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Structural Engineer Career Info

Structural engineers design the framework of buildings, pipelines and bridges so that they can support their own weight and resist forces, such as weather and traffic. Find out about the job duties, education and licensing requirements as well as employment outlook and salary to determine if this is the right career for you.

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Career Definition for a Structural Engineer

Structural engineering is considered a specialty of civil engineering, but while civil engineers may design roadways, tunnels, dams and bridges, a structural engineer ensures that specific architectural components such as beams, foundations, columns and floors are structurally sound. In addition to public safety concerns, structural engineers must also take into account aesthetics and cost efficiency. They often specialize in the types of structures they design and may work on projects ranging from nuclear power plants to hotels. ).

Education Bachelor's degree in civil engineering
Job Skills Analytical, creative, detail oriented, technical skill
Median Salary (2015)* $82,220 (all civil engineers)
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 8% (all civil engineers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education and Licensing Requirements

Entry-level positions generally require a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering; however, a Master of Science degree or even an MBA may be required for senior-level, faculty and research positions. Every state requires Professional Engineer (PE) licensure, which involves passing a series of exams administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) (www.ncees.org). The first test is the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, also known as the Engineer in Training (EIT) exam, and is often taken before graduation. The Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam is taken after four years of experience working with a licensed engineer, but experience requirements may vary by state. Structural engineers take two PE exams, and some states, such as California, have additional licensure and exam requirements related to seismic principles. The Structural Engineers Association website offers networking opportunities, seminars and job listings throughout the U.S. (www.seaint.org).

Necessary Skills

Structural engineers must be analytical, detail-oriented and creative, in addition to having strong interpersonal and communication skills. Proficiency with computer-aided drafting software applications integral to structural engineering, such as AutoCAD and RISA, is essential, as are excellent computer skills and familiarity with other commonly-used word processing and spreadsheet programs. Many employers require knowledge of construction management. Structural engineers must also be familiar with codes and regulations specific to the industry in which they specialize and possess up-to-date technical knowledge often obtained through continuing education.

Economic Future and Financial Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the field of civil engineering, of which structural engineering is a significant part, to experience average growth to all occupations (8% from 2014-2024). As of May 2015, the median annual salary for civil engineers was $82,220.

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Alternative Careers

Check out related occupations whose duties also involve designing and construction buildings:

Architect

Similar to structural engineers, architects design construction features, but they focus more on the appearance and functionality of buildings and other structures. They also determine what materials to use, create detailed drawings for construction purposes, oversee preparation of permits and contracts, check out work at construction sites and make sure client needs are addressed. To become an architect, you'll need to earn a bachelor's degree in architecture or complete a master's degree program. Licensing is also required in every state. This involves obtaining several years of internship experience and receiving a passing score on the Architect Registration Exam.

Based on projections from the BLS, architects should see 7% growth in employment during the 2014-2024 decade. The median yearly salary for architects, excluding those working in the naval and landscape industries, is $76,100, as seen in BLS reports from May 2015.

Civil Engineering Technician

For those interested in engineering but without pursuing a bachelor's degree, becoming a civil engineering technician should be considered. These technicians assist structural and other civil engineers in designing and building infrastructure elements, such as roads and utilities. Engineering technicians often visit project sites and inspect the quality of work performed, making sure all regulatory, legal and design specifications are adhered to. They may also test construction materials for durability. An associate degree in civil engineering technology is not required, but often preferred by many employers, and holding a professional certification is a plus when seeking employment.

The number of civil engineering technician jobs is expected to increase by 5%, according to the BLS, between 2014 and 2024. However, some new positions will be found in the renewable-energy industry. In 2015, the BLS determined that civil engineering technicians received $49,260 in median annual wages.

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