Structural Engineer

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Structural Engineer


Structures like the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the White House have been standing for centuries and are both good examples of well-planned out projects on the part of structural engineers. If a building collapses to the ground, then the engineer obviously did not take all the proper precautions when designing. Structural engineers plan, design and supervise the construction, maintenance and decommissioning of a wide variety of public and private structures. Architects may design the buildings we see around us, but structural engineers have to figure out how to build them safely and economically so that they can withstand all expected loads. Structural engineers affect everyone's lives and without them, our cities and towns would have no safe infrastructure.

Structural engineers are also involved in the production of more interesting structures such as roller coasters, Ferris wheels, tunnels, water towers, hydro-electric plants, power plants, along with rare and unusual structures. As structures become more and more complex and artistic these days, the structural engineer must provide improved building conditions. Some engineers also specialize in earthquakes, which is very important in certain geographical regions when designing structures. They must identify building problems such as aerodynamics, energy efficiency and endurance and find innovative solutions. Structural engineers make sure the structure is able to withstand high winds and in many parts of the world, earthquakes. They also check that the structure has foundations that will support it and are appropriate to the ground conditions where it is situated.

Most structural engineers specialize in a particular area once they become established. Some may specialize in bridges, roller coasters and office buildings, to name a few different options. Nevertheless, all specialized structural engineers perform similar duties. They must meet with architects, lawyers and contractors in order to make sure that design plans are safe and will withstand a number of conditional variables. Safety is one of the most important issues that structural engineers must contend with.

Structural engineers create engineering plans on computers which test and predict possible problems with a structure and in this, they generate solutions. Although most work takes place on the computer, most structural engineers travel to the sites to see their work in progress. They research and evaluate each project to find the most cost-effective solutions to problems while still maintaining recognized standards.
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  Interests and Skills  
Structural engineers must be safety conscious and practical in decision-making. They possess good communication skills because they work closely with contractors, architects and clients. Structural engineers can analyze data, review calculations and prepare cost estimates and have the ability to visualize three-dimensional objects from two-dimensional drawings. They must be dedicated to their projects, be creative in their designs and be as knowledgeable as possible in the engineering field. Finally, they should enjoy being innovative, doing work that requires precision and making solid decisions.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Plan, design and develop load-bearing structures such as bridges, towers, offshore structures and buildings with the intent that these structures must withstand
  • Analyze the structure's ability to withstand the effects of wind, snow, vibration and other forces
  • Check load and weight distribution requirements.
  • Consult with clients, other professionals and government officials
  • Work within the guidelines of the local government authority
  • Get design plans approved by relevant authorities
  • Prepare cost estimates and contract documents for the work
  • Tender out the contract and find contractors to do the work
  • Carry out inspections at each stage of the building process to ensure adequate strength and rigidity
  • Work with professionals from other fields, such as science, engineering, sales, marketing and management
  • Ensure construction standards are met
  • May attend construction site meetings with the contractor and client.
  • May specialize in foundation analysis, building and structural inspection, surveying and municipal planning
  • Working environments for structural engineers are as varied as their projects. Most spend the majority of their time in offices on the computer, doing mathematical calculations and making phone calls. They also get to travel to project work sites and they sometimes must testify in front of a public hearing. They usually work anywhere between eight and 10 hours each day and longer hours may be required if there are any emergencies. They often work with a team that may include professionals from other engineering and scientific disciplines, contractors, project owners, architects, bankers, lawyers or government officials.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Structural engineers work in both the public and private sectors. They are employed by government agencies such as the departments of transportation and the environment, especially in the municipal sector, engineering consulting firms, construction companies, electrical utilities, research and educational institutions, communications companies, the manufacturing, processing and transportation industries, and many other industries. Some structural engineers are self-employed and own their own engineering consulting firm.

  Long Term Career Potential  
With experience, structural engineers can become project managers and eventually advance to the management of very large projects. They can eventually become the chief engineers on projects like a large bridge that connects a city. Some experienced structural engineers may decide to branch off on their own and establish their own construction or consulting companies. Those with PhDs might teach at a university or conduct research.

  Educational Paths  
Due to the nature of the job, structural engineers require a university degree in structural engineering or in a related field of civil engineering. They must also become registered as a professional engineer (PEng) within an association of professional engineers to secure employment and practice in their field. Some engineers also get masters' degrees in their specific area, such as structural engineering.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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