What is construction engineering? Construction engineers are masterminds who plan and bring to life all sorts of infrastructure marvels.
Imagine towering skyscrapers, snaking roads, robust bridges, intricate tunnels, indispensable dams, and vital railroads – yup, they’re the ones making it all happen, navigating the chaotic world of construction with the grace of a seasoned ballet dancer.
Take it from me, I’ve been elbow-deep in countless construction projects myself. Sure, it’s tough work, but man, is it rewarding! There’s nothing quite like seeing the fruits of your labor stand tall, forever changing the world’s landscape.
Now, let’s dig into the nitty-gritty of construction engineering by tackling two burning questions:
- How does construction engineering differ from civil engineering?
- What’s the down-to-earth reality of working in construction engineering?
How does construction engineering differ from civil engineering?
First things first, let’s clear up the confusion between construction engineering and civil engineering. Construction engineering – or, as some folks like to call it, construction management – is actually an essential part of civil engineering. While you can pursue a construction management degree outside of engineering, I’d recommend going for construction management as a sub-specialty within an engineering degree. This way, you’ll have more flexibility and can still become a construction manager. It’s a win-win!
Now, civil engineers are a diverse bunch, so it’s tough to put ’em in a neat little box. They research, plan, design, supervise construction, and manage projects. In a nutshell, you can divide civil engineers into those who focus on design and those who work in the field.
Design-focused civil engineers mostly deal with the analytical side of things, designing projects and doing some fieldwork. Construction engineers, however, are all about construction-related work, turning completed designs into reality.
That means construction engineers need a deep understanding of construction processes and methods to effectively supervise contractors and ensure top-notch work quality. Picture this: while you’re out under the scorching sun, kicking up dust, your design-focused counterparts are chilling in air-conditioned offices, staying sweat-free.
So, to sum it up, the main difference between the two is the amount of fieldwork involved.
Important Note: Some civil engineers dabble in both worlds, transitioning to fieldwork after wrapping up a design. This way, they get a taste of both design and construction work experience.
What’s the down-to-earth reality of working in construction engineering?
It’s like hopping on the wildest rollercoaster ride of your life. It’s a world away from design work, but for those who love a challenge, the payoffs are huge. Here are 8 gritty realities of construction work that’ll give you a sneak peek into this high-octane industry.
#1 Pay and work hours
Sure, construction work might come with better pay than design-focused civil engineering gigs, but don’t get it twisted – there’s no such thing as a free ride. Get ready for long hours, with days stretching from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM without a whiff of overtime pay. And on a bad week? You can kiss your weekends goodbye.
I know plenty of folks in the biz who’ve faced marriage and alcohol issues because of the job’s relentless demands.
No doubt about it, construction work takes its toll and can impact your personal life. But if you can power through and climb the ladder, the financial rewards can be sweet.
#2 Travel and relocation
Better pack your bags and brace yourself for adventure, ’cause construction work might have you moving to new cities or even states for months or years on end. Sure, seniority will bring stability eventually, but until then, be prepared for long commutes and a whole lotta uncertainty.
Compare this to the more stable lifestyle of a civil engineer, and you’ll see just how different these two career paths really are.
#3 High-stress environment
Construction sites can be chaotic, high-pressure battlegrounds where you’re the one keeping everything on track. Problems? They’re a dime a dozen, but you’ll need to think fast and act even faster to prevent delays and skyrocketing costs.
The industry runs on deadlines, and contracts often come with penalties for any hold-ups.
I’ll be honest, I’ve never been part of a large construction project where everything went off without a hitch. To drive the point home, here’s the kind of language you’ll find in every contract:
“It is agreed by the parties to the Contract that time is of the essence; and that in case all the work is not completed before or upon the expiration of the time limit as set in the Bid, Contract and/or Progress Schedule as designated by the City (generally the date of final completion), or as revised by any time extensions that may have been granted, damage will be sustained by the City; and that it may be impracticable to determine the actual amount of damage by reason of such delay; and it is, therefore, agreed that the Contractor shall pay to the City as damages the amount of $1,000 liquidated damages amount per day for each and every day’s delay in finishing the work in excess of the number of days specified.”
