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Civil Engineer

Mataaro Metarahi

Alternative titles for this job

Civil engineers design, plan, organise and oversee the building of structures such as dams, bridges, gas and water supply systems, sewerage systems and roads.


Graduate civil engineers usually earn

$45K-$75K per year

Senior civil engineers who work as team leaders or managers usually earn

$100K-$120K per year

Source: Robert Walters Global Salary Survey, 2015

Job opportunities

Chances of getting a job as a civil engineer are good due to a shortage of workers.


Pay for civil engineers varies depending on skills and experience.

  • Graduate civil engineers usually start on about $45,000 to $75,000 a year.
  • Mid-level civil engineers can earn between $75,000 and $95,000.
  • Senior civil engineers who work as team leaders or managers can earn from $100,000 to $120,000.
  • Principal civil engineers responsible for overseeing engineering projects can earn between $130,000 and $160,000. 

Depending on their experience and ability, civil engineers may also get bonuses and other benefits such as a company car.

Source: Robert Walters Global Salary Survey, 2015. 

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)

What you will do

Civil engineers may do some or all of the following:

  • consult with clients, government officials and other professionals on the requirements of each project
  • evaluate the suitability of proposed construction and development sites
  • plan and design structures such as roads, drainage systems, buildings, dams or wharves
  • work out whether structures will be able to withstand the loads that will be placed on them by people, weather and other natural forces
  • prepare reports, working drawings and specifications
  • prepare cost estimates and evaluate the cost efficiency of projects
  • assess environmental impacts of proposed developments
  • get plans approved by relevant authorities and obtain building permits
  • supervise construction to ensure structures are built correctly
  • ensure assets such as water plants and roading are efficiently managed.

Skills and knowledge

Civil engineers need to have knowledge of:

  • civil engineering and surveying methods
  • relevant legislation such as the Resource Management Act, the New Zealand Building Code, by-laws and town planning regulations
  • building materials, and how they work.

Working conditions

Civil engineers:

  • usually work regular business hours, but may need to work evenings and weekends or be on call
  • work in offices and in fields at locations such as construction sites.

What's the job really like?

Eva Hogenhout

Eva Hogenhout

Structural Engineering Project Director

A love of maths and sciences led to engineering

Eva Hogenhout enjoyed chemistry, maths and physics at high school, so a degree in engineering seemed like the obvious choice for her.

"When it came to university I just chose things that I enjoyed all the way through. That led to doing engineering studies at the University of Canterbury. At the start of my degree I said I wouldn't do structural engineering, but that's where I ended up. It was just a matter of keeping my options open – structural is a broad area so it had the variety that I liked."

One of few women engineering graduates

As one of only a few female engineering graduates in her year, Eva found that she had lots of options open to her once she graduated as a structural engineer. "I think the numbers have improved for females since then, but I did find that I had more positions being offered to me than perhaps some of the males in my course did."

Since graduating, Eva has risen quickly to the role of project director, which has given her the opportunity to work on some unique projects.

"I worked on the new Supreme Court and old High Court building refurbishment in Wellington, and I went to the opening by Prince William. The new Supreme Court was being constructed using modern materials practices, but the old High Court building is an historic building. That meant we had to strengthen the building using solutions that respected historic construction practices.

"It was a pretty awesome project to be involved with – one of those 'once-in-a-lifetime' scenarios."

Entry requirements

There are two pathways to becoming a professional civil engineer. The most common way is to complete a four-year Bachelor of Engineering with Honours (BE Hons) degree. 

You can also complete a three-year Bachelor of Engineering Technology (BEngTech) degree to become an engineering technologist. 

Secondary education

A tertiary entrance qualification (NCEA Level 3) is required to enter further training. You will need at least 14 NCEA Level 3 credits in both calculus and physics. Other useful subjects include English, chemistry and technology subjects such as design and visual communications.

Entry into some four-year Bachelor of Engineering programmes is extremely competitive (some institutions offer entry into the second year based on performance in an open first year). 

Personal requirements

Civil engineers need to be:

  • skilled at analysing and interpreting information
  • practical and logical, with good problem-solving skills
  • safety-conscious
  • good at planning and organising
  • creative and innovative, with good design skills
  • able to work well under pressure
  • able to work independently and in a team.

It’s a really rewarding career for people who enjoy problem-solving, and who enjoy working with people. I think those two things are important if you’re interested in a career in engineering.

Photo: Sean Gledhill

Sean Gledhill

Senior Structural Engineer

Useful experience

Useful experience for civil engineers includes:

  • work in building, construction, roading or agriculture
  • environmental, draughting or surveying work
  • practical work such as site investigations or geotechnical testing.

Physical requirements

Civil engineers need to have a reasonable level of physical fitness, as they may work on-site and at remote locations, particularly those working as site/project engineers.

Structural engineers usually spend most of their time working in an office environment.


