The role of site engineer and what exactly they do varies enormously from project to project – a housing development, for example, will have very different needs to a shopping centre. But most site engineer jobs will include technical, supervisory and organisational elements.
Projects can be small-scale or multi-million pound affairs. As a site engineer, you could be working on road, civil, rail or other infrastructure projects, based anywhere in the UK.
A site engineer is part of the site management team, and takes some of the responsibility for security, health and safety, and organising and supervising materials and people. Site engineers mark out the site, make sure designs are applied correctly and liaise with main and sub-contractors and the site manager. Regular liaison with the client, its representatives, and any consultants is another key part of the job.
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Site engineers act as day-to-day managers on a construction site, and the main source of technical advice and quality control for everyone working on it. The role also involves levelling and surveying a site, checking drawings and quantities and ensuring the accuracy of calculations.
Site engineers agree the price and oversee the choice for materials and plant to be used on the project.
A site engineer will plan the work to be done and organise things so that deadlines are met. If technical or any other problems crop up, it is up to the site engineer to resolve them. For many site engineers, the most satisfying aspect is seeing a project successfully reach completion.
Site engineer Richard Fuller is working for Amey on a Transport for London contract. He says: “Every day is different with varied challenges. You are only as good as the team around you. So treat your workforce fairly, and they will give you back the extra effort you sometimes need. Treat your client with respect and you will gain respect. If you can overcome problems proactively, and stay positive, even if things go wrong, you will look back on your achievements with great satisfaction."
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Professionals in the field made on average from £30,400 to £34,500 in 2008, and from £35,700 to £39,900 in 2009, according to figures from jobs posted on CareerStructure.com.
Hours and conditions
Conditions and working environment can vary hugely between projects. The work can be stressful, and the hours long and unsociable. You’ll divide your time between site and office, and may need to be out on site in bad weather. Offices could be temporary and less than luxurious.
You may well have to travel, either doing day trips or overnight. You’ll be expected to be mobile, and to have to move with little notice. It’s unlikely that there’ll be many opportunities to work part-time, or to take career breaks.
Skills and interests
Being a site engineer requires a mixture of personal, technical and physical abilities.
You’re unlikely to make it as a site engineer if you don’t have the right level of fitness, since site visits can be physically demanding, especially when moving around a site’s less accessible areas.
Good site engineers have strong numerical and analytic skills and can think in a very logical way. At the same time, they need good writing skills and to be able to produce excellent reports.
You’ll have to be able to deal with a wide variety of other professionals and be a team player. Site engineers are often under pressure and need to be exceptionally hard-working and organised with outstanding problem-solving skills.
As with most other roles in the construction industry, it makes real sense to get some work experience as soon as you can. Lots of companies are wiling to provide holiday work experience to undergraduates, or as part of sandwich courses. This will not only give you a valuable insight into whether this kind of work is really for you, but also a network of contacts and a real advantage when you come to apply for jobs, as you’ll be able to be effective much more quickly.
Although the construction industry was particularly affected by the recession, there are already reports of improvements in the house-building sector. At the same time, candidates with the right skills will always be in demand to fill the job opportunities available.
Self-employment opportunities are available, especially for chartered engineers who may have a particular specialism, such as foundations.
There are jobs abroad, although these tend to be for experienced rather than graduate engineers.
Traditionally, site engineering has always been an extremely male-dominated field, but figures for membership from professional bodies indicate that this is changing, with more women becoming site engineers each year.
Although ethnic minorities are currently under-represented throughout the industry, there are awareness campaigns working to increase diversity
It is possible to start a career straight from school, but most people go to university first. There are opportunities in site engineering roles for anyone with an engineering degree or diploma, or indeed any technical or numerical-based degree. Subjects like building, construction or civil or structural engineering will be particularly helpful. At many universities a one-year foundation course is an option if you don’t have the right maths or science qualifications.
Some employers visit universities, others expect you to proactively seek them out. As soon as your final year begins, you should be looking at graduate schemes to start the following autumn.
It’s a good idea to join one of the professional associations as a student, and to use your time at university to cultivate good industry contacts.
Training, other qualifications and advancement
You’ll normally have an induction period to start off with, followed by short courses and training at work, but training varies at each employer, so be very clear about the training you will receive before starting.
If you belong to one of the professional bodies, you’ll have to follow a programme of continuing professional development (CPD) each year.
If you have a building degree, the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) is the best professional body to join. After taking an accredited building degree, you’ll need to spend three years at work, submit a report on that and sit an interview.
After a couple of years as a graduate trainee, you may wish to manage your own projects, or become an assistant site engineer. There are then possibilities to progress to senior engineer, then site manager, projects manager and contracts manager. As a site engineer, you have the potential to reach senior management roles while still being in a hands-on capacity.
With the modern emphasis on collaborative working between contractor, consultant and client, progression to project management is quicker than it was.
Site engineers tend to be employed by building and civil engineering contractors and some consultancies. Clients could be local or central government or developers and multi-nationals.
Although this list is not exclusive, some of the larger employers include:
- Balfour Beatty
- May Gurney
- Laing Rourke
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