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Road-mapping your career as a construction engineer

By Ira Braverman posted 07-12-2021 05:13 PM


Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

– from “The Road Not Taken,” by Robert Frost, recited by President John F. Kennedy at his inauguration, January 1961

It starts on that day, the day every young civil engineer aspiring to the wonderful world of construction can see ahead: Your professional education starts the day you graduate.

Fifty years ago, when I was starting out as a young engineer in New York City, the owner of a construction company explained that it takes 10 years for someone to learn their craft after they graduate. So the first question I ask every mentee – student or new graduate – is the one I was asked 50 years ago, namely, “Where do you want to be in 10 years?” 

Back then, when I answered “I would like to be a contractor,” a senior man in the company sat me down and gave me the road map for my career path, including what I had to learn, where I could continue my education, the types of projects and contractors to work with, etc.

Now any student or graduate ASCE member can develop their own road map by availing themselves of my 50 years of experience in both U.S. and international construction. I am at your service to help you plot your own path toward becoming a master builder.

In short, I see three levels of professional development that a construction engineer must go through:

  1. Project engineer – Assist the project superintendent and project manager in managing and controlling all plans, RFIs, submittals, and other documents. It is essential that the project engineer learns and knows these plans – structural, architectural, mechanical, plumbing, and electrical – inside and out. Civil engineers are often afraid to get into the MEP drawings and specifications … Yes, they are uncharted territory, but it is vital that the project engineer learn these because they are an integral part of the project. 
  2. As an adjunct, the project engineer should make sure he or she knows the work on the project. To do this, you should walk the project in the morning to see how the work will be laid out for the day, and again after everyone has gone home, to see what was accomplished.
  3. Talk to the older craftsmen about how they do their work. They are always happy to share their experience and the details of their craft with the younger guys.
  4. Start studying for the Professional Licensing examination – the EIT (Engineer in Training) exam can be taken as soon as you get out of school. California requires four years’ experience before you can take the professional part of the exam. ASCE has a review course if you want to look into it. This license is a perfect credential to reach the top of our profession. You may also consider going for a master’s degree in construction management – a useful credential especially if you want to teach in your old age. Several California schools offer this, and many times the employer pays all or part of the tuition.
  5. Sign up to become a licensed contractor quality control manager. This will give you a portal to work for any contractor, anywhere in the world, on projects for the USACE, including South America. The cost of this online course is $250, but if you’d like, you can contact the local office of the USACE in Los Angeles and they may be holding a free course during the year. 

Ira Braverman PE (California), SE (Israel), F.ASCE - Veteran Construction Engineer with 50 years of experience in the U.S. and International Construction Industry. Project participation in a wide range of Class A projects for the U.S. and Israel military, power plants, hospitals, schools, religious institutions and other governmental facilities in both the U.S., Israel and elsewhere. An ASCE member since 1982 and an ASCE fellow since 2015. Involved as a mentor for students and young graduates since 2015 and continue to be pleased to share my extensive experience with any mentee that would like to learn about the road to becoming a master builder as their career goal.


1 comment

10-11-2021 08:22 PM

It is good to see a construction engineer for a change. I think that many students are pushed toward design while in school.. I enjoyed my career in construction but one hurdle for the young engineer is what size company to work. I have worked for all three- large EPC contractors, regional contractors, and smaller companies.

The large contractors  usually have interesting job sites around the world and have good pay and benefits. However and especially true if you are a specialist, you may report to someone who does not understand your work.

Regional contractors may have the best of both worlds- especially if they have more than one specialty. For example, one of my former employers had general petrochemical construction, large vessel and module fabrication, highways and related structures, material hauling, instrumentation, and cranes and rigging, and over dimensional transport. Being regional usually keeps the travel reasonable.

The small companies are usually family owned businesses and you may at times be on the outside. A good thing is that you may wear many hats and gain much good experience.