Civil Engineering: Do we Diversity or Specialise?

The dynamic and diverse world of civil engineering can present an intimidating amount of options for any graduate undertaking the final year of their degree. From structural to geotechnical to coastal, the opportunities available are numerous. As a result, no two civil engineering graduates hold the same skill set.

With the 21st century being characterised for its pertinent and ever-changing constant growth in infrastructure, a new need for innovative design, construction and maintenance, civil engineers are needed more than ever in a wide range of areas, and as such, for all interns in engineering, the question becomes: do I specialise or diversify?

Whether one should become a jack of all trades or a master of one is ultimately up to personal preference and the career path one wants to follow. I have personally seen many graduates follow either path and see enormous amounts of success in their future, starting their own companies, becoming principal engineers or going back to University to educate the future of the next generation of engineers.

For those of you wanting to specialise, do remember that work experience is crucial. When you choose to follow a specific role in the civil engineering industry, your studies and career, you could be limiting your options and opportunities. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however.

Specialised civil engineers are characterised by their drive, career motivation and play to their strengths in a deeper way. This pushes them ahead and allows them to develop a short, but deep set of skills in one area. As experts in the field, they go on to create fantastic pieces of work; physical solutions to pressing community issues, interesting academic works and ultimately pave a way of ease for the generations to come.

Engineering internship
Specialised engineers can work in construction.

For those of you reaching the end of your degree, such a time can be riddled with uncertainty, worry and anxiety. Lots of questions can come up, especially those revolving around the theme of attaining work. “How will I get a job? What if I don’t get a job? Will I be able to do the work?”

The best way to go about this is to APPLY APPLY APPLY for work experience and vocational placements – they are so incredibly vital. This career drive that many specialist civil engineers hold is founded upon certainty, knowing exactly what they want to do and work in. For this to even be possible, a graduate must work in the industry and get hands-on insight into the responsibilities, workload and skills required by the area they want to work in.

For example, Coastal engineering is so adversely different to Mining engineering, the colloquial terms used, the practical skills, the key stakeholders, and, while on paper this can be easily identified, only through work can it be understood.

Meanwhile, for those wanting to become generalists within the industry of civil engineering, the opportunities are a lot broader for you. Categorised by flexibility, quick learning and multi-tasking ability, generalists within civil engineering often have a more narrow depth of skill, but a broader variety of them.

Your studies are crucial to this, as they reflect an ability to excel in all areas of civil engineering. Work experience, therefore, becomes the exemplar. Incredibly important, but rarely priority. Generalists should focus on building their knowledge currency, developing skills and creating a strong network during their studies.

For generalists, my advice is to take every opportunity ahead of you. Whether a software workshop on MATLAB, a networking night for women in engineering or a 3-month vocational placement with a training organisation, every opportunity will diversify your experiences and build you into the strongest candidate for any role you see possible.

In today’s dynamic age, it is very likely you will switch from wanting to diversify to wanting to specialise, or even switch from one specialisation to another. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this and should be encouraged if the decision has a positive result in your career.

Whether you’re in your second year and have the student service’s line one tap away to switch your major or have a few starting roles in a different sector you want to apply for, make the decision to improve yourself.

The different sectors within civil engineering are an obstacle every student and worker face as they walk down the line of their career. You will not be alone in deciding, and it will only be encouraged as you develop yourself as a prime civil engineering graduate.