Three engineers reviewing plans

Civil engineering career: what skills do you need?

Bridges, roads, airports and mines. Ports and harbours, 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. Civil engineers need to futureproof their skills so they can meet infrastructure challenges and enjoy a rewarding civil engineering career.

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 Charles Sturt Senior Lecturer in Engineering, Reza Mahinroosta (with expert input from Karthika KrishnaPillai, Lecturer in Engineering), to find out what skills civil engineers need to keep up with the demands of our changing world.

The skillset of a civil engineer

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

“All engineers should have various skills and competencies. Seven survival skills were presented by Tony Wagner for the 21 century. Critical thinking to identify a feasible solution to a problem and considering different practical aspects is vital for aspiring civil engineers.”

But how can these survival skills be acquired? According to Reza, it’s quite simple.

“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

If you want to be a civil engineer, you’ll need to complete some technical training. Charles Sturt’s undergraduate degree in civil engineering gives you the essential technical skills to be a qualified engineer. You’ll also get the entrepreneurial skills to become a specialist in the field.

“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. Students will 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 which are often aligned with industry expectations. Students learn important life skills such as self-disciplined, people, time and priorities management. These are essential not only for their success in this course but in their future as practising civil engineers.”

Read more about what makes our engineering degree unique.

Maths, science and IT skills

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

These skills will be used 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.

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 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 having an open mind to find opportunities within your school or community to put these technical skills into practice.”

Networking skills

It’s never too early for you 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 the 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 skills will help you manage budgets and project resources. You’ll also develop designs and plans using a range of software. Plus, 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 like to 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.”

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 will help you to communicate clearly with clients. You’ll need the ability to communicate with clients from all kinds of 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 easily understood by everyone. You’ll also need to be an effective listener and show your 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. Honest, trustworthy and consider professional ethics in all the actions. 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.

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. The students’ leadership skills are continuously evaluated through their subjects called Performance, Planning and Review. These provide opportunities for formal leadership development in engineering.”

If you manage a team, you’ll need to be able to motivate and inspire them to deliver the best results. You’ll think methodically, strategically and must 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.

Organisational skills

One of the main tasks you can expect in your civil engineering career is to monitor and evaluate progress at job sites. Your organisation skills are key to ensuring 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 Systems) / Master of Engineering (Civil Systems) and get set to become a change-maker in your community as a civil engineer.