What Is Construction Engineering? Exploring Careers, Salaries, and Educational Requirements

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A construction manager shakes hands with a client on a jobsiteSuccessful construction projects require a highly coordinated team effort. Builders and skilled tradespeople are required to lay brick, construct frames, install plumbing and electrical systems, and ensure completion of a long list of other elements. Complex projects also require high-level strategic oversight, which is where construction engineering comes in.

With a large-scale construction project, construction engineers play an essential role in designing and implementing complicated building plans. They may also oversee the development or maintenance of critical infrastructure, ranging from roads and bridges to dams and water supplies.

Those who work in construction engineering influence all aspects of the building process and their leadership can prove essential for completing a project on time, on budget, and in accord with agreed-upon specifications. Construction engineers supervise the ultimate design strategy, as well as ensure compliance with construction best practices. They also communicate progress or setbacks to the project’s stakeholders.

Ultimately, construction engineering professionals play the crucial role of ensuring building projects are completed as safely, efficiently, and cost-effectively as possible.

What Is Construction Engineering?

It may be helpful to begin with an overview of the role, how it differs from civil engineering, and what construction engineering professionals do on job sites.

Construction Engineering Definition

A construction engineer can be defined as a civil engineer who is tasked with the oversight and management of a large-scale, complex construction project. Typically, these projects involve both buildings and the infrastructure that supports them. Construction engineers may collaborate with other engineers, and also manage building crews, to ensure the project is successful.

Construction Engineering Projects

A construction engineer may work on many different types of projects.

  • Large buildings. A construction engineer may be responsible for the strategic design and completion of large, complex buildings, such as airports, commercial facilities, or office complexes.
  • Electrical systems. Construction engineers may also manage the development of large-scale electrical systems to safely and reliably supply power to buildings or groups of buildings.
  • Mechanical systems. Additionally, construction engineers may oversee the completion of mechanical systems, which can include elevators, escalators, indoor heating and cooling systems, and plumbing systems.
  • A construction engineer may be tasked with building a new highway or tunnel, or with ensuring that a new building or group of buildings is properly connected to main roads, ensuring accessibility.

On-Site Management

It’s important to draw a distinction between the responsibilities of construction engineers, and those of civil engineers. One of the main differences is that civil engineers typically focus on a construction project’s design, analysis, and planning. A construction engineer may participate in this process, but their responsibilities focus on the on-site management (i.e. execution) of the project. Construction engineers coordinate, organize, and manage the day-to-day construction process, ensuring compliance with designs and plans.

Some general areas of a construction engineer’s responsibility include the following.

  • Creating budgets for the construction process
  • Assembling necessary equipment and materials
  • Building and supervising a team of construction and engineering professionals
  • Overseeing progress and safety of the building process, and reporting back to stakeholders
  • Using machinery or other advanced tools
  • Using computer software to confirm or modify design specifications

Ultimately, the construction engineer manages most of what happens on-site, and thus plays a critical, hands-on role in the successful completion of major construction projects.

Construction Engineering Salary

Those interested in a career in the field will want to consider the anticipated construction engineering salary.

Here, it may be important to draw a distinction between two job titles: Construction engineer and construction engineering manager. While these roles are similar in many ways, construction engineers may have greater responsibilities in the design phase, while construction engineering managers are more involved in on-site management.

Construction Engineering Salary Range

According to data from the compensation website PayScale.com, the median annual salary for a construction engineer was approximately $69,000 as of September 2020. PayScale reports the median annual salary of construction engineering managers was around $92,000 as of September 2020. Bonuses can add to salaries, and in some work environments, salaries may be augmented with profit-sharing opportunities.

Relevant Factors

Salaries vary from one position to the next based on a number of factors, including experience, education, and geographic location.

