What is a Structural Engineer? (Qualifications and Salaries)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 November 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.

A structural engineer drafts designs for physical infrastructures, such as buildings, bridges or dams to ensure they're constructed in the safest way possible. The qualifications and risks associated with this position can help to increase your earning potential as you progress in your career. Understanding the duties of the role and the exact qualifications that provide access to the industry can help you decide if you wish to commit to the career. In this article, we define a structural engineer's qualifications and training before discussing your day-to-day duties and potential salary.

What are a structural engineer's qualifications and training?

One of the most effective ways to enter the profession is to pursue structural engineer qualifications. You can acquire these in a number of ways, including university degrees and specific training schemes. Not only do they provide a chance to develop valuable technical skills that assist you in working in the industry, but they also demonstrate your expertise and dedication to employers. The work that engineers do often relates to the safety of others, so companies only recruit skilled engineers. Examples of academic and technical programmes you can enrol on include:

Bachelor's degree

To become a structural engineer, you could choose to acquire either a Bachelor of Engineering or an undergraduate degree in a related field, such as mathematics. If you take the latter route, you can convert your specialism to engineering through a master's programme. Because of the high salary of the role, employers often consider a full bachelor's degree to be a minimum requirement for job applications. You can also begin to develop a specialism by taking optional modules covering varying fields within engineering, such as civil or systems engineering.

Many universities offer engineering-related degree programmes. Bachelor's degrees typically teach you the fundamental skills involved in engineering, before specialising in civil, mechanical or electrical engineering during your second year. The Open University offers a similar programme which you may find useful if you're changing industries mid-career. You can enrol in this course with only a working knowledge of related subjects, whereas many degrees list A-Levels as a prerequisite.

Professional certifications

You may also consider earning relevant professional certifications to broaden your knowledge of more niche structural engineering topics. You can enrol on these programmes to further develop your professional specialism and to progress in your career to a higher pay scale. You might also stand out against rival job applicants by proving you're willing to work hard to advance within the field. Professional industry bodies typically regulate these courses rather than the government.

You might consider enrolling on the Level 3 Advanced Technical Certificate course regulated by City & Guilds. During your studies, you learn about various aspects of the engineering industry, such as the design process and technological innovation. You undertake 360 hours of supervised study to build up a more thorough knowledge of the industry.

Vocational training

Another option is to apply to vocational training schemes offered by employers, such as internships or apprenticeships. Under the guidance of an experienced mentor, you complete a mixture of practical experience and written coursework to earn a license to practise independently. You can also start to establish a network of useful professional contacts who you can ask for a formal reference in the future. If you're an established professional, you can undertake vocational training to learn to use new technologies, such as improved design software. You might then find it easier to adapt as employers' expectations alter.

Related: Vocational Training: Definitions and Examples

What does a structural engineer do?

As a structural engineer, you're responsible for ensuring structures can withstand environmental pressures and regular use by individuals. Businesses and local governments might employ you to advise them on fixing existing structures to prevent erosion leading to future fatalities. Depending on your location and expertise, you might also design buildings to withstand natural disasters, such as earthquakes or tsunamis. Developing specialist subject knowledge via professional courses can expand your potential responsibilities and is likely to increase your earning potential.

Common duties for structural engineers include:

  • drafting design plans in a way that combines structural safety with good aesthetics

  • experimenting with different materials, such as concrete and timber, to understand which best suit the project's specifications

  • conducting risk assessments to see which designs can best withstand outside pressures, such as day-to-day use and extreme weather

  • undertaking cost-benefit analyses, to judge the affordability of different design plans

  • overseeing a team of junior engineers and potentially providing training

  • securing construction permits from the relevant regulatory authority

  • using computer-based design technologies to test your plans

Related: Tips for Writing Your Engineering Personal Statement

Salary information

The average salary earned by a structural engineer is £38,148 per year. This figure represents the average for the entire industry. You can boost your own earning potential by completing the qualifications and practical training mentioned above.

Your salary can vary according to other professional variables, including the scope of your responsibilities. If you're helping to proof a high-rise building against earthquakes, you might receive a higher salary to reflect the risks and technical knowledge you rely on to be successful. Conversely, when planning a row of houses, your salary may be lower than average to reflect the comparatively straightforward nature of the task.

What careers can you pursue as a structural engineer?

Depending on your prior experience and personal interests, you can apply for many jobs relevant to a career in structural engineering. In each position, your duties can differ depending on your skills, subject knowledge and level of seniority. The following list details five careers you can pursue as a structural engineer:

1. Engineer

National average salary: £33,843 per year

Primary duties: Engineers are responsible for communicating design specifications between senior engineers and construction experts. An experienced professional may initially mentor them. They undertake visits to construction sites, assessing the work carried out there before reporting their findings to management via written reports. They may also help senior colleagues to outline a structure, following their specifications to conceive a workable solution to design problems.

Related: How To Become an Engineer in 5 Steps

2. Civil engineer

National average salary: £36,700 per year

Primary duties: Civil engineers assist in the planning and creation of complex public infrastructures, such as new roads, airports and tunnels. They also design or repair structures to ensure they meet certain legal requirements, like public safety and environmental stipulations. They might assess the geological foundations of a site before construction proceeds, to reduce the risk of a structure collapsing in the future.

Related: What Is Civil Engineering? Definition and Types

3. Project engineer

National average salary: £38,539 per year

Primary duties: Project engineers might oversee every aspect of the structural design process, such as budgeting, negotiating with clients and delegating duties. They analyse clients' design preferences, like architectural styles or materials. In this situation, project engineers may offer solutions that balance these desires with the realities of maintaining a building's structural integrity. After reaching a compromise, they negotiate a budget suitable for these specifications.

Related: How To Become a Project Manager

4. System engineer

National average salary: £42,026 per year

Primary duties: System engineers use digital software to simulate design ideas, assessing their durability against external pressures, such as weather, public use or earthquakes. They can enter data into a simulation, before altering variables to mimic different conditions. System engineers may also help firms to develop new digital technologies, improving software physics to make simulations more representative of reality.

5. Bridge engineer

National average salary: £43,120 per year

Primary duties: Bridge engineers specialise in designing bridges and related structures, such as pedestrian subways and culverts. They're responsible for ensuring such structures are sufficiently durable to endure regular public use over a long time period. During the construction process, they can make on-site visits to ensure the structure is in line with design specifications. They may also assess problems with existing bridges before deciding whether to recommend repairing or replacing structures. The specialist nature of the role and the qualifications it requires lead to a higher salary.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

Explore more articles