Three people in a civil engineering career reviewing plans

Civil engineering career: what skills do you need?

Bridges, roads, airports and mines. Ports, harbours, and factories. Irrigation systems, water supply and sewage treatment. These are just some of the infrastructure projects and systems that require the skills of civil engineers. As the future of the workforce and technology changes, so does the growing needs of society. And in terms of a civil engineering career, professionals need to futureproof their skillset to meet infrastructure challenges.

Take a look around your local community. There’s a good chance you’ll see the work of civil engineers. To keep up with rapidly growing communities, new roads, bigger buildings and superior systems are required.

We sat down with civil engineer and former Charles Sturt lecturer Karthika Krishna Pillai to find out what skills civil engineers need to keep up with the demands of our changing world.

The skillset for a civil engineering career

“Civil engineers work on small- and large-scale projects that deal with roads, dams, hydropower, and bridges. As well as buildings, tunnels, water and wastewater treatments systems. In all these projects, they interact with other people and the environment.

“All professionals in the field should have various engineering skills and competencies. For example, critical thinking to identify a feasible solution to a problem and considering different practical aspects is vital for aspiring civil engineers.”

But how can you acquire these survival skills?

“It requires collaboratively working with people from different disciplines. Often outside civil engineering. It calls for effective people and time management skills, together with leadership abilities.”

Technical skills

Want a civil engineering career? You’ll need to complete some technical training. Charles Sturt’s undergraduate degrees – Bachelor of Technology (Civil) / Master of Engineering (Civil) and Bachelor of Engineering (Civil) (Honours) – gives you the essential technical civil engineering skills to become qualified. You’ll also get the entrepreneurial skills to become a specialist in the field.

“Civil engineering job requirements are broad. So students experience and practise engineering skills in varying degrees throughout the course. For example, during the first 1.5 years, in the practical subjects called “challenge subjects”, students work within a team environment. They collaborate with real or virtual clients, mentors and project managers to find solutions for practical civil engineering issues in the community.”

Technical and valuable life skills can be learnt through your assessments.

“Assessments are often in the form of reports, drawing maps, and defence of the project. These are often aligned with industry expectations. For example, students learn important life skills such as self-discipline, people, time and priorities management. These are essential not only for success in this course but in the future as practising civil engineers.”

Read more about what makes our engineering degree unique.

Hands at a laptop keyboard researching civil engineering job requirements

Maths, science and IT skills

Do you love maths, science and IT? If you do, get excited!

You’ll use these skills daily in your civil engineering career. To be successful in your job, you’ll need a strong grasp of algebra, calculus, trigonometry and geometry. Having an understanding of statistics can be advantageous if you’re interested in specialising in transportation or water resources engineering. Chemistry, physics, biology, and computer sciences all have relevance to civil engineering. Give yourself the best chance of getting into engineering at uni by choosing these subjects in Year 11 and 12.

And here’s how you’ll use these skills in the “real world”.

“The success of a civil engineer lies in applying the appropriate STEM knowledge to solve a practical problem in a team environment. Problems can vary from, for example, providing drinking water to the community or building a bridge on a difficult site. At the school level, this calls for a thorough understanding of the STEM concepts and also having an open mind to find opportunities within your school or community to put these technical skills into practice.”

Networking skills for a successful civil engineering career

It’s never too early to start building your professional networks. Connecting with industry can work to your advantage. And don’t be afraid to ask plenty of questions.

“Asking the right questions in the classroom and exploring the practicality of the STEM concepts guide students to the “why” and “how” of a problem. It’s not always about getting the right answer. Rather, questioning the problem itself is important, which helps to understand the main concepts.

“Outside the classroom, you can participate in STEM events. These provide a great opportunity to network with local STEM professionals. You can also build your network with local civil engineering firms and civil engineering schools to get to know more about the discipline and essential skills.”

Problem-solving and decision-making skills

If you’re quick-thinking, analytical and decisive, then you’ll make a great civil engineer. Civil engineers need to design large-scale plans that comply with a variety of regulations. This means you’ll need to analyse site locations and surrounding areas to determine the feasibility of construction.

It’s also important to have the ability to make decisions with authority and confidence. Problem-solving and decision-making are skills will also help you manage budgets and project resources. You’ll develop designs and plans using a range of software during your civil engineering career. Furthermore, you’ll need to resolve any design challenges that might come up along the way.

At Charles Sturt, you’ll hone your problem-solving and decision-making skills through our learning model that we call the Topic Tree.

“Students seek to advance their STEM knowledge as the situation demands through the online learning platform, called the Topic Tree, which offers a flexible learning approach. Problem definition is a crucial aspect of these challenge subjects. Students ask questions and take the initiative to find the right question.”

People sat around a whiteboard looking at civil engineering job requirements

Written and oral communication skills

If you’re a confident communicator then you’re off to a flying start! Civil engineers need to have strong written and oral communication skills. This helps you to communicate clearly with clients. You’ll need the ability to communicate with clients from all backgrounds, ranging from architects and urban or regional planners to technicians and tradespeople.

You may also deal with officials or people from non-technical backgrounds, so it’s important that you can relay information in a way that can be understood by everyone. You’ll need to be an effective listener and show clients that you understand their concerns or requests.

“A successful civil engineer must be responsible to the community. Resilient and persistent to find the solution in the best interest of the community and the environment. Also, honest, trustworthy and consider professional ethics in all the actions. In addition, they need to be perceptive and non-judgemental in listening to stakeholders’ voices. And they need to have a holistic view of issues and a broad sense of responsibility to public good and humanity at large.”

Mastering these skills will come in handy, particularly when you’re managing professional relationships.

A group of people at a whiteboard plotting their civil engineering career

Leadership skills

When you study with us, you’ll develop all the leadership qualities you need to be a successful engineer.

“We believe that leadership is a skill and can be developed. We evaluate students’ leadership skills through their subjects called Performance, Planning and Review. These also provide opportunities for formal leadership development in engineering.”

If you manage a team in your civil engineering career, you’ll need to motivate and inspire them to deliver the best results. Think methodically, strategically and be able to manage projects effectively.

At Charles Sturt, leadership starts with leading one’s own self and then leading others by own example. There are plenty of opportunities to develop yourself professionally. These include online topics for students to learn and practice during the on-campus study and in their workplace.

Person at a desk planning their civil engineering career

Organisational skills

One of the main tasks you can expect in your civil engineering career is to monitor and evaluate progress at job sites. What’s more, your organisation skills will ensure design plans are followed to a tee. Then there’s compliance with regulations and project plans. Plus, ensuring rules and regulations are adhered to.

“By planning and prioritising, managing time effectively, delegating tasks and duties, making logical decisions with confidence, encouraging and motivating other people you lead others by your own example during team works and at placements.”

Therefore, you’ll also need to have a strong ability to work to deadlines and within budget. After all, you’re responsible for official project documents, organising project information, allocating resources and managing teams. All of which require strong organisational skills.

Get qualified for your civil engineering career

Join a community of student engineers blazing a new trial in engineering. Find out why everyone’s talking about our Bachelor of Technology (Civil) / Master of Engineering (Civil) or Bachelor of Engineering (Civil) (Honours) and get set to become a change-maker in your community as a civil engineer.

And by applying for a Transgrid Civil Engineering Scholarship, you could receive a $20,000 cash boost to help you through your degree, as you learn to keep our country connected. We have $2 million worth of scholarships up for grabs, to help 100 civil engineering students study at Charles Sturt – and one of them could be you.