Sunday, June 7, 2015

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Career options for Civil Engineers in India

The engineering field has been in the limelight since human evolution. Food, clothing and shelter are the three basic needs of any individual who lives on this earth. Civil engineering is the branch of engineering which takes care of the need for shelter. Civil engineering practice started during the period 4000 to 2000 BC in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia after humans began to abandon the nomadic life that they were living until then  and started to settle in regions they liked. This created a need for shelter. 

Civil engineering as a professional discipline, which deals with the design, construction and maintenance of the physical shelters that are built for human existence. It also covers the construction of structures like roads, bridges, canals and dams. This is the second oldest engineering discipline after military engineering and is traditionally broken into several sub-disciplines, which are elaborated further in this article. 

Civil engineering projects are initiated either by the government as clients or by the private sector. Individuals wanting to own their own house will require residential houses, which are constructed by builders and developers. There are numerous stakeholders in any civil engineering project, which are mentioned below. 

Sub-disciplines of civil engineering

  1. Architectural engineering, 
  2. Environmental engineering, 
  3. Geotechnical engineering, 
  4. Structural engineering, 
  5. Transportation engineering, 
  6. Water resources engineering, 
  7. Wastewater engineering, 
  8. Façade engineering, 
  9. Quantity survey

Architectural engineering is the application of the principles of aesthetics to engineering theory in order to carve out masterpieces, whereas environmental engineering is the integration of the principles of science and engineering for the preservation of the natural environment. 

Geotechnical engineering is the branch of engineering, which explains us the engineering behavior of earth materials while structural engineering is the science of engineering that deals with the analysis and design of structures that support the loads of inhabitants occupying various structures. 

Transportation engineering is the science of engineering that deals with the scientific principles of planning, design, operation and management of various modes of transportation. 

Water resources engineering or hydraulic engineering deals with the flow and conveyance of fluids mainly water and sewage. This area of civil engineering is related to the design of bridges, dams, channels, canals and levees. 

Then we have façade engineering which deals with the design and construction of architectural facades for structures. 

Quantity survey deals with the quantification of materials that go into a particular structure while it is being built. It also deals with vendor management apart from speaking about inventory management and material management. 

Stakeholders in civil engineering projects

Every civil engineering project has certain key stakeholders all of whom have a direct interest in the project. Consider a residential housing project. In this project, the client is the end user or the common public, the builder is the agency, which directly deals with the client and fulfills his requirement. 

The contractor or the vendor, who is given the task of constructing the structure using his resources, is the agency that takes responsibility of building the structure. He builds the structure such that he is subjected to the minimum risk and he gets the maximum profit. 

Then we have the consultants, which include the architect, the structural consultant and the project management consultant. A client may or may not appoint a project consultant and may ask the architect to do the job. This will be the case in situations where the project size is very small. In large projects, however, a project consultant is a necessity. 

A builder is merely responsible for investing his money/land/men or all of them for fulfilling a customer requirement. He is another stakeholder who enjoys a tremendous profit margin in a project as he loads his margin on what he has paid the contractor and consultants for the completion of a project. 

Opportunities for civil engineers
The best opportunity for fresh civil engineers is to obtain a government job in any of the public agencies including Mumbai Municipal Corporation, MMRDA, MRVC, BEST, etc. A secure job in any governmental organization is a surefire way for an easy life. 

Although, salaries in government jobs are not as per industry standards,  they give a good pension post retirement so that civil engineers can easily sustain themselves on their pension in the old age. But, obtaining a job in the government sector is no cakewalk. 

One needs either a lot of money or a tremendous influence with any of the government offices where one seeks a job. Those who cannot find jobs in the government sector have to look for jobs in the private sector. 

Fresh civil engineers who pass out from the numerous engineering colleges have a lot to think of before they can decide which field of civil engineering to pursue. The best way out for them would be to scrutinize their marks at the engineering level and decide what type of job to take up to start their career. 

Someone who has obtained good marks in structures can start with a job in structural designing. After working for three to five years with a structural consultant, he can start taking up independent jobs to do after getting a structural designers license issued in his name. Slowly and gradually, he can make a name for himself in the market by constantly giving cost effective designs, which give durable structures.  

A person who has secured good marks in project management at the degree level can think of venturing into working at site as a junior site engineer. He can learn the details of execution and grow to become a senior site engineer and then an assistant project manager. Finally, he is given the task of a project manager. An assistant project manager is someone who acts as a bridge between the project team and the project manager. While the project manager engages with the client and plans the project activities, the assistant project manager helps him in managing the project team and allotting work to them.

