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How to transform to a Structural Engineer from Site Engineering?

Updated: Jan 25, 2022

I get questions like this and many more from civil engineers on a daily basis. If you are a civil engineer working in site and what to shift to a structural engineering career or structural detailing career, you should read this. Others who are fresh civil engineers with BE in civil engineering and if you are confused if you should take up a site engineering job or a structural design job, then you should also read this. Before explaining all of this, let me state the general questions that I get from civil and structural engineers. Then I will answer them in detail in the subsequent sections.


I will exactly advice, what you can do the best in my opinion under these circumstances.These are general questions posed by many civil and structural engineers at some point in their civil engineering career.


  • I have 3 to 10 years of experience in site, Can I now shift to structures, what will be my salary.Can I get the same salary as I get with my site engineering role?

  • I am a fresh civil engineer, I don’t have MTech in structural Engineering, Can I design?

  • Should I first work in site and then come back to design?

  • I have a break in my career, how can I restart, nobody is considering me.

  • I am a fresh civil engineer. I did my masters in structures also. But all structural consultants are asking to come with experience.

  • I have various experience and I want to now start my own practice. But I don’t have a great idea about structures. What do I do?


I will attend to these questions by civil engineering job seekers in best of my ability and with my experience in the structural design industry.


Shifting from Site based Roles to Structural Design



My answer is Yes, you can do this. Before answering this, let me say that structural engineering is not just about sitting in a consulting office and using ETABS or Staad Pro. It’s also about multi-disciplinary co-ordination, it’s also about site co-ordination, it also includes excellent detailing skills and so on. A site engineers’ role will help you to appreciate the site interfaces, construction tolerances needed, general mistakes that happens in site and factor in this in the design stages and so on. Read this blog additionally. The additional blog will also take you to some other blogs that will probably help you too.


Also note that if you have executed rebar detailing, then producing a drawing for you is just a matter of learning CAD or Revit. You can excel in detailing or BIM roles. Also, you can get in to design if you develop the software skills in ETABS or similar tools like Staad Pro. This needs determination, hard work and ability to adapt. This is not impossible. I have many students who have transformed quite comfortably.


Now you may ask a question – Will I be considered? Will I get the same salary?



The answer is, you may or you may not get. It depends on the way you have transformed. How much you have learnt. Have you learnt doing projects? Moreover, you should be able to present yourself as an independent structural engineer who can take decisions. If you do this, there are good chances that you get a matching salary to your site experience. Many times, it also depends on the firms that you are applying. Some companies will have design and build where your site experience also can be made use of. Some builder firms like Shobha Developers and Total Environment have structural design inhouse and they also have site engineering. Your experience will be handy. Some firms will be purely structural consultancies who might not consider much of your site experience. MNCs generally consider your over all ability. There will be different kinds of roles where you may not need exact analysis skills and you can slowly learn there being in a role like that of a delivery manager and slowly progress. Also, some companies will have secondary structure designs and small refurbishment works that are less challenging. You can start there and learn and gain experience and then progress. It all needs a strong determination, patience and understanding. Even Architectural design firms will have multiple roles where you can do a mix of site, quantities and design. In all these firms, you can also take up detailing and BIM based roles too which will be easier. Also, BBS or Bar bending schedule preparation is a good area where site engineers can focus. Popularity of precut bars has made BBS preparation a hot job. Many large global corporates like Atkins do have BBS preparation jobs outsourced to India. I have many students who are now entrepreneurs who do a lot of detailing works.


Do I need MTech in Structures to be a Structural Engineer?



Short answer is No in most cases. You can be a structural engineer with BE in civil engineering. This is the definition of a structural engineer in National Building Code of India (NBC). However, you need a minimum working experience in design to be called as a structural engineer. This is applicable to even those who have masters. They also need to have a min experience before practicing. However, states like Kerala have mandated masters for signing stability of High-Rise Buildings. Again, BE or BTech civil is allowed to design and sign drawings. Only stability that too of high risers need to be signed by a post graduate. This rule is debatable as it is not matching with NBC. Some employers might insist masters but not all. Its mainly because the gaps in education that most employers are asking for masters. Now the fact is that even after masters in structures, there are huge gaps in structural understanding. So, if you are able to demonstrate your ability, then this will not matter. How do you achieve that? Read this blog and also all the links in that blog.


If you have any doubts, note that, there are surely low-rise buildings and other design jobs that will surely consider BE civil engineers. You can also focus on BIM based roles in addition to analysis and design. It’s also worth to note that there are many pioneers and leading consultants in India who are BE Civil or even post graduates in other fields like Geo technical engineering than structures.


Should I work in Site First?



Short answer is not necessarily needed. However, site engineering is inseparable from structural engineering. A good structural engineer should appreciate some aspects of site engineering. However, this understanding can be developed while you work as a structural engineer. Keep visiting site regularly and co-ordinate and understand how the design work is executed at site. Think logically and practically. This will allow you to develop the needed site engineering skills. As a structural engineer you may not have to develop a skill to monitor construction schedules or mobilizing materials. That is a purely site role. What matters as a structural engineer is the detailing methods, challenges, the site interfaces and so on.

