HOW TO BECOME A STRUCTURAL ENGINEER

So you’ve decided to become a structural engineer (congratulations and welcome to the journey!). Like any great journey, you need a map of how to reach your destination. This article will provide you with a roadmap on how to become a Structural Engineer.

What Education do I need to Become a Structural Engineer?

Structural Engineering is a discipline that lies within the field of Civil Engineering. So you first need to complete a Bachelors Degree in Civil Engineering through a University. This means that you need to complete high school (college) in order to enter a University.

If you are interested in becoming a structural engineer you should select subjects with the following specialisations in high school:

  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • English

Universities that Offer Structural Engineering

In Australia I have not encountered any significant university snobbery in the Structural Engineering profession. Graduates from different universities are often treated fairly across the board. Some universities may be harder to enter due to their demand and location. Most Civil Engineering bachelor courses are 4 years long. The following Universities are well regarded in Australia and provide Civil Engineering courses for aspiring Structural Engineers:

Monash University

Monash University Logo

Melbourne University

Melbourne University Logo

Swinburne University

Swinburne University Logo

University of Adelaide

Adelaide University Logo

University of Queensland

University of Queensland Logo

University of Western Australia

University of Western Australia Logo

University of New South Wales

University of New South Wales Logo

Victoria University

Victoria University Logo

La Trobe University

La Trobe University Logo

Each course structure may be slightly different from university to university. The focus areas are often influenced by the interests of the head of the faculty and those providing the lecture material for each subject.

When I graduated from University I found that my peers who graduated from Melbourne University covered seismic design in more detail whereas my course at Monash University went into more detail on concrete design and post-tensioning.

Do you need a Masters for Structural Engineering?

In Australia it is not mandatory to hold a masters of Structural Engineering to become a qualified structural engineer. In fact if you are looking to become a consulting engineer your time is better spent gaining real world practical experience within a reputable consulting firm for two years than continuing further study. This is very different to other countries.

A masters degree is best explored after a few years in your career if you feel you want to gain more specific technical qualifications or you realise that not having one is starting to hold you back (which would be a very are case).

Early Years of Employment

Once you have finished you Bachelor of Civil Engineering at university you can work within an engineering consulting firm as a graduate engineer. Your first four years will be spent under the guidance and supervision of a more senior mentor. You won’t be able to “sign off” on designs however you will be able to play a meaningful role in analysing and modelling structures.

To be a Structural Engineer, you will first need to land a role at an engineering firm. The process of interviewing and preparing for your interview is quite a job in its own right. I have prepared an in-depth article speaking from experience of being and interviewer and interviewee on the best ways to prepare specifically for a Structural Engineering job Interview. You can find the link to that article HERE where I share insights I’ve learned from interviewing many Structural Engineers at all experience levels.

After gaining experience on a range of projects you will eventually gain enough experience to become an accredited Structural Engineer. At this point in your career if your interested in knowing what all Structural Engineers SHOULD know as a bare minimum, take a look at THIS article

Becoming a Licensed and Accredited Structural Engineer

In Australia, becoming a licensed registered engineer differs slightly from state to state. Generally the process in becoming a registered engineer in most parts of Australia follows this path:

  1. Gain enough experience as a practicing engineer at a consulting firm (usually around 4 years)
  2. Compile evidence of your experience, this may be in the form of a report (can be your CV/Resume’, usually required to be verified by a colleague)
  3. Your evidence is then assessed by the building authority of your state
  4. There may then be an interview required depending on your experience level and the requirements of your state
  5. Once you have demonstrated your experience to the satisfaction of the building authority, you will need to show evidence that you hold appropriate professional indemnity insurance to practice as an engineer (this cover needs to be maintained for the period that you are a qualified engineer).

Interestingly not all engineers become fully licensed and accredited in Australia. Most go through the majority of their career not being registered. However It is highly valuable to be a registered engineer, especially if you aspire to eventually run and manage your own projects and a team of engineers as you advance your career.