#4 Personality traits
Relationships are everything in construction!
To make it, you need a personality that’s up to the task. You can’t be a pushover or a soft touch, or people will take advantage and walk all over you.
The most successful construction engineers I know are firm and well-respected. In return, they can handle the heat when dealing with a whole host of personalities:
- City representatives
If you struggle to get along with a diverse crowd, your stress levels might go through the roof. Just imagine getting an earful from some jerk at 6:00 AM!
#5 Work environment in the office and field
Picture this: you’re not just cooped up in a cozy, air-conditioned office all day. Instead, you’ll often find yourself out in the field, keeping an eye on construction, getting your hands dirty, and working up a sweat. It’s an adventure!
But don’t get me wrong, there’s still a fair share of office work to be done. You’ll find yourself:
- Attending never-ending meetings and hosting epic conference calls
- Sending a barrage of emails and making phone calls all day long
- Juggling project schedules and budgets on your computer like a pro
I’m not joking when I say you might be bombarded with 100+ texts and calls in just one day. Everyone will rely on you for advice, approvals, and even the latest gossip. But hey, it’s a fantastic chance to showcase your leadership chops!
#6 Amount of paperwork
Even amidst the dust and noise of a construction site, paperwork will continue to haunt you. And trust me, it gets even more intense when you’re dealing with publicly funded projects.
With so many expensive moving parts to handle, documentation becomes your lifeline. For example, you’ll need a rock-solid paper trail to justify why you picked one $1,000,000 piece of equipment over another.
In this line of work, covering your ass is crucial. When things go awry, some folks may try to rewrite history, so it’s up to you to set the record straight with cold, hard facts.
#7 Required level of knowledge
To truly thrive, you’ve got to be both book-smart and a jack of all trades. The most impressive construction engineers I know have solid foundations in subjects like:
This list could go on forever, but the takeaway is to stay sharp across a wide range of fields. Just because you’re a civil engineer doesn’t mean you can ignore other disciplines.
The silver lining? Constant exposure to different subjects keeps your work exciting, and there’s always something new to learn.
#8 Career development
The career perks in this field are nothing short of massive. Real-world engineering experience turns you into a design superstar, which is why I believe hands-on practice beats formal education any day.
In fact, I’d argue that field experience and knowledge are the cornerstone for every designer. Immersing yourself in fieldwork deepens your understanding of and appreciation for design work. As a result, you’ll gain an edge in the corporate world and become an even more outstanding engineer.
So, if you get the chance, step out of your comfort zone and dive into construction—even if it’s just for a year. You’ll learn a ton, and your design skills will skyrocket.
But be warned: you might just fall head over heels for construction work. There’s something incredibly satisfying about watching a project you’re leading come to life. You might even have an epiphany, realizing how dull the 9-to-5 office life pales in comparison.
“What is construction engineering?” wrap up
Construction engineering, in my eyes, is the lifeblood of engineering. It’s the bridge that links the creative world of design with the gritty, tangible realm we live in.
Think of it like being the conductor of a wild symphony. You’re always juggling tons of moving parts, making sure everything and everyone hits their mark on time, day in and day out.
No doubt, the profession has its fair share of challenges. But it also serves up a goldmine of skills you simply can’t pick up from any book or office. In my opinion, it’s like a secret weapon in engineering that lets you level up at lightning speed.
And the cherry on top? The construction industry isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Sure, we’re zooming towards a digital age. But for the foreseeable future, we’re still living in the physical world. That’s why it makes perfect sense that this profession is here to stay, steady as a rock.
What are your thoughts on the wild world of construction engineering? What do you see on the horizon for the construction engineering industry?
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Author Bio: Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2019 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for well over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, sports, fitness, and our history and future.