One of the best ways to acquire firsthand experience in this field is through part-time or summer work with a construction company. Even if the job is menial, you can still observe surveying teams, site supervisors, building inspectors, skilled craft workers, and civil engineering technicians at work. If such work is not possible, students can organize field trips to various construction sites or to facilities where building materials are manufactured. There are a number of methods to explore a career in civil engineering:
Civil engineering technicians work in many areas. State highway departments, for example, use their services to collect data, to design and draw plans, and to supervise the construction and maintenance of roadways. Railroad and airport facilities require similar services. Cities and counties need to have transportation systems, drainage systems, and water and sewage facilities planned, built, and maintained with the help of civil engineering technicians.
Civil engineering technicians participate in all stages of the construction process. During the planning stages, they help engineers prepare lists of materials needed and estimate project costs. One of the most important technician positions at this stage is the structural engineering technician. Structural engineering technicians help engineers calculate the size, number, and composition of beams and columns and investigate allowable soil pressures that develop from the weight of these structures. If the pressure will cause excessive settling or some other failure, they may help design special piers, rafts, pilings, or footings to prevent structural problems.
During the planning stages, civil engineering technicians help engineers prepare drawings, maps, and charts; during the actual construction phase, construction technicians assist building contractors and site supervisors in preparing work schedules and cost estimates and in performing work inspections. One of their most important duties is to ensure that each step of construction is completed before workers arrive to begin the next stage.
Some technicians specialize in certain types of construction projects. Highway technicians, for example, perform surveys and cost estimates as well as plan and supervise highway construction and maintenance. Rail and waterway technicians survey, make specifications and cost estimates, and help plan and construct railway and waterway facilities. Assistant city engineers coordinate the planning and construction of city streets, sewers, drainage systems, refuse facilities, and other major civil projects.
Other technicians specialize in certain phases of the construction process. For example, construction materials testing technicians sample and run tests on rock, soil, cement, asphalt, wood, steel, concrete, and other materials. Photogrammetric technicians use aerial and satellite photographs, as well as light-imaging detection and ranging (LIDAR) technology, to prepare maps, plans, and profiles. Party chiefs work for licensed land surveyors, survey land for boundary-line locations, and plan subdivisions and other large-area land developments.
There are other specialized positions for civil engineering technicians: research engineering technicians test and develop new products and equipment; sales engineering technicians sell building materials, construction equipment, and engineering services; and water resources technicians gather data, make computations and drawings for water projects, and prepare economic studies.