Construction engineering is a professional discipline that deals with the designing, planning, construction and management of infrastructures such as roads, tunnels, bridges, airports, railroads, facilities, buildings, dams, utilities and other projects.
Civil engineering is a related field that deals more with the practical aspects of projects. Construction engineers learn some of the design aspects similar to civil engineers as well as project site management aspects.
At the educational level, civil engineering students concentrate primarily on the design work which is more analytical, gearing them toward a career as a design professional. This essentially requires them to take a multitude of challenging engineering science and design courses as part of obtaining a 4-year accredited degree. Education for construction engineers is primarily focused on construction procedures, methods, costs, schedules and personnel management. Their primary concern is to deliver a project on time within budget and of the desired quality.
The difference between a construction engineer and a civil engineer is that construction engineering students take basic design courses as well as construction management courses.
Being a sub-discipline of Civil Engineering, construction Engineers apply their knowledge and business, technical and management skills obtained from their undergraduate degree to oversee projects that include bridges, buildings and housing projects. Construction Engineers are heavily involved in the design and management/ allocation of funds in these projects. They are charged with risk analysis, costing and planning. A career in design work does require a professional engineer license (PE). Individuals who pursue this career path are strongly advised to sit for the Engineer in Training exam (EIT), also,referred to as the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam(FE) while in college as it takes five years’ (4 years in USA) post-graduate to obtain the PE license.
Entry-level construction engineers position is typically project engineers or assistant project engineers. They are responsible for preparing purchasing requisitions, processing change orders, preparing monthly budgeting reports and handling meeting minutes. The construction management position does not necessarily require a PE license; however, possessing one does make the individual more marketable, as the PE license allows the individual to sign off on temporary structure designs.
Construction engineers are problem solvers. They contribute to the creation of infrastructure that best meets the unique demands of its environment. They must be able to understand infrastructure life cycles. When compared and contrasted to design engineers, construction engineers bring to the table their own unique perspectives for solving technical challenges with clarity and imagination. While individuals considering this career path should certainly have a strong understanding of mathematics and science, many other skills are also highly desirable, including critical and analytical thinking, time management, people management and good communication skills.
Individuals looking to obtain a construction engineering degree must first ensure that the program is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). ABET accreditation is assurance that a college or university program meets the quality standards established by the profession for which it prepares its students. In the US there are currently twenty-five programs that exist in the entire country so careful college consideration is advised.
A typical construction engineering curriculum is a mixture of engineering mechanics, engineering design, construction management and general science and mathematics. This usually leads to a Bachelor of Science degree. The B.S. degree along with some design or construction experience is sufficient for most entry level positions. Graduate schools may be an option for those who want to go further in depth of the construction and engineering subjects taught at the undergraduate level. In most cases construction engineering graduates look to either civil engineering, engineering management or business administration as a possible graduate degree.
Job prospects for construction engineers generally have a strong cyclical variation. For example, starting in 2008 and continuing until at least 2011, job prospects have been poor due to the collapse of housing bubbles in many parts of the world. This sharply reduced demand for construction, forced construction professionals towards infrastructure construction and therefore increased the competition faced by established and new construction engineers. This increased competition and a core reduction in quantity demand is in parallel with a possible shift in the demand for construction engineers due to the automation of many engineering tasks, overall resulting in reduced prospects for construction engineers. In early 2010, the United States construction industry had a 27% unemployment rate, this is nearly three times higher than the 9.7% national average unemployment rate. The construction unemployment rate (including tradesmen) is comparable to the United States 1933 unemployment rate—the lowest point of the Great Depression—of 25%.
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