5 must-have skills for civil engineers in 2017. 

As we come to the end of 2016, graduates and many seasoned professionals will probably be doing performance appraisals and thinking about how they can approach 2017. Here we outline our must-have skills for civil engineers for the year ahead.

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Codes of Professional Conduct

The Codes of Conduct for the ICE and IStructE explicitly state the requirement for all members to maintain Continuous Professional Development (CPD) throughout their career. In fact, even at Professional Review stage you are required to submit an up-to-date version of your CPD, demonstrating at least 180 hours of learning in the last 3 years. (Reduced to 30 hours per year after becoming professionally registered.)

In a previous blog post we mentioned the benefit of using YouTube to quickly add several hours to your portfolio. We still recommend this approach as a key tool for your learning.

1) Linguistic skills

English is the dominant professional working language of civil engineering, with the IStructE and ICE* mandating that exams are taken in English.

(*ICE reviews can also be taken in Welsh, though reviewers are in short supply…!)

Civil and structural engineering projects can send you to different countries across the globe. But to improve your chances of being selected for those lucrative and exciting roles, one skill that will put you ahead of the rest is your literacy and spoken abilities in languages other than English.

Many free language learning tools and apps are available. I recommend Duolingo, which you can use on a computer or on a mobile device.

My advice, in choosing a language which you might think is ‘useful' vs one which you have more interest, is to choose the latter. Learning a language really tests your patience and so you should keep yourself motivated by sticking with one you want to pick up. Many of the methods you learn from one language will be applicable to learning another one later.

2) Accounting, finance, budgeting

In its simplest argument, it is a requirement of the ICE Attributes to learn these skills, but its application is much further reaching than Chartership.

You will have probably learnt some budgeting skills if you go travelling or move away from home, but what if you were asked to read someone else's cash flow statements or a company's annual reports? Would you be able to confidently tell whether that organisation is in good shape?

Similarly, many senior employees regret not saving more during their twenties for their retirements. Do you have an estimate of how much you could reasonably target for your golden years?

All can be helped with some financial skills early in your career.

3) Computer Programming

Nearly anything which requires some level repetition can be programmed and automated. Things which took necessary painstaking labour a generation ago has been revolutionised by computing. Just look at AutoCAD.

For many who want are starting point, I recommend learning Visual Basic for Applications (often abbreviated as VBA). It comes built into Microsoft Office, which every major company uses, and is very easy to start off as you can record your actions first, then tweak them later. The most popular uses are typically with Excel, or formatting issues in Word or PowerPoint.

The code is fairly intuitive as programming languages go, and you can find the solution to nearly all your problems on google by searching “VBA excel” followed by a description of your problem.

Google knows all…

4) Legal skills

You have found the perfect candidate to join your team in U.K., but he is a non-EU citizen with no other family, and the authorities have reached their quota on the appropriate visa. What other options are available to him?

You have been brought into an Italian court for engineering services rendered in the UK. The case hinges under an obscure European case law each country has transposed it into national law slightly differently. What extra information do you need before you would feel comfortable in defence?

Say your company is Headquartered in London, but you work in your Asia hub in Hong Kong but you were constructing a new skyscraper in Sydney. To which country are the taxes on profits due?

Though you will likely hire a legal specialist to help you, you should get comfortable with answering the above. The more fundamental knowledge you can gain, the better the quality of your questions to the experts will be.

5) Sales pitching

Gone are the days where technical ability alone will get you your next job. You should view a CV as a sales pitch in its own right. Even the CEO of a major company is a salesperson, as the shareholders need to be confident that (s)he is the right person to continue to lead the way forward.

Selling yourself, your services or your products is probably the single most important skill in any industry, as it requires an understanding of communication, processes and value of things. If you cannot master selling, then you will struggle in your career.

Bottom Line

As civil engineers we are in the fortunate situation where we can build the world we want around us – literally. Part of what makes civil engineers so employable is our ability to solve real-world problems, and to team up to necessary to do so.

Viewing learning for the sake of doing CPD records is rather superficial, but when viewed in the wider context, a growth in our skillset can help us achieve greater things in life. Our power is limitless, but make sure your moral compass is intact.

Are there any other skills which you think civil engineers should learn? Let us know below, or you can discuss with us in our Forum.

3 Comments on 5 must-have skills for civil engineers in 2017. 

  1. Hi Rick and Ian, yes engineering is definitely a valuable skill for an engineer to learn!

    I think what we possibly didn’t clarify is that with this post we were thinking about possible complimentary skills that could be useful for an engineer to develop. You’re both spot on that engineering skill is hugely important and worth developing too.

    It’s possible that these skills aren’t essential for every engineering role, but any one of these skills will help you to stand out, and could help develop your career. Equally, you could focus on developing an unrivalled expertise in your particular field of engineering, and that could be another way to pursue professional development.

    Cheers for the comments.

  2. Uhhmmm… Engineering?

  3. I don’t believe that any of the skills mentioned are essential for a civil engineer. Diverse skills within the industry are important and there are many roles where these skills are important. But it is very important to recognise that it takes many years of hard and focused work to become a genuine expert in design. I don’t think that many people can achieve this whilst also studying such a diverse range of other skills. I don’t think that taking a technically focussed route is necessarily a route to career or financial success in the current industry but we have to respect those that take this path and the focused effort they have put in to achieve it. I also believe that the industry is really short of people like this who can pass on these skills to future generations of engineers. A must have for the industry is a core of people who choose not to study other skills but just to study the skills of engineering design to a very high level.

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