As a stress or structural engineer, your job is to design the framework that holds a building or structure together.
You must make sure it's strong and flexible enough to withstand stresses and strains over its lifetime. No pressure then…
So, what will I actually be doing?
Your role will involve:
- Working closely on construction plans with clients, architects, and other professionals
- Developing design ideas using CAD software
- Investigating the properties of materials like glass, steel and concrete, and advising which is most suitable
- Working out the loads and stresses on different parts of a structure
- Using computer simulations to predict how structures will react under different conditions
- Inspecting unsafe buildings and recommending options for repairs or demolition
- Making sure that projects meet legal guidelines, environmental directives, and health and safety requirements
- Preparing bids for tenders
- Supervising project teams
- Giving progress reports to clients and senior managers
You could work on any project from new offices and sports arenas to bridges and tunnels. Whatever, your designs have to be cost-efficient and allow the structure to fulfil its intended purpose while still being visually appealing.
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The nitty gritty
You'll normally work between 35 and 40 hours a week, Monday to Friday, with a combination of office work and site visits. You also may have to travel widely.
As well as building construction, you could use your skills to work in construction design, project management, research and lecturing. With experience, you could move into consultancy work, for example providing services to building insurers.
You could also work overseas on construction and engineering projects, for example with disaster relief agencies.
Money, money, money
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
- Salaries for new graduate engineers range from £19,500 to £23,000 a year
- Experienced engineers earn between £24,000 and £37,000
- Chartered engineers can earn around £49,000
See what people are earning in this job.
The good points...
Prospects are good, both in the UK and overseas.
Projected growth in the construction sector over the next five to ten years means there should be a rise in demand for structural engineers. Large-scale projects in the south-east, such as the Thames Gateway are expected to drive the process.
...and the bad
Sitework will be in all weathers, so remember to take a brolly and raincoat just in case.
Is there study involved?
You'll need to take a three-year Bachelor of Engineering degree (BEng) or four-year Masters degree (MEng) in structural engineering or civil engineering. This is important if you want to gain incorporated or chartered engineer status later in your career. You could take other engineering-related subjects but it may take longer to fully qualify.
To take an engineering degree, you'll need at least five GCSEs (A-C) and two or three A levels, including maths and a science subject (normally physics), or equivalent qualifications. Colleges or universities may accept a relevant Access to Higher Education award for entry to certain courses.
You could get in at technician level after studying for a BTEC HNC/HND or foundation degree in engineering. With further training on the job, you could work your way up to engineer.
Visit the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE), ConstructionSkills and Women into Science, Engineering and Construction websites for more details. The Engineering Training Council (Northern Ireland) has information for that area.
You can get onto a graduate training scheme with a company if you have a degree or postgraduate qualification in engineering.
The flexible Initial Professional Development scheme, run by the IStructE, is an important bridge between leaving college and gaining professional qualifications. It lays out the minimum level of skills and knowledge you need and, together with your work experience, allows you to work towards incorporated or chartered status.This normally takes a minimum of three to four years.
Working towards incorporated or chartered status could help your career development. You should register with your professional industry body and apply to the Engineering Council.
As an incorporated engineer, you'll specialise in the day-to-day management. At chartered level, you'll have a more strategic role, planning, researching and developing new ideas, and streamlining management methods.
OK, I'm interested... But is it really the job for me?
To be a good structural engineer, you'll need:
Excellent mathematics, IT and mechanics skills
- The ability to analyse complex problems and assess solutions
- The ability to explain design plans and ideas
- Good project management skills
- The ability to meet deadlines
- Excellent communication skills
- Financial management ability
- Excellent teamworking and people skills
- A sound knowledge of construction methods, health and safety, and legal regulations