Engineering is a vast and complex field and is a critical need touching many aspects of life as we know it. It is further broken up into numerous specialty fields, of which structural engineering is one. Structural engineering involves working in the design, planning and creation of infrastructure such as buildings, roads, bridges, etc; or building transport systems such as trains, aircraft or any kind of machinery and industrial equipment, or any kind of products or goods which are used in day-to-day life. This article discusses the procedure involved in becoming a structural engineer.
Structural engineering is a branch of civil engineering, so the first step is to get a foundation in the latter field, before moving on to getting special qualifications as a structural engineer. The journey towards becoming a structural engineer consists of:
- High school diploma or approved GED equivalent with an emphasis on math, physics and other science courses. Practical or vocational training is an added plus.
- A 4-year graduate degree in engineering, preferably civil engineering with supplemental study in architectural, automotive, mechanical, industrial or materials engineering.
- A master’s degree in structural engineering is the next step in the education and training process. For both undergraduate and graduate engineering degrees, it is important that you apply for programs which are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering Technology (ABET).
- Obtain a license to work as an engineer; licensure requirements are state-specific, so you will need to look up the requirements prescribed by the licensing authority in the state where you qualify as an engineer or plan to work.
- In general, licensure involves the following procedure: (a) Completion of an accredited graduate program in engineering; (b) Completion of the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) examination; (c) four years of working under a licensed engineer; and (d) Completion of the Principles & Practices of Engineering (PE) examination.
- The procedure mentioned above is for getting a basic license to work as a civil engineer. The next step is to get certified as a structural engineering and this process is managed by the Structural Engineering Certification Board (SECB), a sub-organization of the National Council of Structural Engineers Association (NCSEA). For more information on certification, look up the official websites of the NCSEA and SECB – ncsea.com and secretboard.org.
- Analyze structural integrity and impact of various types of infrastructure – public and private – such as buildings, bridges, transportation systems, oil rigs et al.
- Design, plan and create new structural framework, keeping in mind the impact and utility of such structures to the environment, society, economy, etc.
- Ensure that structures are designed and built to handle large amounts of force and stress from natural or artificial factors such as earthquakes, fire, explosions, etc.
- Keep in mind social, cultural and aesthetic factors when designing new structures, whilst ensuring minimal environmental impact and cost-effectiveness.
Structural engineers are employed in the construction, public works, automotive, industrial and mechanical fields, working in the public or private sectors. Average compensation for entry-level engineers is $45,000 to $58,000; further increases in salaries and career advancement depends upon educational qualifications and work experience.