Engineering is a discipline that involves combination of mathematics and science to solve problems in the daily life. It is a term used to describe the profession in which the knowledge of natural and mathematical sciences, which is originally gained by study, experience, and practice of the same, is applied to the efficient use of materials and forces of nature for the benefit of human kind. From dawn to dusk, engineering works and technologies improve the ways that we work, communicate, work travel, stay healthy and entertain ourselves. It is part and parcel of almost every part of our life.
Civil Engineering is one of the vastest engineering fields in the current world which focuses on the infrastructural sector of the world economies. This includes construction and management of water works, Dams, Sewers, Tunnels, Transmission Towers/Lines, Power Plants, Railroads, Bridges, Highways, Irrigation Canals, River Navigation, Traffic Control, Airport Runways, Shipping Canals, Industrial Plant Buildings, and Skyscrapers (Blake, 1989).
The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) considers Civil Engineering as a field which is oriented to creating, improving and protecting the environment so as to maintain the bio-diversity balance. They further notes that this discipline provides the facilities for day-to-day life and for transport and industry to go about its work. Professionals in this discipline are hence vested with the responsibility of construction, management and maintenance of naturally and physically built structures (Institution of Civil Engineers, 2010).
Being a wide field, Civil Engineering has subdivisions to cater for various infrastructural demands ,some of which include , irrigation , construction , transportation , geodetic , soils and foundation , hydraulic, and coastal and ocean engineering.
2. The Civil Engineering Profession
Professional qualifications are essential in all industrial sectors, as they are independent and practical reviews by peers meant to determine the professional experience as well as the technical and managerial competence of an individual. Any profession is best defined by knowledge, conformity to an organization and Public good. Knowledge requires formal education, discretion and judgment that are not routine and cannot be mechanized. This process of knowledge acquisition is continuous. A profession is required to conform to certain standards of conduct and codes of ethics which are set and enforced by the professional bodies such as the ICE. For one to qualify to be a professional, he should have the tenets of the public good at heart. This enshrines him to the purpose of service and preservation of the public welfare whenever undertaking any engineering work (ICE, 2010).
Civil Engineers obtain an academic degree with the length of study for such a degree ranging from three to five years. The degree is designated as a Bachelor of Engineering. Some institutions however designate the degree as a Bachelor of Science. Students who decide to take the course in the universities are trained in units like physics, mathematics, project management, design and other specific topics in Civil Engineering. Some universities also provide postgraduate (MEng/MSc) training for their students that allow them to further specialize in smaller area of Civil Engineering to build their intellectual competence.
After the completion of the degree program, an engineer has to be certified so as to practice as a recognized engineer. This certification is done if the engineer satisfies a range of the profession requirements including work experience and exam requirements. Only after the certification is done, is the engineer entitled a Professional Engineer. Certification is currently being done in most regions with the help of various professional bodies in the world. The certification of professional engineers has advantages especially to the engineer as only a certified engineer can prepare, sign, and submit engineering plans, proposals and drawings to a public authority for approval, or undertake engineering work for public and private clients as in the USA.
In Civil Engineering, there are three cadres of engineering professionals: An Engineering Technician (EngTech), a Chartered Engineer (CEng) and an Incorporated Engineer (IEng).An Engineering Technician is a holder of a Bachelor of Technology in Civil Engineering who has some practical working experience and has sat and passed a professional examination set by the ICE. To be graded as An Incorporated Engineer, one has to be a holder of an accredited BSc in Civil Engineering. In addition, one is required to have workplace experience of not less than three Years and get a ‘Pass’ in a professional examination set by the ICE. Lastly, a Chartered Engineer is required to be a holder of an accredited honors degree in Engineering and should have sat and passed in the professional review or examination.
This grading is usually done by the Institute of Civil Engineers which then forwards its members to the Council of Engineers-a national body which ensures that all institutions and Engineering organizations conform and work to the same standards. This body enforces the codes of ethics and behaviors of conduct in the engineering field and ensures that only registered professional engineers can undertake public contracts and manage such projects.
Civil Engineering professionals have always played a vitally crucial role in the development of any country’s way of life and the citizens’ standards of living. From constructing highways and bridges to exploring the vast earth beneath us, Civil Engineers have over time helped the economy grow continuously and have provided the pertinent infrastructure for industrialization and globalization.
Obtaining an academic qualification in this field marks the beginning of the journey to becoming a professionally qualified Engineer. Experience and good mastery of this field is very fundamental since these Engineers are involved in managing capital intensive and risk prone projects in the construction industry. It is the training and experience that give them a broader understanding and mastery of the engineering principles that govern the versatile construction industry.
3. The Civil Engineering Careers
After a successful completion of the training and certification, Civil Engineers can work in an extraordinary variety of organizations, dealing in construction, research and design in both private and public sectors. Unlike the classical definition, Civil Engineers are no longer just the technical people who design and build steel bridges or concrete structures. With the advancement in technology, there have emerged many subject areas that span Civil Engineering, and between them, they often invite membership from these engineers in a wide variety of specialism, in addition to the usually-perceived skills.
Basically, Civil Engineers do not really have to choose on career path to follow as they are needed in almost every part of the development of the society and consequent infrastructural growth. A Civil Engineer may opt for infrastructural building. Such Engineers deal with building and maintenance of transport and communication systems such as roads, carriages, railways and telephone transmission towers.
Similarly, a Civil Engineer can specialize in the planning and designing arena where he/she takes part in the organization and correlation of all the detailed fragments of the structure in question. Irrigation engineering is another career path in the field of Civil Engineering. Here, the engineer deals with the structure, organization and maintenance of irrigational features. He/she is responsible for the stability of all the systems in an irrigation field (Huron, 2011).
