3 Things to Consider if You Want A Civil Engineering Job

Thinking of becoming a civil engineer? Here are three things that you need to think through first!
The gradsingapore Team
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Most civil engineering graduates typically start their career with the construction or structural industry, where they’ll be welcomed into graduate schemes. Depending on the size of the company, you may be asked to choose a specialisation earlier or later.

Larger employers tend to hire graduates straight into a specialist division. In contrast, smaller companies rarely operate beyond two to three specialisations, and their graduate engineers are expected to be involved in all of those.

The future looks bright for graduate civil engineers in Singapore, especially with the upcoming construction of new MRT lines and BTO housing. But before you jump into your first job, do consider these three factors that will determine the scope of your work!

Factor #1: Working on designs or on site?

Civil and structural engineers are typically snapped up by either a consultancy or a contractor, and the working environment can be quite different.

Consultants

  • Core responsibility: Designing structures and following up on design-related problems once building commences
  • Stick with a project from start to end
  • Close working relationships with clients, sometimes even managing projects for them
  • Work is largely office-bound

Contractors

  • Core responsibility: Realising consultants’ designs once it’s finalised! Contractors also supervise their team and the implementation of designs
  • Occasional collaborations with specialist subcontractors
  • Work closely with consultants
  • Involves on-site work

Recruiters will expect you to know the difference between these two roles and their starting duties. If you start out at a consultancy, you typically start with design assistance or data gathering under the guidance of a senior engineer.

Working for a contractor, in contrast, may have you on-site overseeing the work on a segment of a project. Alternatively, you can also find jobs with specialist contractors, such as companies specialising in coastal and marine work like dredging and reclamation, off-shore installations, and specialist shipping.

Some sectors will also have client organisations that need the expertise of a civil engineering graduate in-house, such as the Public Utilities Board (PUB) or SMRT. The job scope is almost similar to a consultant’s, but you’ll also be expected to pull certain project management roles as well.

Factor #2: Which industry?

Civil engineering doesn’t merely confine you to malls, houses, and roads. There are also a variety of other industries where graduate civil engineers are in demand!

  • Airports: Unless you’re involved in a completely new airport project – which could take years of preparation – your typical job scope will involve modifying and improving existing facilities, such as runways and taxiways (also known as “airside infrastructures”), maintenance and cargo hangars, and terminal buildings.
  • Bridges: Singapore doesn’t just have bridges – it also has viaducts. Building these calls for a high level of expertise in structural, highway, geotechnical, and environmental engineering. Engineers in this field typically work in multidisciplinary teams. Structural specialists, for instance, prepare the superstructure designs, while geotechnical specialists will work on the foundations.
  • Buildings: With sustainability now a key consideration for the construction industry, civil engineers may be invited to work with building services experts to design and produce enduring structures that comply with environmental regulations.
  • Coastal and marine: Marine engineers have helped Singapore develop its urban coastal areas to withstand rising sea levels and erosion. They specialise in sea defences – “hard defences” such as concrete barriers; and “soft defences” such as man-made beaches. Building and maintaining ports, offshore wind farms, and tidal energy facilities fall into this job scope as well.
  • Energy and power: Power stations, electric towers, solar farms, and oil platforms – these are only a fraction of the projects that you can work on as an engineer in this field! This job is about designing, building, or decommissioning the infrastructure needed to create and transmit energy.
  • Environmental: Here, you’ll play an advisory role in projects, giving counsel on the ecological impact of the project and ways to minimise environmental damage. You can specialise in areas such as flood risk, geometrics, and chemical disposal.
  • Geotechnical: Geotechnical engineers oversee the structural foundations of buildings, making sure that the groundwork is solid and stable enough to withstand the weight of the structure. They use field data to perform site surveying, design substructure, oversee on-site construction work, and offer advice on modifying the land to help support the project. Postgraduate study is highly encouraged for this field, due to its specialist nature. 
  • Highways: This specialisation is primarily concerned with finding ways – both temporary and permanent – to reduce traffic congestion and improve road safety, as well as lessen the environmental impact of highways. This area of work may also encompass the construction of bridges and tunnels.
  • Offshore: Civil engineers in the offshore industry design and build oil production platforms, sub-sea structures, pipelines, permanent and temporary anchorages, along with various deep-sea mining facilities. This encompasses feasibility studies, site assessments, foundational and structural design, supervising installation, and operational management.
  • Rail: Rail engineers design, install, and maintain infrastructure for railway systems – including tracks, drainage, earthworks, telecoms, and power. Cost is a major concern for engineers in this sector.  
  • Tunnelling: Tunnelling mainly requires specialist structural or geotechnical knowledge, but also involves elements of underground engineering. Rock tunnels, shafts, caverns, and underground stations, for example, fall under the domain of a tunnelling engineer. Engineers working in this field will need to take into account a project’s safety, cost, and location, ensuring it has minimal impact on nearby buildings or the surrounding environment.
  • Water and public health: This line of work is about providing clean drinking water to properties and treating wastewater economically. Engineers in this industry design and implement drainage systems and energy-efficient treatment plants, as well as find solutions to prevent urban flooding.

Most engineering employers tend to hire where there are ready pipelines of projects in place, which means you’ll likely find more open positions in segments of the industry that have been earmarked for growth.

Keep your ear to the ground and watch where the money is going for clues on which employers are hiring. However, bear in mind that even in segments of the industry that are struggling or aren’t growing as rapidly, they may still be a handful of firms there with strong project pipelines!  

Factor #3: Which degree module/final-year project?

Your chosen degree module or final year thesis can boost your chances of getting hired into a particular engineering specialisation. While civil engineering employers are generally willing to hire across engineering disciplines, they may only recruit graduates with specific degree modules to fill certain specialised roles.

Even though this situation may not be a make-or-break one in the long run, it’s worth giving some thought to if you are still studying. For instance, if you’re sure that you want to go into bridge engineering in the future, then you’ll want to pick up modules in areas such as structural or geotechnical engineering.

Taking the right modules isn’t just about equipping yourself with the necessary technical knowledge, though. From an employer’s standpoint, your choice of modules also showcases how interested you really are in the field you’re applying for.