This is also true the other way. A site engineer who knows basic principles of analysis, design and detailing can do his role as a site engineer even better. I have mentioned about this in previous sections too.


Can I shift to structures if I take up roles as co-ordinator?


A co-ordination role with a consultant or a PMC firm allows you to understand the entire design development and construction cycle of a project. Also, if the project that you are involved is of large scale and if the company is a good one, there is nothing wrong to take up such roles. You will have a lot to learn which will be helpful later in your design career too. You will also develop contacts with consultants and this may help you to land a design job later.


I have a career break; how do I get back to civil engineering industry?



What I wrote in above sections is applicable to this question too. There are no short cuts. You have to have the determination and work hard and smart to achieve a career in civil or structures. The idea here too is to demonstrate that the gaps has not affected you. People may have apprehensions. However, once we demonstrate the ability, no one should have a problem. There will be challenges and complaining that and not taking an action and leaving it is not a solution. You may have to try hard. I know many who has come back after a break in civil engineering career. Now a days many firms are open to people with breaks. Also, the pandemic situation allows one to work from home if there are challenges. Know the tools that let you work remote and smart. You may be able to start on some work at least on a part time basis when many are looking to reduce the cost. I know many consultants who employees part time staff and work from home.


As a Fresher, consultants are asking me experience



No consultant will call you for a discussion expecting experience if you have conveyed that you are an entry level civil engineer. While speaking with you, they might have not felt that you are skilled enough. Maybe you failed to demonstrate. Now you may ask me, someone should give you an opportunity to work so that you learn. Yes, that may be partly true. However, in these challenging times, consultant wants to have juniors who are independent to some level. Unfortunately, the education is not allowing that. You should have covered the gaps in some way or the other. It is not just your problem alone. It’s also a problem with the system. You can think how you can cover these gaps than challenging the situation or loosing your heart. That’s the best thing you can do.


I have experience in civil and I want to start my own consulting business



Many ask me this. Especially people from smaller towns who are ambitious to start a civil engineering business in their home town. This is quite possible. Start with small scale works. You can even offer part time work to established consultants in your area and then slowly understand the local requirements if you are not well experienced. If you are already experienced in site engineering and want to master structural engineering of smaller to midrise buildings, that’s very easy. As mentioned in the previous sections you can do it with some determination and organized learning. You can start your civil consulting business with focus on other aspects first and parallelly learn structures and develop the ability to design.


I am not great in structures, Can I improve?

Where there is a will there is a way. It is your determination that is needed for success. If you have that, surely, you will learn. Together with that, if you have a mentor to guide you in your path, that would be the best. You can join my groups and connect me on LinkedIn if you like to get my daily tips. Go to the contact page in my website and fill the form to get in to my insider community.

Also note that, you can always start with smaller jobs in design, learn parallelly, improve your skills and then shift to better high-end design jobs. Take a look here to see the opportunities that you have for structural design engineers.


I know ETABS well, am not getting hired?

As I have mentioned many times, ETABS courses that you do need to be really explaining you the consulting practices of structural design. If not, it is not useful. There are many input parameters that you have to provide in most software in the right way to get the right output. Examples are that of column design – You should appreciate how to calculate effective length of column. It is not just about seeing the IS 456 tables and determining the effective length. You need to appreciate what a sway frame is and able to decide if the column is braced or unbraced. There are many more similar examples. So nut shell is, learn from a consultant who knows to teach well keeping a fresher’s learning gaps in mind.


What questions should I expect in job interviews?

It can be any thing related to analysis and design. Most companies ask about the fundamentals of analysis. The Bending moment diagrams, shear force diagrams and deflected profiles. So, you should be able to do this by drawing free body diagrams. The last thing I would recommend is to by heart these. But that is better than not knowing any thing as these questions are almost sure to be asked in good companies.

There can be questions from design, detailing and IS codes. There can be questions to identify critical sections for design for shear and punching in footings and so on.

You also have to research about the company and find what kind of work they are in to and expect similar questions and prepare for it. Example is that if the company is designing steel buildings, you can expect some questions from steel designs and connection designs.

It is almost sure that, you get questions from your CV. What you have written in CV matters. So, make use of this opportunity to influence your interviewer. I have a blog on this separately. Please read it here.

Many times, your interviewers project situation and his stock questions based on his experience etc may be asked in the interview. You have no control on these. So sometimes it is all your luck too. I would suggest to polish your skills and do the best you can and take the outcome it as it comes. There is always another day. It is important to give your best. You learn a lot by preparing this way.


SUMMARY


Structural engineering is simple if you approach it in the correct way. You should not be fancying your chances with it with some site experience. You should systematically learn, develop all the necessary skills and practice under an established consultant before you start doing own consulting.




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