what is civil engineering

The three Mersey Tunnels from Wirral to Liverpool are superb examples of great civil engineering projects. The railway tunnel was the first to open in 1886; the two road tunnels – Queensway from Birkenhead to Liverpool was opened in 1934 and Kingsway from Wallasey to Liverpool, opened in 1971.

We take them all for granted these days, they are just routes across Merseyside after all which remove the need for crossing the river by boat or by swimming!

Building Better Every Day

But all three were monumental undertakings and are monuments to the achievement of man. The website Wonders of World Engineering does not exaggerate when it describes the construction of Kingsway thus: “It is an imperishable record of the labour of workmen who toiled in the bowels of the earth, underneath a fierce tidal river bearing a large part of the world’s shipping. Such a colossal engineering undertaking represents more.

“It represents the realisation of the dreams and ambitions of men of foresight, men who plan for the future and see that those plans are put into action, however difficult the achievement. Such men as these conceived the idea of an underwater tunnel to link Liverpool with Birkenhead. The engineers devised the means and skilled workmen carried out the work. Thus human enterprise once more achieved a conquest over a problem aggravated by the forces of Nature.”

And that, in essence, is what engineering is: the marriage of ingenuity and design, indeed the root of the word engineering is from two Latin words, ingenium (cleverness) and ingeniare (to devise).

There are many monuments to ingenuity and design across the world and down the centuries, from the English Channel tunnel to the Great Pyramid of Giza, from the Golden Gate bridge to Hadrian’s Wall, from London’s Shard to the Colosseum in Rome. Each represents the pinnacle of human enterprise.

But it’s not just about the big, the tall, the long and the deep; it’s about roads and railways, canals and airports, hospitals and schools, water and power supply. In short it’s the built environment, namely everything we see around us daily, and, like the Mersey Tunnel, that we often take for granted. Civil engineering in some form has been around forever – dating back to when people first started coming together to live in permanent settlements. They shaped their places to suit their needs.

How to Become a Civil Engineer

Civil engineers have always tended to be dedicated and focused people and from Roman times to today, they still are. You can’t put a building up if it’s just going to fall down. To become one you should have an interest in and understanding of physics and maths, perhaps even geology or hydrology or technical design.

People in this role also know lots about construction materials, such as steel and concrete and also have a good knowledge of other engineering disciplines like mechanical and structural engineering. Increasingly civil engineers rely on computers to help with design so a good working knowledge of this is essential.

There are several routes to becoming a civil engineer, starting with completing a civil engineer apprenticeship which gives someone the taste of things to come before they progress along the path. As with most apprenticeships four or five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) and A levels, or equivalent, for a higher or degree apprenticeship will be needed.

Entry into this profession via college to take a higher national certificate (HNC) or diploma (HND) should help you to find work as a trainee engineer and you’ll do further training on the job to qualify including Level 4 HNC in Engineering and Level 5 HND in Construction and the Built Environment. You’ll usually need one or two A levels, or equivalent, for HNCs and HNDs.

If you’ve already bagged two or three A levels, including maths and a science subject you could attend university to study civil engineering or one of its offshoots like environmental engineering, structural engineering or even earthquake engineering. There are so many fascinating and exciting sub-disciplines. Some courses include a work placement, which can be useful for making industry contacts to help find work after you finish your studies.

There are even degree apprenticeships where you gain hands one experience as you study part-time for a degree.

It’s a growth area of employment, because as infrastructure continues to age, civil engineers will be needed to manage projects to rebuild bridges, repair roads, build new schools and hospitals. Consequently there will be many opportunities for qualified engineers ever year for years to come.

It’s a great career with great prospects. As they say in the trade: “The road to success is always under construction.”

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