Geotechnical Careers

Geotechnical engineers typically work a traditional 40-hour workweek.
i Rainer Elstermann/Photodisc/Getty Images
Geotechnical engineers typically work a traditional 40-hour workweek.

More goes into new construction than just choosing a site, laying a foundation and putting up walls. Construction companies rely on geotechnical engineers to ensure the ground the structure will sit on is solid. Like other engineering fields, the geotechnical engineering field, a subsection of civil engineering, consists mostly of men. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women made up only 13 percent of all civil engineers, including geotechnical engineers, in 2012. While their numbers are low, women like Amy Cerato, an award-winning female geotechnical engineer, are leaving a legacy for future female geotechnical engineers.

Schooling You'll Need

Before starting your career as a geotechnical engineer, you’ll need to earn at least a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or a related program, such as geology or geoenvironmental studies. Many employers prefer to hire candidates with master’s or doctoral degrees. A number of engineering schools offer master’s and postdoctorate degrees in geotechnical engineering. Some schools also allow students to choose geotechnical engineering as a specialty under a civil engineering bachelor’s degree.

Gain Skills and Experience

Regardless of what educational route you choose, you should gain a solid foundation in calculus, statistics, geology and chemistry, as well as in more advanced topics, such as soil mechanics and plate tectonics. Employers may ask for a minimum number of years of experience in geotechnical engineering, typically between two and five years. Some employers accept internship or co-op experience for professional experience. You’ll need certain skills to fulfill the job duties of a geotechnical engineer, including decision-making and troubleshooting abilities to assess situations and provide solutions to clients. You should also have excellent written and oral communication skills when dealing with clients and other engineers and for putting together final reports for clients.

What You'll Do

In your role as a geotechnical engineer, you’ll work with construction companies, architects and civil engineers, helping them determine whether the land they want to build on is secure. You’ll assess the area, assisting the architect in designing around slopes and land grades. Geotechnical engineers also study how current buildings are affecting the soil and rock around them, earthquakes and geothermal activity. You’ll design other structures, including retaining walls, tunnels and terraces.

Who You'll Work For

Careers in the geotechnical field can take you all over the country and even the world. Employers of geotechnical engineers include engineering consulting firms, research laboratories, government agencies and private companies. You could also enter academia and teach future geotechnical engineers. Some careers involve extensive traveling to building sites, and you’ll spend most of your time out in the field studying the ground.

2016 Salary Information for Civil Engineers

Civil engineers earned a median annual salary of $83,540 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, civil engineers earned a 25th percentile salary of $65,330, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $107,140, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 303,500 people were employed in the U.S. as civil engineers.

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