 A project manager is a person who is given the total responsibility of a single project. He is answerable for whatever happens in that project. There is a difference between the project manager of a builder and that of a contracting firm. The latter has more responsibility on his shoulders and is paid more. From here, he can become assistant general manager projects and then general manager projects. Finally, he can rise up to become a VP Projects and then to President Projects.

 People working on these designations are given more than one project in a particular area to look after and are held responsible for them. They allocate their working time proportionately on each project depending upon the exigencies of work on each of them. Lately, a new breed of professionals has come in the market who calls themselves as project management consultants. 

They take up the management of complicated projects and deliver the same to the client on its successful completion. They liaise with the client at regular intervals for things ranging from drawings to invoices of vendors to consultancy fees. They are said to manage the time of the project. 

For fresh civil engineers who have done well in foundation or geotechnical engineering, the field of lab testing and foundations is open for exploration. Lab testing of materials is an activity that is widely carried out in India by almost all clients/builders/contractors. 

The materials are tested using sophisticated equipment to find out whether they are conforming to the quality parameters laid down by the project specifications. Fresh engineers can do the job of a lab assistant, then go on to specialize in the subject of geotechnical engineering, and become consultants in the field. 

This field is not very well developed in India yet and more work needs to be done in terms of research in the field. New materials, which help stakeholders, construct elegant projects within the stipulated cost, quality and time are continuously being invented based on exhaustive studies carried out on behaviours of various soils in the region. 

Quantity survey is another promising job profile for civil engineers. Typically, a quantity surveyor estimates the quantities of materials required in a project from the drawings and specifications prepared by the architect. He also takes care of procurement and vendor management. A civil engineer who is excellent in the subject of estimation and costing can take up a job as a junior quantity surveyor. Slowly and steadily, he can learn the thumb rules required for the quick calculation of material quantities in a particular structure and gain a senior position in the field. 

Today, this field of quantity survey offers promising opportunities for professional engineers who would like to become freelancers. There are jobs for freelance quantity surveyors advertised on various websites. Professionals in this field are treated at par with structural consultants and this field will evolve to a greater extent in the years to come with specialization becoming rampant in the field of civil engineering. 

A new breed of professionals called as cost consultants, who manage the project costs and budget, have started practising in the field. Clients, who wish to control the costs of their project, appoint them. A civil engineer working in this field needs to be a number cruncher along with having commercial acumen. 

With the market tilting towards specialized services, another breed of professionals called as third party quality auditors are being felted in the market. Civil engineers who have good marks in quality control at the degree level can opt for a job as a quality consultant. For working in this field, a person has to be good in statistics along with the core field of civil engineering. He also has to have knowledge of the lab tests carried out to test materials along with the threshold limits for material quality. Strong documentation skills are also prerequisites for a job in quality control. 

Third party quality auditors are responsible for giving their reports on construction quality on a project and based on their reports, the client either penalizes the contractor for deficiencies in quality or uses the report to market his structure to prospective customers. This is an upcoming field in the country and engineers working in this field can further gain a quality auditors certification and become independent quality auditors themselves. 

I have touched the most common career paths that fresh engineers can follow, after their graduation. Although, the above paragraphs do not give an exhaustive picture of the opportunities prevailing in the field, they do give a fair idea to fresh engineers on the career they can chart out. Suffice to say that a civil engineering qualification can get you jobs in either real estate or infrastructure, both of which contribute heavily to the GDP of the country. 

All said and done, a degree in civil engineering can give you a promising career in either real estate or infrastructure. If a civil engineer wishes to do a job in the field, he would do well to look for a job with a diversified company, which follows good construction practices and pays its employees well. Projects in real estate and infrastructure have a long gestation periods, therefore civil engineers would do well to work for at least 5 years in one particular company so that they can derive full benefit of their efforts. 

This category of engineers should look for a better pay packet from their employer, when accepting a job. On the other hand, a civil engineer who wishes to do business in the field can work for some time in a company which is following good construction practices and learn the practicalities of the profession and then start a small company to provide services to the client. It is generally found that people who are doing business are able to do better for themselves as compared to people who are working. 

Being successful in the field requires a lot of patience and resourcefulness. I would like to instruct all civil engineers whether fresh or experienced, to make a career plan and then start searching for a job. If they follow their plan to the last letter then they will be successful in making money their employers and themselves.

About the Author - Harish B Desai

 I am a graduate civil engineer of 15 years and a freelance writer of 5 years. My aim of becoming a freelance writer was to communicate to my audience and I feel that is happening through my above article. I wanted to display my experience to the world and answer my detractors. Through this article, I wish to answer all those who have criticized me and belittled me. I hope this article is able to do that.