18 September 2023

A Guide to Civil Engineering Internships & Placements

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So, you’re on track to graduate with a civil engineering degree, and you’re just starting to think about what you actually want to do with it.

You know everything there is to know about fluid mechanics, structural design and reinforced concrete – but how much experience have you had in the workplace?

We’ve got your back. This civil engineering internships and placements guide outlines everything from the best opportunities in the industry to how much you could potentially earn…

Getting civil engineering work experience

There’s never been a better time to start your career in civil engineering. But with a record 91 applicants per graduate vacancy, you can’t afford to be complacent.

Whilst a civil engineering degree is a smashing achievement, it’s not enough to set you apart from the crowd. (Nor is your ability to recite the alphabet backwards.)

The only solution is to get as much work experience on your CV as possible: be it a whole year working for a global company like Mott Macdonald, or a few days shadowing a contractor on-site.

Here are your options… 

Civil engineering internships

For: All students
Duration: 1-4 months
When to apply: Sep-Mar

These short schemes can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, so you may even be able to squeeze more than one in between semesters.

An internship gives you the chance to apply your technical knowledge to real problems; something civil engineering companies prize extremely highly. If you’ve got talent, your employer might even press the Golden Buzzer and fast-track you onto their graduate scheme.

Some of the best internships for civil engineering students are offered by Buro Happold, Costain and Mace – where an impressive 60% of graduate employees first joined as interns.

Civil engineering placements

For: 2nd or 3rd years
Duration: 5-13 months
When to apply: Sep-May

As a placement student, you’ll spend up to a year working on live projects that have a real impact on the world around you. This professional experience will set you apart from other candidates when it comes to applying for graduate civil engineering jobs.

At Network Rail, for example, you might be tasked with carrying out on-site inspections, using NASA-grade technology to capture data or even working on Britain’s first battery-operated train.

Employers use civil engineering placements to seek out the finest talent in the industry. So providing you impress them, it is likely they will really, really want to offer you a permanent position once you graduate. Hooray! 

What do civil engineers do?

Contrary to popular belief, interns are no longer tasked with making endless cups of tea or running errands for senior employees.

Instead, civil engineering internships are designed to help you build the skills and knowledge you need to pursue a career in the industry – making it worthwhile for both you, and your employer.

As such, you’ll be given proper responsibilities and even trusted with live projects. This could involve visiting construction sites to carry out quality control checks, or working closely with senior engineers to prepare documents, review complaints and resolve any issues.

“I was given work that I could do independently, that would be rolled out across the region, ensuring the safety of railway workers and commuters that use the railway regularly. I was given lots of responsibility on this vital project, while also being given independent work by others in the department.”

Summer Intern at Network Rail

Civil engineer interns have responsibilities right from day one

Check out our comprehensive guide to Engineering Work Experience for a closer look at engineering placements, internships and career options.

What are the best internships for civil engineering?

Every year, we announce the Best 100 Student Employers to work for in the whole of the UK.

The table is based on thousands of honest reviews left by students like YOU on RateMyPlacement.co.uk, rating companies on initiatives like diversity, skills development and CSR.

This year’s very best companies offering civil engineering work experience include:

Want to know more about what it’s like to do a placement or internship in civil engineering? Click below to explore thousands of student-written reviews…

What civil engineering jobs can I do with my degree?

When we think of civil engineering, we usually think of iconic structures like the Emirates Stadium, Sydney Opera House or the jaw-dropping Burj Khalifa.

But civil engineering isn’t all fancy buildings.

As well as designing and maintaining the infrastructures that support our everyday lives – from roads, railways and bridges to waste management systems, power networks and water supply – civil engineers come up with innovative solutions to real-world issues.

But before you get ahead of yourself and send your CV out to anyone and everyone, there are a couple of things to take into consideration:

Firstly, which industry do you want to work in?

As a qualified civil engineer, you could find yourself working on exciting projects like the hotly-anticipated Crossrail, the new M6 motorway or Hinkley Point C (the largest construction site in Europe!).

If you already know which industry or project you want to get involved with, try to secure some relevant work experience in that particular area. This will help you figure out if it’s right for you and give you lots to talk about in graduate interviews.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the number of graduate civil engineering jobs available in each industry is sensitive to where engineers are needed most. Do your research and keep an eye on The Engineer and the Institution of Civil Engineers for updates on the current job climate.

What inspires you? Find out what gets this civil engineer at Atkins out of bed every morning:

Would you rather work in an office or on-site?

After you leave university, you can either train to become a consultant or a contractor. Recruiters will expect you to know the difference between these roles and to have thought about why you are applying to one or the other.

Consultants work closely with the client, evaluating their needs and offering them expert advice. They are involved in a project from the outset; designing structures on CAD, collaborating with architects and subcontractors, estimating costs, assessing the risks and analysing the environmental impact.

Contractors work on-site to turn these designs into reality. As well as overseeing the build, they are responsible for obtaining materials, resolving any problems that arise, dealing with suppliers and ensuring projects run smoothly and on time.

We recommend doing a handful of civil engineering internships with both types of employer to suss out where your strengths and interests lie. 

Civil engineers working on-site

Getting your professional qualifications

Did you know that you can launch your career into the stratosphere by joining the Institution of Civil Engineering (ICE)?

As a graduate member, you’ll work towards becoming professionally registered as a technician engineer (EngTech), incorporated engineer (IEng) or chartered engineer (CEng). These post-nominal letters will:

  • Show potential employers, clients and colleagues you are an expert in your field
  • Boost your confidence in your own ability
  • Increase your future earning potential by 30%
  • Allow you to take on more responsibility, such as working with new technology

And you don’t have to wait till you graduate – membership is free for students and will prove to interviewers that you are committed to a career in the industry.

You’ll also get access to career advice and their online library services, and have the chance to network with other civil engineers.

How much will I earn as a civil engineer?

Based on data collected from thousands of reviews submitted to RateMyPlacement.co.uk, you can expect to earn an average of £17,751 pro-rata on a civil engineering internship.

Once you graduate, this will be bumped up to an average starting salary of £28,500, depending on the role, industry and location.

Whilst your pay packet might not match up to that of a banker, it will only increase as you gain experience and professional qualifications. The Institution of Civil Engineering reported that the average basic income of its members was nearly £50,000

On top of your base salary, most civil engineering companies will offer enticing perks, including enrollment on a pension scheme, a company car and life insurance. If you’re keen to get the ball rolling, start applying for internships and placements as soon as you can!