Soil and Foundation Engineers deal with the conditions and suitability of a construction ground on which a building is to be erected. They observe and test the surrounding soil and environment for the ability to support the structure without any constraints or liable destruction to the environment (Huron, 2011).
One may as well choose to join the Contracting Civil Engineers whose major aim is to turn the plans and designs of consulting Civil Engineers into reality. These professionals oversee the actual on-site construction and work in conjunction with other engineers to manage the projects. Notably, all Civil Engineers need a good mastery of design and all construction processes as well as an understanding of the safety and health issues. On approval of the projects, an engineering contractor uses their professional expertise and experience to organize and seamlessly integrate human and material resources on the construction site, and ensure that the project runs on time and budget and is free of work safety hazards.
A consulting engineer on the other hand liaises with clients to design, plan, manage, and supervise the construction of projects. They may work in a various settings depending on their expertise and, with experience, can effectively run projects as a project manager.
Coastal Civil Engineers is involved with the management of civil features in the coastal regions. A coastal engineer is, hence, mandated with the management of coastal areas. They deal with the defense against flooding and erosion and other physical uncertainties that surround the life of civilians along the coastal areas. In this manner they take part in the coastal management.
Earthquake engineering exploits the ability of certain structures to withstand earthquakes and the probability of occurrence of an earthquake in an area due to the construction of a structure. It also involves foreseeing the consequences of possible earthquakes and advising the relevant authorities who are involved with the mitigation policy making.
Another career opportunity is in the Environmental sector which deals with the remediation of contaminated sites and the purification of air and water. Civil Engineers in the environmental sector can also be involved with the collection of information on the environmental effects and consequences of proposed projects and consequently assess the effects of the proposed projects to the surrounding communities (Thomas, 2010).
4. Ethics in the Civil Engineering Profession
Many professional associations have in the recent times adopted codes of ethics to revive their trust with the public, differentiate themselves from the lower skilled competitors and provide professional guidance to their members. The American society of Civil Engineers adopted its initial code of ethics in 1914, although, the first discussion on the need for ethical standards among Civil Engineers had come much earlier (Blake, 1989). This Code of Ethics has undergone several amendments to suite the industry’s diverse needs. However, there is need for continuous revision of these ethics for them to be relevant in the current dynamic world where environmental degradation and pollution have taken toll and the effects of global warming have become prevalent. The codes of ethics should also address the issue of sustainable development (Fan, 2009).
Engineering is something that engineers do, and what they do has profound effects on others. If the subject of professional ethics is how members of a profession should or should not affect others in the course of practicing their profession, then engineering ethics is an essential aspect of engineering itself
In the recent times, there has been increasing concerns for the ethical dimension of engineering. This has been instigated by occurrence of disasters that have lead to loss of life as well as huge financial losses. Some of these disasters include the Kansas City walkways collapse, the Chernobyl disasters and the Exxon oil spills amongst others (Fan, 2009).
Just like in other professions such as law and medicine, ethics are pertinent in the engineering discipline and more importantly in Civil Engineering. Civil Engineers deal with capital intensive projects, most of which are highly susceptible to risks. It thus requires the professionals undertaking any project to keenly observe the codes of ethics (Forister, 2003).Occasionally, some of these ethics have been circumvented leading to some of the worst disasters and their magnitude have become even more pronounced by the advancement in technology (Schrag, 2009).
Often, a deficiency in engineering ethics is usually amongst the main root causes of an engineering failure. Some of the engineering failures have been as a result of ignorance to the codes of ethics. For Instance, The Tacoma Narrows Bridge which collapsed in 1940 was as a result of engineering flaws as well as the failure of Boston's "Big Dig" tunnel project in 2004 and 2006 (Fan, 2009).
Therefore, a professional engineer has a responsibility not only to their clients, but also to their profession and should have the tenets of the general public at heart. They should strive to perform their duties and deliver their services in the most scrupulous manner. Usually, this stretches beyond the confinement law.
An ethical Civil Engineer is one who acts in the best interests of the environment and the society, diligently avoids conflicts of interest, fulfills the terms of their contracts in a professional manner and promotes the education and intellectual capacity of young engineers within their field.
5. Communication Skills
Communication is the most important function a human being performs in his/her Social life. It helps to build strong relationship and better understanding which are so vital in our personal and professional life. To be successful in any field, one needs to know and understand how to communicate effectively.
In this era of Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization good communication skills are the keys to unlock the doors of success. A professional with a good mastery of communication skills is considered as a valuable asset by any business organization. Such professionals set higher level of standards and add value to the organizational setup.
At present times besides technical knowledge, employers look for sound communication skills in an engineering graduate. Thus, the professional profile of a modern qualified engineer should include a good command on communication skills. Earlier researches have revealed that graduate engineers do not have a very good command on communication skills and fail miserably to fulfill the basic requirements of modern day organizations.
Since civil engineers deal with capital intensive projects, they should have good language command to enable them convince their clients why their proposals should be implemented. They should be able to effectively and convincingly communicate the relevance and purpose of their projects, both orally and in writing. Good communication skills increase the chances for one to get a good job especially with the advent of the globalization and liberalization. If one is clear in expressing ones thoughts and articulating ones attributes and accomplishments, an interviewer is more likely to form a favorable impression and gain an understanding of the interviewee’s skills.
Engineering professionals who are proficient in communication skills have a considerable edge over those who have not. Lack of communication skills can make Engineering professional short of resources since the professional cannot be able to diligently express his ideas and intellect. It has been revealed that engineering professionals face several tough challenges in the global job market if they have a poor command of the communication skills.