  • Generally speaking, construction engineers and construction engineering managers who have more years of experience will command higher salary ranges. This is a field in which experience is prioritized and rewarded.
  • An advanced degree such as a master’s degree in construction engineering or a related field will typically lead to higher pay levels.
  • Geographic location. Demand for construction engineering professionals varies depending on geographic locale. Generally, more urban or metropolitan areas have a greater need for construction professionals and pay them more competitively.

Construction Engineering Educational Requirements

Another important aspect to consider when pursuing a career in construction engineering is education. Generally speaking, construction engineering roles only require a bachelor’s degree, ideally in a field related to engineering or construction management.

However, those who pursue and earn an advanced degree may be more competitive in the job market, increasing their likelihood of finding the best roles and commanding the highest salaries. Those with master’s-level degrees also develop leadership and managerial competencies, which means they may be better suited for roles that lead larger engineering or construction teams.

Construction Engineering Technology Careers

Construction engineers can choose from several different career paths, including some that exist within the subcategory of construction engineering technology. This field focuses more on the technical and inspection-based aspects of overseeing a construction site, and often uses cutting-edge technologies to ensure precision in their work.

For those who wish to pursue a career in construction engineering technology, three of the most common career paths include construction manager, cost estimator, and field engineer.

Construction Manager

Construction managers play a central role in overseeing a building project’s administrative aspects from beginning to end. For example, some common duties include scheduling, budgeting, monitoring spending and construction progress, and ensuring subcontractors are performing effectively.

Some essential skills for construction managers include those listed below.

  • Team management
  • Delegation
  • Organization and planning
  • Financial management
  • Familiarity with cutting-edge construction methods, tools, and technologies

According to data from PayScale, the annual median salary for construction managers was around $77,000 as of September 2020. Specific pay level can vary depending on factors such as experience level and the completion of an advanced degree in a related field.

Cost Estimator

Finishing a massive building project is expensive, and it’s important for investors and stakeholders that the project be completed as cost-effectively as possible. This involves advanced financial forecasting and careful budget development.

Cost estimators play an essential role here. Their basic function is to analyze all dimensions of a construction project and provide a detailed analysis of the projected costs associated with labor, materials, equipment, permitting, and more.

Cost estimators must exhibit several key skills.

  • Mathematical proficiency
  • Organization
  • Data collection and analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Time management
  • Clear communication skills

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the median annual salary for a cost estimator was $65,250 in 2019. Experience and education level can play a significant role in specific salary ranges.

Field Engineer

A field engineer’s role is to monitor and safeguard the equipment used on a construction project. They are responsible for the integrity and safety of this equipment, and in turn, play a significant role in keeping workers safe and efficient. Field engineers also test equipment regularly.

This position should possess a defined set of skills.

  • Problem-solving
  • Clear communication skills
  • Analytical and critical thinking
  • Strong technical proficiency

According to PayScale, the median annual salary for this role was around $64,000 as of September 2020. Experience and education can play a major role in shaping salary ranges.

Civil Engineering Construction Careers

Another construction engineering career path involves civil engineering construction. As the name implies, this field focuses on the design and construction of civil infrastructure and public works. These physical environments typically include roads, bridges, pipelines, railways, and buildings’ structural components.

Individuals who are interested in this field may wish to consider positions such as civil engineer, environmental engineer, and structural engineer.

Civil Engineer

Civil engineers plan and design major transportation or infrastructure projects such as canals, dams, roads, tunnels, airports, and various types of buildings. They may also assist in the management, construction, and maintenance of these projects.

Some of the skills required for success in civil engineering include those listed here.

  • Mathematical proficiency
  • Written and oral communication abilities
  • Organization
  • Decision-making
  • Team building and leadership

The BLS reports civil engineers made a median annual salary of $87,060 in 2019. Once again, factors including education level and years of professional experience can affect compensation.

Environmental Engineer

Environmental engineers use engineering expertise in combination with knowledge of chemistry and life science to develop solutions to environmental problems. For example, environmental engineers may work to improve methods of waste management, recycling, and air pollution control. This can be a highly rewarding career path for those who are technically inclined and passionate about environmental stewardship.

