, let alone had their foundations laid, if it wasn’t for engineers.
The boundaries between construction careers and engineering careers are often blurred – which is great news for engineering students and people just starting out in their engineering careers, because you could build a sky-high career in the construction sector. This massive umbrella industry takes in civil engineering, structural engineering, building services, and also engineering construction, which is a health blend of construction, science and mechanical engineering. But how do all these high-profile work opportunities relate to you?
The first thing to consider is the different engineering types in the epic world of construction.
The difference between civil engineering, structural engineering and building services engineering
Some construction engineering terms are in danger of being lumped together, but it’s important to understand the difference so that you can get a feel for which career path might interest you most.
… is a huge umbrella term for lots of different aspects of how engineering is applied to building things. You can specialise in coastal or urban engineering, for instance, or you could work as a geoenvironmental engineer and become an expert on how structures affect the environment (and vice versa). All kinds of engineering areas of focus fall under ‘civil engineering’, but two key elements are worth clarifying when thinking about career paths – structural engineering and building services engineering.
… is a type of civil engineering that mainly looks at ‘non-building structures’. These structures aren’t designed to be used by people all the time. A house would therefore not fall under structural engineering, but a road or bridge or dam would. Civil structural engineering can involve some really interesting technological conundrums. For example, if you were to build one bridge in Iceland and one in Brazil, how would they differ? How would you make one bridge able to withstand heavy ice and snow, and how would you ensure the other could cope with lots of heat and rain?
Building services engineering…
… is the bread to structural engineering’s butter, the peanut butter to its jam. It covers the ‘internal environment’, or everything that goes on inside a building. You might need to think about entrances, exits, escalators and lifts. You might need to think about how the building is supplied with heat, light and power. You might need to think about environmental concerns like carbon emissions, or safety concerns like fire safety, detection and prevention.
Civil engineers are like SimCity but in real life. They plan and manage mega building projects – anything from airports to statement skyscrapers and entire new towns. Depending on the projects you take on, as a civil engineer you could walk past a city attraction and tell your friend “I made that happen”.
Consulting engineers (project design)
As a consulting engineer, you’ll be involved with the initial design and planning of a construction project. You’ll work with architects to create detailed designs that go well beyond a few sketches on a napkin. You’ll visit the construction site to check it out and produce a risk assessment. And that’s just for starters. You’ll be involved with all kinds of activities related to general project management before the build takes off, from creating blueprints with computer-aided design (CAD) to estimating how much the project could cost from start to finish.
Contracting (project build)
As a contracting civil engineer you’ll take a consulting engineer’s plans and assessments and turn that design into the real deal, something people can touch and use. It’s your role to figure out exactly how to go about implementing and managing the build. Sometimes you may have to bring an over-ambitious design back to reality to make sure it actually gets built. You oversee the hands-on technical work on a construction site and make sure the job gets done. You’ll help to locate and bring in the right material and equipment, you’ll handle setbacks like blown budgets and delays, and you’ll inspect construction from start to finish to ensure everything is up to scratch.
Building services engineers
Your job is to use your engineering skills and knowledge to think about the inside of a building, and how that building is going to support the needs of the people who are inside it. You need to make sure that anyone using that building does so in a way that doesn’t have a bad effect on their health, safety or the environment.
You’ll carry out a huge range of activities including overseeing the quantity and quality of any materials installed (asbestos is a no-no), calling in contractors, checking for health and safety requirements and managing budgets.
Laying the foundations for an engineering career in construction
Mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and design engineering are also prevalent in the construction industry. You have the chance to make a big impact on the UK landscape, and your career path could also give you opportunities to work abroad. With all those technical and problem-solving skills, engineering bright sparks can get busy building a highly rewarding future.