How To Become an Environmental Engineer

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 19 July 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Environmental engineers play an important role in developing scientific solutions to environmental problems. These professionals combine the disciplines of engineering, biology and chemistry to address issues related to climate change and sustainability. If you're considering a career as an environmental engineer, it may help to consider the requirements for securing such a role. In this article, we outline the most common pathway for becoming an environmental engineer, the skills you'll need to perform this role and what you can expect from a career in this field.

Related: How To Become an Engineer in 5 Steps

What does an environmental engineer do?

Environmental engineers are primarily responsible for developing and implementing strategies that help the reduction of waste, pollution and other debris that might be a by-product of industrial operations. Professionals in this sector are also responsible for ensuring that companies follow government safety and environmental regulations on projects where these are particularly important. When learning how to become an environmental engineer, it's important to consider the day-to-day duties of this role:

  • Applying engineering principles to protect the environment

  • Developing methods and technological systems to reduce pollution and waste

  • Performing environmental remediation to improve conditions of employees

  • Seeking advice from relevant institutions to manage industrial projects

  • Creating environmental reports

  • Presenting the findings to clients including health and safety plans

  • Taking samples of air, water and soil for research purposes

  • Seeking necessary permits and following standard procedures on projects

  • Designing equipment and processes for waste management and mitigating harmful effects

  • Supervising the daily operation of construction schemes

  • Conducting studies to find solutions for key problems

  • Detecting pollutants and identifying their sources

  • Conducting safety and quality assessments for existing equipment

  • Carrying out inspections to ensure that facilities follow environmental regulations

  • Investigating complaints about noncompliance

  • Collaborating with government agencies to assist in the development of new regulations

How to become an environmental engineer

To enhance your chances of securing a job as an environmental engineer, you can pursue relevant educational opportunities and gain applicable experience. While it's not necessary to obtain a subject-specific degree for this job, higher education is usually a requirement and certification is necessary. Here are some steps that you can take to become an environmental engineer:

1. Complete school

The minimum requirements for a degree are usually four or more General Certificates of Secondary Education (GCSEs) grades A-C (9-4) as well as two A-levels or equivalent. Level 3 diplomas include a diploma, business and technology counsel (BTEC) certificate in construction or civil engineering or an apprenticeship in civil engineering. At level 4 or above, individuals can study higher education options including a higher national certificate (HNC), higher national diploma (HND) or degree in subjects related to the field including construction and civil engineering.

Related: GSCE Equivalent Qualifications

2. Earn a degree

Most environmental engineering positions require candidates to possess an undergraduate degree. While this degree doesn't have to be specific to the field, having a degree in a related field may increase your chances of securing a role. Civil and chemical engineering degrees can also help candidates develop experience with environmental projects. Although it's not compulsory, some environmental engineers earn a master's degree in a specific area, which can be useful to those who want to pursue a career focused on research or teaching. There are also university courses that incorporate both bachelor's and master's degrees.

Related: What Can You Do With a Geology Degree?

3. Get certified

Professionals in the environmental engineering sector who provide services to clients typically need to be certified by a regulatory body. This involves having the required education and experience that this body demands, and meeting their criteria so that you may practise in their jurisdiction. Continuous professional development is an important aspect in this field, as environmental engineers typically must stay up to date with technology, industry advances and regulations in a dynamic business environment.

4. Gain experience

While studying, many candidates choose to pursue internships in order to gain practical experience. Most UK universities with engineering courses assist students in finding internships or part-time jobs. Specific work experience is a great way to demonstrate your abilities in the field, but gaining any environmental experience can prove valuable to employers. This can include volunteering with charities or doing non-profit work. It's worth approaching businesses that specialise in environmental issues to enquire whether they have opportunities that you can participate in.

5. Apply to open roles in the field

With a requisite level of experience, certification and education, you may be eligible to apply for open environmental engineering roles at firms looking for qualified candidates. Try to seek entry-level positions in which you can gain a foundation of professional experience and continue to develop your skills. You can find roles by speaking with representatives from specific companies or by searching online job boards for listings that fit your professional needs.

Environmental engineer skills and abilities

There are many hard and soft skills that environmental engineers need to acquire and demonstrate to potential employers. Most employers look at the skills section of a CV carefully to evaluate your candidacy. Possessing the right set of skills and knowing how to use them helps you stand out from other candidates during the application process. The skills you need to succeed as an environmental engineer include the following:

Communication

Environmental engineers need to have strong communication skills. On the job, environmental engineers often must present ideas and findings to stakeholders, so it's important to know how to communicate in both oral and written formats appropriately. This also entails listening to ideas from team members.

Teamwork

Environmental engineers frequently need to coordinate with other people, so try to develop a team-oriented mindset. You may work with a range of different professionals including lawyers, scientists, technicians and urban planners. This means being flexible in your approach so you can collaborate well with different people in pursuit of a common goal.

Problem-solving

Professionals seeking a career in environmental engineering need to demonstrate strong problem-solving skills. A large part of the job is the ability to assess different situations, identify problems and work towards solutions. Therefore, employers expect you to show that you can resolve problems. For instance, you might have to work around issues that arise due to new legislation being passed by the government. The need to problem-solve and think critically can be exciting and rewarding, but it's important to be able to handle this challenge.

Related: Problem-Solving Skills: Definition and Examples

Attention to detail

This field requires a high degree of precision, so having a keen eye for detail is essential. Environmental engineers are continuously drafting plans and accuracy is crucial for doing the job well. For your best chance at securing a role, it's important to be thorough, consider all factors involved in a project and ensure you don't overlook any details.

Interest in professional development

Environmental engineering is a field that's constantly evolving, so professionals need to keep themselves updated with the latest developments and trends in the industry. Environmental engineers need to be able to understand new concepts and learn about new technologies. It's highly valued if you can demonstrate a desire to learn even while on the job. In turn, the knowledge you obtain through professional development opportunities could lead to further career advancement.

Leadership

Professionals in engineering often must perform in leadership and management roles and therefore, you need to be prepared for to work in such a capacity. Environmental engineers have to develop plans that a team will implement according to instructions. Management and leadership roles also require individuals to recognise the strengths of each team member and know how to motivate them.

Related: Engineering Skills: Definition and Examples

Work environment and salary of environmental engineers

Environmental engineers can work in several capacities, including as a part of local or global teams. For example, local projects may include designing a wastewater system for a town whereas global projects might entail combating pollution and climate change on a much larger scale. Environmental engineers can also choose to work in a range of specialised areas, such as the water supply and treatment space where engineers monitor region-specific solutions for safe water distribution among communities. Comparatively, professionals can specialise in wastewater treatment, which involves designing processes for water disinfection to reuse wastewater.

The industries that environmental engineers choose to work in most commonly include agriculture, government, industry and consulting. The job involves working in a variety of environments depending on task management. Environmental engineers need to work in offices to plan projects and write reports, but they also have to travel to meet clients and undertake on-site inspections. The average salary for new environmental engineers is between £29,365 per year.

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