How to Become a Structural Engineer

Careers - Posted on January 5, 2023

A career that focuses on helping to bring people’s fantasies to life, and ensure that these dreams are totally safe and won’t become nightmares down the line. The job of a Structural Engineer is one that comes with a lot of responsibility, demands meticulous attention to detail in all areas, and requires a willingness to learn and adapt, no matter what you’re doing. 

Understanding the intricacies of the role, what it entails, what it takes to become a Structural Engineer in the UK, etc. can put you in an excellent position should you want to enter this rewarding and competitive field.

What Does a Structural Engineer Do in the UK? 

The role of a Structural Engineer is to work closely with their clients (either an individual architect/builder or a wider company) to advise them on the functionality of their project. They will make informed recommendations regarding a variety of aspects, from safety, ensuring the structure can withstand the elements, to economic viability, and much more. 

Key aspects of what a Structural Engineer does in the UK include, but is not limited to: 

  • Producing clear and concise calculations/drawing documents. These documents will, when completed, be issued to the clients. 
  • Correspond with and advise clients on the best course of action 
  • Manage projects
  • Conduct 2D and 3D analysis of structures 
  • Visit site’s or organise a virtual site visit when needed and/or requested by the client  
  • Conduct conceptual scheme proposals. 

To achieve their core goals, a structural engineer will do the following: 

Calculate Loads

The load for a structure is the estimated weight that the building will be. Working this out will often be the very first thing a Structural Engineer does when brought onto a project. They will do this by considering its intended function, the environment and location of the site, the stresses it may be subjected to, the codes and standards it must be adhered to, and more. 

Analyse Structure 

Structural analysis is done to ascertain the impact the load will have on the structure itself, and looks to ensure it is capable of holding itself up. 

Design Work

Once the calculation and analysis has been done, the next step will involve the design work. A Structural Engineer can do this in one of two ways, either by hand or using a dedicated engineering software. At PorthouseDean, we have an in-house developed software designed just for this purpose. 

What is the Difference Between Civil and Structural Engineering?

The key difference between Civil and Structural Engineering stems from what they do. Where Civil Engineering will operate at a more granular level, paying attention to every aspect of the construction, a Structural Engineer will provide specialist knowledge on specific aspects of the process. 

A large amount of a Civil Engineer’s time is dedicated to solving problems and ensuring that the structure is designed to act effectively and appropriately to serve its initial purpose. 

Contrastingly, Structural Engineers focus their attention on utilising their expert knowledge and training to make sure that the structures they are instructed on are designed with safety in mind. This includes ensuring that the right materials are used for the structure, that the land the project is on is appropriate, and much more. 

Structural Engineering is, in essence, a specialist aspect of Civil Engineering. As a result, all Structural Engineers are Civil Engineers, but not all Civil Engineers are Structural Engineers. 

What Does it Take to Become a Structural Engineer? 

To become a Structural Engineer it takes dedication, hard work, and a willingness to learn and adapt. There are a variety of potential routes into a career in Structural Engineering, for the inexperienced you can get a qualification from a University or an apprenticeship. If you already have relevant experience, you may be able to apply for a job directly. 

Not many UK universities offer undergraduate degrees in Structural Engineering. In this situation, you are able to do a course in Civil Engineering and either receive appropriate experience suited to the industry, or you can then go on to attend a postgraduate course that specialises in Structural Engineering. 

The most common process for somebody to become a Structural Engineer is: 

  1. Undergraduate Degree: Attain a Bachelor’s degree in Civil or Structural Engineering. This is usually a three-year course, though can sometimes be four depending on where you study. 
  2. Postgraduate Degree or Graduate Scheme: To progress from a degree in Civil Engineering to a career in Structural Engineering, it may be required that you complete a specialised Master’s Degree. Alternatively, some Structural Engineering firms may offer a graduate scheme to help get young professionals into the industry. 
  3. Register to Officially Qualify: Structural Engineers in the UK are required to register with the Institution of Structural Engineers. If you are in education it is important that you research the process. Under a graduate scheme, it is likely that your employer will help guide you towards qualification. 

If looking to pursue this path, courses that include the opportunity to go out and gain important industry experience can give you a headstart towards becoming a Structural Engineer. Additionally, it is vital that you attend a university or college that has been accredited by professional engineering institutes from the Engineering Council. 

Additional skills that can benefit anybody wondering how to become a Structural Engineer include: 

  • Knowledge or experience in engineering, science, maths, technology, etc. 
  • An in-depth understanding of building and construction 
  • Design skills
  • Provable communication skills 
  • The ability to use main software packages to a good level
  • Attention to detail 
  • Analytical skills and thinking 
  • A willingness to broaden one’s horizons 

How Long Does it Take to Become a Structural Engineer?

The process to become a fully-qualified and chartered Structural Engineer will generally depend on the path you choose to take. The most conventional method will be three/four years of study, at which point you can be considered a structural engineer. However, it will then take at least four more years before you’re ready to become a chartered engineer. 

The path to become a structural engineer will vary depending on your route. For example, the path through undergraduate and postgraduate study can take more or less time to become chartered than an apprenticeship — but it may have its own benefits. 

No matter what path you opt for, a career in Structural Engineering is a highly rewarding one — so if you’re considering it, take the first step today.

Learn More About PorthouseDean Structural Engineering Careers 

If you’re sitting at home wondering how to become a Structural Engineer, it is important that you do your research. At PorthouseDean we are passionate about making sure that talented and deserving people, people who have a passion for engineering are able to get jobs in the industry. 

A career in Structural Engineering is one of the most rewarding and exciting jobs you can have. It allows you to forge your own path, and consistently rewards you for going above and beyond in pursuit of providing the best possible service for your clients. 

At PorthouseDean we have a role that can suit you, no matter what your experience level. For experienced engineers, please send your CV and covering letter to hr@porthousedean.atlassian.net with the subject “Experienced engineer”.  

We also run a dedicated graduate scheme for anybody who graduates with at least a 2:1 in either Civil or Structural Engineering. If this sounds like you, send your CV and a cover letter outlining why you want to apply to hr@porthousedean.atlassian.net with the subject “Graduate engineer”. 
For more information about what a career at PorthouseDean can do for you, find out more on our dedicated careers page.