Logo for registered building practitioner (awarded by the Victorian building authority)

At this point, you can now say that you are a fully qualified Structural Engineer and even free to run your own consulting practice if you have this aspiration. But what if you want to take your experience and accreditation further?…

Becoming a Chartered Professional Engineer

The accreditation of Chartered Professional Engineer (abbreviated to CPEng) is an internationally recognised qualification. A CPEng is an engineer whose experience and expertise is recognised by the local engineering body Engineers Australia.

Holding Chartered Professional Engineer Status is not mandatory however will assist you in advancing your career further. Some project sectors may require the design engineer to be CPEng including defence, healthcare and other government sector projects. Therefore some employers see real value in their engineers holding CPEng status.

Logo for a chartered professional engineer (warded by Engineers Australia)

The process for becoming a Chartered Engineer can be found at the Engineers Australia website at this link. An engineer with CPEng qualification needs to demonstrate continued professional development (CPD) through ongoing learning for as long as they hold the CPEng accreditation. This is defined as at least 150 hours over any given three year period and may include:

  • Reading technical manuals
  • Attending short courses or seminars
  • Conducting research and/or writing technical papers
  • Teaching or lecturing

How Does an Overseas Engineer become Recognised in Australia?

Around 60% of engineers practicing in Australia were born overseas. The demand for engineers in the local industry far exceeds the quantity of engineers that our university system can produce.

Overseas engineers can have their qualifications recognised by Engineers Australia (the local engineering governing body). You simply apply to Engineers Australia. Provided that your university qualification has been awarded by a reputable and recognised institution, your qualifications will be approved and recognised by Engineers Australia. You are then given a letter and certificate to provide to employers when you look for a job in Australia.

Full details of this process can be found at the Engineers Australia website at this link.

Do you Need to be good at Math to be an Engineer?

This is a question I hear a lot from high school students looking to start down the path to becoming a Structural Engineer.

You do need to be good at math to graduate from high school with good enough grades to enter University. You then need to be pretty good at math to complete your university degree. However you don’t necessarily need to be great at math to be a successful practicing engineer.

In the commercial realities of being a practicing structural engineer, there are software packages and modelling programs which do take a lot of the heavy lifting from a maths perspective. However you do still need to know basic math principles (adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing) and you do need to have a good understanding of basic algebra (y = mx + c).

This basic maths understanding allows you to validate the information coming out of your software or modelling programme as well as use the equations which are found in the structural design standards (such as wind, earthquake, concrete, steel and timber).

I’ve posted an article which goes into detail about how to design a structural steel truss. There you will find examples of just about how hard the mathematics gest in real world Structural Engineering, its not too full on but you’ll need to be the judge yourself. You can navigate there with THIS link.

What’s it Like being a Structural Engineer?

Being a Structural Engineer can be an incredibly fulfilling career. Throughout your career you may have an opportunity to be part of projects that leave a lasting legacy long after you have retired.

There is never a dull moment being a Structural Engineer, you get a great mix of pure technical work, design and creative work as well as site based outdoor work.

No two projects are the same and you will be constantly exposed to new challenges and problems to solve.

As you gather skills and are exposed to more and more responsibility, Structural Engineering can branch out to other sectors which can keep your learning fresh and act as mini career changes (or side steps):

  • Accounting: As you gain more responsibility and eventually have your own projects to manage, you may find that you become responsible for tracking the financial evolution of the project. This may include the resources on the project, the invoicing and the projection of cost allocation to the project.
  • Project Management: On large scale projects you may have the opportunity to manage a small team of engineers during the delivery of the project which may include delegation, conflict resolution, mentoring and teaching.
  • Sales and Marketing: Winning work is where it all begins, you may get the opportunity to pitch to potential clients and help put together proposal material for prospective projects.

Conclusion

I hope this assisted you on your journey to becoming a Structural Engineer. Did this article answer all your questions? If not, please feel free to leave a comment below with any questions you may have.

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Quentin Suckling is a full time practicing Structural Engineer based in Melbourne Australia. He has been practicing in the local market at tier 1 engineering consulting firms over the last 16 years.

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