Are you interested in pursuing an associate’s degree?
Historically, our focus has been on helping students get into the college of their dreams. But what if a four-year degree isn’t the right path for you? We still want to help – so in this series of articles, we’re doing a deep dive into a wide range of professions that don’t require four to eight years of college.
Today’s post focuses on how to become a civil engineering technician. In this article, we’ll cover education, working conditions, salary, job outlook, and more. Let’s get started!
What Do Civil Engineering Technicians Do?
Civil engineering technologists and technicians are grouped together by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The terms are sometimes used interchangeably, and both types of workers assist civil engineers. They help to plan, design, and build a wide range of development projects. These infrastructure projects include water systems, airports, roads, bridges, tunnels, levees, dams, waste treatment plants, and renewable energy projects such as wind farms.
Civil engineering technicians sometimes work under the direction of engineering technologists, who specialize in improving designs by incorporating new technology. Neither civil engineering technologists nor civil engineering technicians are permitted to approve designs or supervise projects.
Civil engineering technologists and technicians:
- Review project drawings and plans
- Determine the sizes of structures
- Prepare plans in conjunction with civil engineers
- Estimate construction costs
- Use computer-aided design (CAD) software to draft project drawings
- Monitor traffic using various instruments
- Collect data on-site conditions
- Visit job sites where projects are under construction
- Choose appropriate construction materials
- Evaluate contractors’ work
- Document project activities and data
- Maintain project files and records
Civil engineering technicians generally work full time. They often split their time between offices and job sites. They may spend a significant portion of their work day in transit. Some may work a normal nine-to-five schedule, while others may work hours dictated by their current projects.
Civil engineering technicians are detail-oriented and extremely well organized. They need to be capable of completing tasks and innovating solutions independently while still working within plans and specifications laid out by engineers.
Here are some other qualities that are particularly important to civil engineering technicians.
- Observational skills: You’ll need keen powers of observation and the patience to watch prospective job sites for long periods of time to gather sufficient data for upcoming projects.
- Math skills: You should be able to use math for analysis, design, and troubleshooting.
- Communication skills: You should be able to take direction from your line manager, coordinate your work with a large team, and convey information clearly.
- Critical-thinking skills: You’ll need to be able to understand project plans and designs that engineers have approved and be able to apply job site data.
- Problem-solving skills: You must be able to identify potential problems before they arise and come up with workable solutions.
- Decision-making skills: You need to be able to prioritize and organize tasks in order to keep a project on schedule.
- Writing skills: You must be capable of writing reports that are clearly worded and well organized.
How Much Money Do Civil Engineering Technicians Make?
The median pay for civil engineering technologists and technicians in 2021 was $58,320 per year or $28.04 per hour. That’s significantly higher than the median annual wage for all workers, which was $45,760 that year. The top ten percent of civil engineering technologists and technicians earn over $79,650 per year.
As with any profession, wages vary widely according to location and industry.
In this case, civil engineering technologists and technicians earn significantly more money working for local governments than they do working for state governments. The median annual wages by industry in 2021 are shown below. Please bear in mind that the highest-paying industries shown below employ only a small fraction of civil engineering technologists and technicians.
Pipeline Transportation of Crude Oil $140,000
Oil and Gas Extraction $99,580
Management of Companies and Enterprises $92,870
Water, Sewage and Other Systems $87,620
Pipeline Transportation of Natural Gas $64,640
Local government, excluding education and hospitals $61,190
Engineering services $59,110
State government, excluding education and hospitals $46,330
The top-paying states for civil engineering technologists and technicians are Alaska, California, Louisiana, Connecticut, and Oregon. In each of these states, the average annual salary is over seventy thousand dollars. In the San Francisco Bay Area, they earn $92,190 on average.
Civil engineers make more than civil engineering technicians – over $88,000 per year on average, with the highest ten percent earning $133,320 or more. But civil engineers need a bachelor’s degree at minimum and often go on to earn a graduate degree before reaching that salary, whereas civil engineering technologists and technicians may be able to find a job in the field without first earning a degree. Civil engineers are responsible for planning and directing the work completed by civil engineering technicians.
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How to Become a Civil Engineering Technician
In order to become a civil engineering technologist and technician, you’ll probably need to earn an associate’s degree in civil engineering technology. If you’re still in high school, you can set yourself on the right path by studying geometry, chemistry, physics, and trigonometry.
Employers tend to prefer applicants who have an associate’s degree and may list that as a requirement, though some people find their way into this field through other routes. It’s possible to begin as a drafter or CAD operator and work your way up to becoming a civil engineering technician – but given that these jobs are in decline, pursuing a formal degree is probably the best way to get started at this point.
