A Guide to Civil Engineering Internships & Placements

If you’re short on time because Extreme Trains is on soon, head straight to our jobs page to search for work experience.

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?

What is civil engineering?

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.

Take Ben Chase. After graduating as a structural engineer, Ben worked on designing a two-storey kindergarten in Haiti that would withstand adverse weather conditions:

"I produced the seismic and hurricane analysis to inform the bracing design. Then in 2016, Hurricane Matthew hit causing extreme devastation. The kindergarten remained completely intact and was available as a refuge during the storm. It made me feel really good that our work helped save lives."

Watch this charming video from the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) to find out more about what civil engineers do:

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

Getting civil engineering work experience 

According to the Higher Education Careers Service Unit (HECSU), 69.3% of civil engineering graduates are in full-time employment. Marvellous!

However, last year there were 35 applications per built environment graduate role, so 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.

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 just a few days shadowing a contractor on-site. 

Here are your options…

Civil engineering placements

FOR: 2nd or 3rd years
DURATION: 5-13 months

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.

For example, at Network Rail 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.

”Every project has its own challenges and opportunities, from day-to-day maintenance through to large-scale projects such as Birmingham Gateway, Thameslink Programme and Crossrail. All these have one thing in common: the vast array of valuable engineering knowledge and experience a student is able to gain throughout their time in and around the organisation.”
  Tajamul Daroge, Civil Engineering Placement Student at Network Rail

Employers use these schemes 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!

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

Civil engineering internships

FOR: All students
DURATION: 4-16 weeks

If your course doesn’t include a placement year, look out for civil engineering summer placements or internships. These shorter schemes can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, so you may even be able to squeeze more than one into a summer.

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.

Top employers offering engineering internships and placements include Costain, Mace Ltd and BuroHappold Engineering - where an impressive 60% of graduate employees first joined as interns.

“I have learned so much more than I could have hoped, from insights into the design of different systems to practical lessons about working as an engineer. The lessons I’ve learned will now help me at university.” Florence Wong, Geotechnical Engineer Intern, BuroHappold Engineering

What civil engineering jobs can I do with my degree?

With the government pledging to invest £100 billion in infrastructure by 2021, there’s certainly no shortage of civil engineering jobs on the horizon.

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!).

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?

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.

For example, nearly 75% of civil engineering graduates go on to work in construction - a booming industry that has been tasked with building 340,000 homes per year until 2031 to meet demand. It falls to civil engineers to work out how to deliver these homes on time and within budget.

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 summer placements with both types of employer to suss out where your strengths and interests lie.

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 by interns and placement students, you can expect to earn around £17,709 doing engineering work experience.

Once you graduate, this will be bumped up to an average starting salary of £27,000, depending on the role, industry and location.

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

On top of your base salary, most civil engineering companies will offer enticing perks, including enrolment on a pension scheme, a company car and life insurance.