BE (Hons) graduates who meet set requirements (usually around five or six years' work experience) may apply to the Engineering New Zealand to gain registration as a Chartered Professional Engineer (CPEng).

Engineering technologists who meet set requirements may apply to Engineering New Zealand to be registered as an engineering technology practitioner (ETPract).


Find out more about training

Association of Consulting Engineers of NZ (ACENZ)
(04) 472 1202 - service@acenz.org.nz - www.acenz.org.nz
Engineering New Zealand
(04) 473 9444 - hello@engineeringnz.org - www.engineeringnz.org
0800 437 486 - www.connexis.org.nz
Engineering New Zealand
(04) 473 9444 - hello@engineeringnz.org - www.engineeringnz.org
New Zealand Institute of Highway Technology (NZIHT)
(06) 759 7065 - admin@nziht.co.nz - www.nziht.co.nz/
Check out related courses

What are the chances of getting a job?

Shortage of civil engineers

There is growing demand for civil engineers. Not enough people training in the role, falling worker numbers and increasing demand for their services has created a shortage of people in the role. As a result, the following jobs appear on Immigration New Zealand's long-term skill shortage list:

  • Civil engineer
  • Environmental engineer
  • Geotechnical engineer
  • Structural engineer.

This means the Government is actively encouraging people skilled in those jobs from overseas to work in New Zealand.

Civil engineers needed for construction and infrastructure growth

Civil engineer and structural engineer also appear on Immigration New Zealand's construction and infrastructure skill shortage list. This means the Government is actively encouraging skilled civil and structural engineers from overseas to work in New Zealand.

Range of factors contribute to demand for civil engineers

Civil engineers are in high demand for a variety of reasons, including:

  • the Canterbury earthquakes, which damaged many structures such as roads, bridges and buildings
  • increased government investment in infrastructure such as roads, water collection, waste water management and public buildings
  • new environmental standards, which mean many local authorities have to upgrade their water infrastructure
  • the need to meet increasing demand for electricity with new power-generating equipment and stations.

Types of employers varied

Civil engineers may work for:

  • private engineering consultancies
  • regional and local government authorities
  • government agencies, such as the Land Transport Authority
  • construction firms and property developers
  • infrastructure and utility companies, such as railway and electricity companies.


  • Immigration New Zealand, 'Construction and Infrastructure Skill Shortage List', 17 December 2018, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
  • Immigration New Zealand, 'Long Term Skill Shortage List', 19 February 2018, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
  • Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ) website, accessed June 2016, (www.ipenz.org.nz).
  • Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
  • Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, 'Engineering Professionals Occupation Outlook', 2016, (www.mbie.govt.nz).
  • Rashbrooke, M, writer/researcher, futureintech, Careers New Zealand interview, June 2016. 

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

Progression and specialisations

Civil engineers may become self-employed, work as contractors, or focus on work such as:

  • project management
  • construction management
  • planning
  • estimation
  • health and safety.
Some civil engineers may move into work as a quantity surveyor, although a degree in construction management is a more common route to this role. Quantity surveyors manage construction project finances. They calculate a budget based on their clients' requirements, and prepare detailed estimates to ensure the budget is sufficient for each stage of construction as the project develops.

Civil engineers are also likely to specialise in an area of civil engineering such as:

Coastal Engineer
Coastal engineers are involved in protection and erosion work along coasts and rivers. They design coastal structures such as sea walls, marinas and ports, and assess their environmental effects.
Environmental Engineer
Environmental engineers assess the impact of engineering projects on water, soil, air and noise levels, and advise and design ways to minimise this impact. They also plan and design systems to treat and remove waste, such as waste water systems.
Fire Protection Engineer
Fire protection engineers advise people on how to apply fire safety features to buildings so that they meet the New Zealand Building Code. They also design building facilities for life safety and property protection in the event of a fire.
Geotechnical Engineer
Geotechnical engineers design the foundations of large structures, such as dams, tunnels, retaining walls or jetties, and assess how the soil and rock they are built on may affect them.
Quantity Surveyor
Quantity surveyors manage construction project finances. They calculate a budget based on their clients' requirements, and prepare detailed estimates to ensure the budget is sufficient for each stage of construction as the project develops.
Structural Engineer
Structural engineers analyse, design and manage the construction of a range of load-bearing structures such as houses, commercial buildings, sports stadiums, and bridges.
Transport Engineer
Transport engineers design, plan and supervise the building and repair of infrastructure such as roads, pavements, railways and tunnels. They may also research driver behaviour and transport safety and efficiency.
Water Resources Engineer
Water resources engineers design, organise and supervise the building and repair of structures such as dams, canals and irrigation systems. They also analyse natural water flow systems such as streams, rivers and lakes, and work on urban drainage, flood and stormwater management projects.
Joe Wheeler walking across a wind farm building site

Civil engineer Joe Wheeler checking that a new wind farm meets all building requirements

Last updated 9 July 2019