Civil Engineering Technicians: Plenty of Job Opportunities & Demand
Across the Midwest and beyond, Civil Engineering Technicians are in high demand and there aren’t enough people to fill available career opportunities. With nearly 20 years as an instructor and over 10 in the industry, Renee White, Civil Engineering Technology (CET) Instructor and Group Leader for Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) knows the industry well and is floored by the demand.
“During the 2016-2017 school year, the University of Iowa and Iowa State combined graduated 200 civil engineers,” she shares. “That same year, just 17 techs graduated from DMACC and Hawkeye Community College, which creates an imbalance in the profession because techs serve a crucial role.”
Working with a project manager and engineer, technicians utilize a variety of software programs to facilitate designs and create construction documents. At Snyder & Associates, the breadth of projects and designs our civil engineering technicians assist with spans streets and highways, multimodal accommodations, stormwater management, drinking water, parks, streetscapes, site development, bridges, and more.
Due to the challenging software demand, one of Snyder & Associates’ co-founders Steve Rowe, advocated having two technicians to assist each engineer. Today, Snyder & Associates Engineering Technician Katie Wade reports a minimum ratio of one tech for every civil engineer on a project team. However, the number of techs assisting an engineer depends largely on the nature and scale of each project. For Highway 30, a large, seven-mile bypass around the cities of Mt. Vernon and Lisbon in Iowa, Wade says six techs are assisting the project manager. On the other hand, Goodman Community Center, a small land development project, consisting of survey and permitting services involves just one or two civil engineering technicians.
“On every project, techs are a big part of the picture,” explains Wade. “The projects we work on and the design software we use are advancing at a phenomenal rate. As Technicians, we keep up with software and handle a good share of the design so engineers can focus on leading the project.”
Steady growth at Snyder & Associates has prompted the firm to search nationally for design technicians. With nearly a 100 percent placement rate, students graduating from the DMACC program have an endless array of opportunities to choose from.
“I’ve posted more jobs this year than I ever have. It’s almost a daily thing. There’s a huge need and there currently aren’t enough people to meet the workforce demand,” says White.
So what’s causing such a shortage of civil engineering technicians? For Wade and her colleagues, it all comes down to a lack of awareness and connections to the industry.
“Many people have it in their minds that they need a four-year degree to be successful, but that’s not necessarily the case,” states Wade. “Engineering technicians, surveyors, and other skilled trades pay well and have great growth potential. Unfortunately, I don’t think people explore those opportunities.”
Reflecting on her experience at career fairs and visiting classrooms to speak with young adults about DMACC’s CET program, White says people become techs because they know somebody in the field. As a result, DMACC instructors are networking with Wade and others in the industry to help raise awareness of civil engineering careers. As a strong engineering advocate and champion of career outreach activities, Wade strives to create connections with students and inspire them to explore engineering as a career. With over 25 years of experience, she’s passionate about her work as a Design Technician because it impacts the world around her in so many ways.
“I think the work we do is extremely rewarding and by sharing information about what we do, I hope others might want to do the same because the demand is so high,” she says.
Insights from Professional Civil Engineering Technicians
So what makes civil engineering technology such an exciting career? Here’s what members of our design team have to say:
“Every project we get to work on is completely unique in some way, and they’re all extremely interesting. I’ve worked on everything from trails and roads to bridges. I’m particularly proud of my involvement in the First Avenue Grade Separation project in Iowa City, I helped lay everything out in MicroStation and problem solve to ensure we met railroad requirements while improving traffic safety. It was a lot of fun.” – Heather Fitz, Transportation Engineering Technician & DMACC CET Graduate, 19 years of experience
“I get to learn new software and skills, be creative, and work with great people to improve communities. It’s rewarding to see a project I helped design in real life. Grand Avenue Bridge, for example, was very challenging and interesting to work on. It was a new bridge, but we kept some of the original components. It involved a lot of pieces that we had to connect, and required a lot of teamwork. I like being able to tell my granddaughter I was part of the project team as we’re driving over it.” – Subhija Rahmanovic, Structural Engineering Technician, 19 years of experience
“I started out working in survey and kind of fell into my career as an Engineering Technician, which is something I’ve really enjoyed. I work on a lot of sanitary sewer, water main, wastewater treatment, and storm sewer projects. I’ve also assisted with stream restoration projects to reduce erosion and flooding. The different types of projects we work on and the challenges we overcome is pretty rewarding. You don’t need a four-year degree to be successful and have a good paying job with benefits.” – Tim Roberts, Environmental Engineering Technician, 14 years of experience
“It’s such a diverse career and the skills you develop can take you anywhere. On the job, there’s always something to learn and opportunities for growth, which keeps it interesting. For example, since coming to Snyder & Associates, I’ve been able to further develop my skills as a Design Technician to include 3D modeling, which is really fun. If you’re thinking about pursuing a career as a Design Technician—I say, go for it!” – Jessica Sundquist, Transportation Engineering Technician, 11 years of experience
How to Get Started as a Civil Engineering Technician
According to our tenured team of Design Technicians, an interest in problem solving with a knack for attention to detail are important skills for career success. But, as with any career, it’s also important to be eager and willing to learn.
“How far you go in your career results from how much you’re willing to put into it,” states Sundquist.
To get started, Sundquist, Wade, and their colleagues encourage students to job shadow, explore the career, and learn about all it has to offer. Civil engineering has many areas of emphasis and specialty, so internships and co-ops can help determine the student’s focus area.
“Ask a lot of questions and be open to the possibilities. A career as a Civil Engineering Technician is one where you get to be part of a greater solution. It’s fun, exciting, and can take a lot of different avenues, depending on what you’re passionate about,” concludes Wade.