A job as a Structural engineer

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Helen Carter is a structural engineer working in Newcastle upon Tyne. Helen is in her first year of a graduate training programme, working under the supervision of senior members of staff.

Can you describe your role?

I carry out bridge inspections and assessment for clients, for example local councils. I comment on the state of bridges and recommend any necessary maintenance and repairs.

What does a bridge inspection involve?

I go out to the site along with a technician or two, depending on the size of the bridge. I take measurements and record all structural deterioration and defects. I use tools such as distometers (to measure distances), steel thickness gauges, ladders, hammers and, occasionally, lighting, lifting and scaffolding equipment.

Back in the office I prepare a report for the client, detailing my observations and making suggestions on repairs where necessary, indicating the associated costs. If the defects are too great, I might suggest the replacement of the bridge.

I have recently been involved in a bridge replacement project. My tasks included getting in touch with service providers, like telephone and gas companies, to make arrangements for the diversion of services during the works. I also contact materials suppliers to find out costs, help to prepare contract documents and complete a designer's risk assessment, listing all the possible risks that might arise during the project.

Who do you work with?

I work within the structures team, alongside the transportation team and other engineers specialising in areas such as health and safety, geotechnics, and ecology and environment. We are supported by administration staff and a team of IT and technical drawing technicians.

What qualities and skills do you need?

You need to have a professional attitude, be able to work as part of a team and trust the people you work with. You must have good problem-solving skills, enthusiasm and a willingness to learn, because engineering is very diverse and the knowledge you can gain is never ending.

Do you have a training programme?

Yes, I have a training agreement with my company and the Institute of Civil Engineers that will lead to my qualification as a chartered civil engineer.

So far my training has included environmental impact assessments, concrete repair, and technical report writing. I have also passed a Construction Skills Certificate Scheme (CSCS) health and safety test.

Next year I want to take a distance learning Masters Degree in Bridge Engineering. It may last between two and six years.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I like the idea that I'm partly responsible for the bridges I inspect, by making sure they are in good condition and safe for the public to use. In addition, I have a great support network around me, and I am given training, responsibilities and the opportunity to study further for my personal and professional development.

What do you dislike about your job?

The cold British weather is something I always seem to complain about when I'm on site.

What are your plans for the future?

I hope to become a chartered engineer, and I could be working on big bridge projects either here or abroad in five years' time.

Helen's to her job as a structural engineer

  • Attended school in Greece.
  • Degree in Civil and Structural Engineering in England.
  • On a graduate training programme, working towards chartered status.

Helen's tips

  • If you like science, physics and maths, and want to make a difference to the world around you, then consider engineering as a career.
  • Try to find solutions to problems and question the things around you.
  • The Institute of Civil Engineers and engineering companies are keen to send engineers to schools to talk about what they do, so ask your careers teacher to arrange a visit.

Structural engineer related jobs

  • Building control surveyor
  • Chartered surveyor
  • Civil engineer
  • Civil engineer technician
  • Design engineer
  • Highways maintenance/Road worker

Salary of a structural engineer

  • The starting salary for graduate structural engineers is between about £16,000 and £21,000.
  • With experience and professional qualifications, this may rise to between about £35,000 and £45,000.
  • The most senior engineers may earn in excess of £60,000.

Getting in

  • The usual way to become a structural engineer is to do a degree in civil or structural engineering. It is preferable to do a MEng degree, which takes one year longer than an honours degree in engineering, because it is the most direct route to chartered engineer status.
  • Although most employers are looking for graduates, it is possible to enter with an HND, but further training will be required.
  • Having completed a degree, graduates usually train on the job. There are opportunities to qualify as a chartered engineer with bodies such as the Institution of Civil Engineers or the Institution of Structural Engineers after suitable training and experience.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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