The middle ground would be to enroll in courses offered at a technical or vocational school. Instead of completing a full two-year degree, you could focus your efforts on courses that are directly applicable to your work, such as courses in computer-assisted design software.
Certification is not required to become a civil engineering technologist and technician, but it may help you in getting started or attaining better positions. The National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET) provides certifications for civil engineering technicians in these areas:
- Electrical Power Testing
- Fire Alarm Systems
- Highway Construction Inspection
- In-Building Public Safety Communications
- Inspection and Testing of Fire Alarm Systems
- Inspection and Testing of Water-Based Systems
- Special Hazards Systems
- Water-Based Systems Layout
- Video Security Systems Designer
- Video Security Systems Technician
How Long Does It Take to Become a Civil Engineering Technician?
This process will likely require at least two years, since you’ll probably need to earn an associate’s degree to land a job as a civil engineering technician. You may be able to enter the workforce sooner if you earn certifications rather than pursuing an associate’s degree, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to find a job as a civil engineering technician.
Civil Engineering Technology
An associate’s degree in Civil Engineering Technology is the best way to put yourself on the fast track towards a career as a civil engineering technician. After earning their associate’s degree, students can continue their education and pursue a four-year degree or they can go straight into the workforce.
In addition to working as a civil engineering technician, an associate’s degree in Civil Engineering Technology can open up other job opportunities, including these careers:
- Building Code Inspector
- Construction Manager
- Construction Material Lab Tech
- Cost Estimator
- Engineering Design Technician
- Public Works Technician
- Surveying Technician
These programs generally require five semesters of coursework taken over two years. The coursework generally includes these classes:
- Engineering Technology Foundations
- College Trigonometry
- History of Architecture
- Computer-Aided Design (CAD)
- Construction Methods and Estimating
- Construction Materials
- Statics and Strength of Materials
- Construction Documents
- Soil Mechanics
- Environmental Systems Technology
Midlands Technical College offers a well-regarded program in Civil Engineering Technology that’s accredited by the Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission (ABET). Students can choose to attend traditional on-campus classes, complete the entirety of the coursework online, or embark on a hybrid program that gives them the best of both. Their seven campuses are all located in South Carolina.
These schools also offer ABET-accredited associate’s degree programs in Civil Engineering Technology:
- Bluefield State College in Bluefield, West Virginia
- BridgeValley Community and Technical College in South Charleston, West Virginia
- Broome Community College in Binghamton, New York
- Central Ohio Technical College in Newark, Ohio
- Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, North Carolina
- Cincinnati State Technical and Community College in Cincinnati, Ohio
- Erie Community College, North Campus in Williamsville, New York
- Essex County College in Newark, New Jersey
- Fairmont State University in Fairmont, West Virginia
- Gaston College in Dallas, North Carolina
- Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, New York
- Idaho State University in Pocatello, Idaho
- Middlesex County College in Edison, New Jersey
- Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica, New York
- Nassau Community College in Garden City, New York
- State University of New York College of Technology at Canton in Canton, New York
- New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn, New York
- Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay, Wisconsin
- Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, Pennsylvania
- University of Puerto Rico at Bayamon in Bayamon, Puerto Rico
- University of Puerto Rico at Ponce in Ponce, Puerto Rico
- Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio
- Stark State College of Technology in North Canton, Ohio
- Vermont Technical College in Randolph Center, Vermont
- Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio
Career Outlook for Civil Engineering Technicians
The job outlook for civil engineering technologists and technicians isn’t stellar. Employment is expected to show little or no change over the next ten years because computer-aided design (CAD) software continues to improve, increasing productivity while decreasing the number of civil engineering technologists required on any given project. Despite this, the Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates 6,500 openings for civil engineering technologists and technicians each year as current workers change professions or retire.
The majority of civil engineering technologists and technicians are employed by the government; 46% of them are employed by state or local governments. Another 43% are employed by engineering services and construction companies.
- Above average salary
- Opportunity for lateral moves and career advancement
- Skills applicable to a wide range of different industries
- Poor job outlook compared to other professions
- Earn significantly less than civil engineers
Overall, the relatively poor job outlook for civil engineering technicians is balanced out by how useful this skill set is to a wide range of jobs. Even if this specific job is in short supply when you graduate, you’ll likely be able to find a similar job. You would also have the option of continuing your education and becoming a civil engineer, thereby earning a significantly higher salary after as little as two years of additional schooling. And the job outlook for civil engineers is very good, with 24,200 openings projected each year over the next decade.
All in all, this career path is rich in opportunity and worthy of further investigation. If you’re interested in this profession, consider contacting civil engineering technicians in your area to ask about the possibility of shadowing them to learn more about their work.
If you’re interested in learning more about other trades, check out these recent articles all about how to become an electrician or a plumber. Stay tuned for upcoming articles on training to become a millwright or electrical engineering technician.