The Path to Advancement and Technical Specialization

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After graduation, many civil engineers will obtain employment with a particular organization or agency and remain there throughout their entire professional careers. Alternatively, others will seek several changes in employment during their careers for personal or professional reasons. In either case, as an ambitious and conscientious person, the young civil engineer beginning a career should seek to advance professionally and personally. The path to advancement can have several different branches. For example, the civil engineer may move on to positions of greater responsibility in technical activities or may go into positions of responsibility in supervisory activities and management.

Technical Specialization

In general, new civil engineering graduates initially will be employed to fulfill a basic technical position within an engineering firm or agency. The title they are given may be junior engineer, assistant engineer, or simply engineer. If the graduate has an advanced degree, he or she may be employed at the next level up the ladder of professional advancement with a title such as associate engineer. The successful engineer moves along a path of professional advancement to the point where he or she must select a career as a technical specialist, as a general practitioner, or as a manager. Usually this choice is faced at the level of senior engineer or resident engineer. In planning and design offices, the senior engineer generally is responsible for coordinating the work of small numbers of junior and assistant engineers and auxiliary personnel such as technicians and draftsmen. The resident engineer usually is employed in construction to supervise the completion of a segment of a construction job rather than the entire job itself.

If the senior or resident engineer elects to advance professionally by becoming a technical specialist, he or she may be given a title such as principal engineer. He or she may become a consultant to the general practitioners and management personnel within a given agency or organization. In general, the person who elects to become a technical specialist is the person who feels that he or she may not have the capabilities to be an effective manager or one who is unwilling to relinquish technical work for the increasing responsibilities in supervising and managing the work of others.

The general practitioner will follow a different path for professional development. He or she may rise from the level of senior design engineer or resident engineer to general engineer. In essence, advancement up the ladder of professional development requires supervising the work of an increasing number of subordinates. He or she must undertake more administrative work such as the preparation of reports on the activities of subordinates and must schedule individual workloads. Additionally, he or she may be involved in developing schedules and budgets for the work he or she supervises. In general, he or she is given a title such as general project engineer or general design engineer and rises to principal engineer or principal project engineer. In consulting organizations he or she may rise to a position as an associate of the firm, and then may assume more comprehensive administration duties as a vice-president or partner.

There are others who decide to for ego direct technical activity in engineering for the challenge of management activities. Usually, this step is made at the level of senior or resident engineer. At this point, a civil engineer electing a career in management assumes more responsibility for coordinating and arranging the activities of a group of colleagues. He or she is engaged more frequently in making decisions on non-technical matters involving the allocation of personnel to specific tasks or in choosing objectives for the particular organization. He or she may assume successive titles such as engineering superintendent, branch chief, engineering manager, or division chief. If he or she reaches the executive level of management, the title may be director or president.

Advancement along any one of these various paths is dependent primarily on the individual's abilities, interest in the job, and perseverance in accomplishing her or his duties. In organizations where a civil service system governs promotions and advancement, employees will be promoted on the basis of their technical expertise and achievements as well as their accumulated seniority. Their ability to accept more complex and demanding tasks and to carry out those tasks successfully also will be taken into account. In some organizations, the employee must take examinations to qualify for promotion. In other firms or agencies, a board of experienced senior engineers will review an employee's credentials and work experience and recommend promotions.

In organizations without civil service procedures, generally a somewhat parallel or similar administrative procedure has been established to show the employee what must be done to achieve promotion and advancement. Obviously, in small firms and especially in consulting organizations, promotion and advancement may be dependent upon the opinion of one or two senior individuals such as the president or owner of the consulting firm. In any case, the most important requirements for advancement in the profession of civil engineering are a demonstration of technical competence and willingness to spend the required time and effort necessary to accomplish assigned tasks and responsibilities.

In a civil engineering career there is no substitute for hard work. However, an individual may find great encouragement through the establishment of close contacts with fellow engineers, not only in the place of employment but in other agencies and organizations through membership in professional organizations and societies. Memberships in such organizations can be very effective in broadening the professional development of the young engineer and presenting the experienced engineer with more opportunities for the exercise of talents and capabilities.
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