Civil Engineering versus Construction Management: What You Need to Know

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If you are a student looking to enter the fields of either civil engineering or construction management, you should note there are several distinct differences between the two. While the fields do overlap in many respects, each career path requires its own type of education and training. It is important that students entering these fields understand the skillsets required for each career, and take care to plan their coursework accordingly.

Before considering a career path, you should have a clear definition of each field:

Civil Engineering

Civil engineering is the engineering branch concerned with infrastructure-related projects in the public and private sectors. This includes the development, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of these buildings and structures. As a civil engineer, you may be involved with bridges, roads, highways, dams, tunnels, airports, sewage systems, water treatment facilities, and other types of infrastructure projects. As for compensation, the median pay for a civil engineer in 2016 was $40.16 per hour, which translates to $83,540 per year.

The daily tasks of a civil engineer

While it is important to understand the types of structures produced by the civil engineering field, it is also wise to be aware of the daily tasks performed in the profession, since most of your time will be spent focusing on such areas. As a civil engineer, your responsibilities may include the following:

  • Studying the overall plans, various maps, survey reports, and other relevant information for the design and development of projects.
  • Being involved during the planning stages of a project; making sure the project is feasible by analyzing the cost, environmental hazards, zoning laws, and the risks involved.
  • Analyzing and preparing the necessary costs for transportation, equipment, materials, and employees; considering each of these factors when determining the economic feasibility of the potential project.
  • Gaining the necessary permits from state, local, and federal agencies to ensure the project adheres to required regulations.
  • Testing and analyzing the durability of building materials before using them.
  • Ensuring the soil and foundations are viable for the building project.
  • Continuing to manage the maintenance of the project, including any necessary repairs, remodeling, and replacement.

Construction Management

While the job of a civil engineer is to oversee the project during its various stages, including the preparation and development phases, those working in construction management assume the project’s onsite responsibilities.

Civil engineers consider the environmental and public health effects of any potential project. The construction management field, however, is focused solely on the onsite responsibilities involved with managing various infrastructure projects. When it comes to earnings, the median pay in 2016 for construction managers was $42.93 per hour, which translates to $89,300 per year.

The daily tasks of a construction manager

Unlike civil engineers, the daily routine of a construction manager has a more narrow focus, since they are generally tasked with managing the onsite work pertaining to each project. The typical daily responsibilities of construction managers are as follows:

  • Determining the budget, cost estimates, and possible timeframe of the project in question.
  • Being able to explain technical information and any required contracts to professionals involved with the project.
  • Working as a team with other engineers, architects, and construction specialists.
  • Keeping clients aware of budget issues and the progress of the overall project.
  • Solving any unforeseen problems, whether they concern construction delays, safety issues, or other possible areas.
  • Hiring subcontractors, as well as coordinating and scheduling their activities and tasks.
  • Ensuring the project adheres to building safety codes and compliance regulations, as well as any other necessary legal requirements.

Choosing between the fields

Even though civil engineering and construction management share various characteristics and responsibilities, each field requires a specific type of educational training. That means students must enroll in different types of classes.

Civil engineers, for instance, study various types of foundation and load-bearing structures, statistical analysis, and the other methods pertaining to different construction processes.

Students looking to enter the field of construction management, however, will focus on the hands-on tasks required for the actual building and construction sites. These classes train students to identify the different types of construction materials, project management responsibilities, construction planning, and other related areas.

While some of the classes and training may differ, pursuing a Master of Science in Civil Engineering can lead to a career in either field. When considering which of these career paths to take, students should determine a few key factors. They should know whether they want a job that encompasses the many planning, development, and maintenance stages of various infrastructure projects involved with civil engineering, or the more focused and hands-on responsibilities of a construction manager.

Learn More

Civil engineers play a crucial role in engineering the structural solutions of tomorrow and plan, design, construct, and operate the infrastructure essential to our modern lives. As a student in the online Master of Science in Civil Engineering program, you can enhance your quantitative decision-making skills and learn how to justify managerial decisions with data. You will also explore the capabilities of modern management technologies and discover how to successfully leverage these tools to maximize efficiencies in your projects and on your teams.


Recommended Readings:

Smart Tools for Construction Project Managers

Estimating Construction Costs of Heavy Projects

Civil Engineer’s Role in Demolishing Buildings