Environmental engineering involves demonstrating defined essential skills.

  • Creative problem solving
  • Mathematical proficiency
  • Strong project management abilities
  • Clear communication skills
  • Competency with drafting and engineering software, such as AutoCAD

According to BLS data, the annual median salary for this role was $88,860 in 2019. Education and experience level can be determinative factors for compensation.

Structural Engineer

Structural engineers conduct analysis, research, design, and planning for major structures. Their mission is to ensure the safety, durability, and accessibility of the structures they develop.

Below are some of the core skills related to structural engineering.

  • Analytical skills
  • Technical proficiency, including strengths in math and physics
  • Problem-solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Clear communication skills

PayScale reports the median annual salary for a structural engineer was around $69,000 according to September 2020 data. Education and experience level can both play a significant role in determining salary.

Construction Engineering and Management Careers

A final category to consider is construction engineering and management. Professionals in this arena play an essential role in providing safe, productive work environments for builders and skilled tradespeople. Three common career paths in the construction engineering and management category include surveyor, sustainability specialist, and facilities manager.

Surveyor

Surveyors study the lay of the land, quite literally. They provide accurate and precise measurements of the land where construction is planned. Using reference points, surveyors provide meaning and clarity to their measurements.

A few of the required skills for surveyors include the following.

  • Numerical expertise and the ability to make precise calculations
  • Proficiency with technology, including new surveying programs and tools
  • Clear communication skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Problem-solving

According to BLS data, surveyors earned a median annual salary of $63,420 in 2019. This number may be affected by experience and education level.

Sustainability Specialist

Some construction projects involve demands for “green” or eco-friendly methods. Sustainability specialists conduct analysis and research to provide guidelines and best practices for sustainability.

Some of the skills most essential to this role include those listed here.

  • Analytical thinking
  • Attention to detail
  • Strong computer skills and IT proficiency
  • Communication and reporting skills
  • Decision-making

PayScale reports sustainability specialists made a median annual salary around $60,000 as of September 2020, dependent on education and experience level.

Facilities Manager

Facilities managers are responsible for the maintenance and oversight of commercial or residential facilities. Their job is to ensure that buildings run smoothly once construction is complete.

Success in this field may require a wide range of technical skills, including basic proficiencies in carpentry, electrical work, plumbing, heating, cooling, and beyond. Team leadership and project management skills are also vital.

PayScale reports the median annual salary for facilities managers was approximately $67,000 as of September 2020. Those with advanced degrees or more experience may command higher salaries.

A Key Career in Shaping the Future

Construction engineering plays a pivotal role in the development and maintenance of our homes, office spaces, cities, and public spaces. Because this career path includes so many subspecialties, it offers a wealth of dynamic career opportunities.

An excellent way to start pursuing some of these opportunities is to explore relevant educational programs — such as a master’s degree in civil engineering and related fields.

Recommended Readings

How Women in Engineering Proudly Raise Their Flag and Pursue Their Dreams

How Augmented and Virtual Reality Can Boost Productivity in Construction

The Future of Public Transportation

Sources:

Houston Chronicle, Duties & Responsibilities for a Construction Project Manager

Houston Chronicle, Resume for a Construction Field Engineer

Houston Chronicle, What Are the Duties of a Land Surveyor?

PayScale, Average Construction Engineer Salary

PayScale, Average Construction Engineering Manager Salary

PayScale, Average Construction Manager Salary

PayScale, Average Facilities Manager Salary

PayScale, Average Field Engineer Salary

PayScale, Average Structural Engineer Salary

PayScale, Average Sustainability Specialist Salary

Seattle Post Intelligencer, How Long Do You Go to School to Be a Civil Engineer?

Structural Engineers Association of Ohio, What Does a Structural Engineer Do?

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Civil Engineers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Cost Estimator

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Environmental Engineers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Environmental Scientists and Specialists

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Surveyors