Geotechnical Engineers investigate plans for civil engineering developments such as bridges, tunnels, roads and dams, as well as housing projects. They carefully study ground conditions such as rocks and soil, ensuring their suitability for the project. They also advise on the safety of landfill sites, and tackle the environmental issues connected with contaminated land.
Also known as
- Engineering Geologist
- Geotechnical Consultant
- Geo-environmental Consultant
As a Geotechnical Engineer, you will make sure that construction projects are taking place on land that is safe for the planned construction
Your project will usually begin with some research. You will be looking at local ground conditions by studying:
- geological maps and surveys
- published work
- aerial photographs
- satellite images
- laser produced images
Geotechnical Engineers need to consider conditions such as soil, rock and groundwater.
You will be ensuring that the surrounding rocks and soil will provide a safe and suitable base for the engineered structure (such as a tunnel, bridge or dam) or construction site such as a housing estate. As a Geotechnical Engineer, you will also be looking for signs of previous industry, contamination or digging that could affect the planned development.
This means investigating factors such as bedrock strength and evidence of potential landslips and mudslides.
Environmental issues are also very important to Geotechnical Engineers. For example, Geotechnical Engineers must consider and predict the effects of the work on the water below the ground and the risk of reducing the supply of water to local towns, villages and farms.
After the initial research, you will begin a detailed investigation of the site. Computer software is used to model the rock layers and to simulate how the rock will react to the engineering work.
You could also be ensuring that you keep to a budget.
Following these investigations, Geotechnical Engineers write and present reports of their findings, including the recommendations for solving any problems you have identified. Then, you will discuss the report with other members of the team, such as Civil and Structural Engineers, Soil Scientists and Project Leaders. Two-way communication between the Geotechnical Engineers and other Scientists and Engineers is very important.
Apart from their involvement in civil engineering and the building industry, Geotechnical Engineers help local authorities to choose safe landfill sites, ensuring the suitability of surrounding soils and rocks (fluid seeping from landfill can pollute nearby rivers and other water sources).
Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.
Personal Qualities and Skills
To become a Geotechnical Engineer, you'll need:
- an investigative mind and problem-solving skills
- a thorough and methodical approach to research
- the ability to explain your findings and give advice clearly and concisely, including in written reports
- good teamwork skills to work alongside other Geologists and Engineers
- computer skills to model ground conditions, analyse sample results and produce reports
- strong maths skills
- willingness to work outside in all types of weather, and to travel to site investigations, including in other countries
Good colour vision is very important in most areas of geology because of the need to describe and recognise the subtle colour characteristics of rocks and minerals, and to read geological maps, which depend on colour to indicate different rock types.
Pay and Opportunities
The pay rates given below are approximate:
- Starting: £29,500 - £33,500
- With experience: £36,000 - £43,000
- Senior Geotechnical Engineers earn £45,000
Hours of work
Geotechnical Engineers usually work around 35-40 hours, Monday to Friday. It may be necessary to spend time away from home during construction projects. Overtime is commonly unpaid.
Where could I work?
Employers are construction and civil engineering companies. Some Geotechnical Engineers work for independent consultancies.
Opportunities for Geotechnical Engineers occur in towns and cities throughout the UK. Most geologists are office-based but have opportunities to travel for fieldwork, meetings and conferences.
There are opportunities to work in other countries, either for UK-based companies or for overseas employers.
Geotechnical Engineers can become self-employed consultants, for example, giving advice to civil engineering and construction companies.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Vacancies are advertised on the Geological Society website, in science magazines such as New Scientist (which also posts jobs on its website), on specialist job boards for the oil, gas and coal industries such as OilCareers.com, oilandgaspeople.com and Earthworks-Jobs.com, academic recruitment sites and in national newspapers.
GreenJobs is a job board aimed at people interested in green careers:
Entry Routes and Training
Most employers will expect you to have a relevant degree in order to enter this career.
Having at least one A level in a relevant subject such as geography, science or computer science will help you get onto a relevant degree course. You may be able to start working as a Geological Technician and work your way up to more a more senior role
Degrees that you could take include:
- engineering geology
- earth science
The Geological Society accredits a number of first degree courses. Accreditation demonstrates that the university department's teaching is of a high quality. You can find a list of accredited courses on The Geological Society's website.
Whilst studying at university or after graduating, you may be able to take an internship. Take a look at our information article '
You might have on-the-job training, combined with short courses and going to conferences and seminars. Some employers enable Geotechnical Engineers to complete a postgraduate qualification while working.
The Geological Society runs a continuing professional development scheme.
Previous experience within an engineering position (such as an electrical, chemical and mechanical) would be useful for this career.
Experience using Computer Aided Design would also be really helpful to get into this career.
You could be promoted to a senior position or a management role.
Usually with a degree or equivalent in geology (or a related subject), you can become a Fellow of the Geological Society. Then, with at least five years' relevant experience, you can apply for Chartered Geologist (CGeol) status. You can also achieve Chartered Scientist (CSci) status through the Society.
Experienced Geotechnical Engineers can become self-employed consultants.
For entry to a degree, the usual minimum requirement is:
- 2/3 A levels
- GCSEs at grade C/4 and above in your A level subjects
- a further 2/3 GCSEs at grade C/4 and above, including English and maths
Alternatives to A levels include:
- BTEC level 3 qualifications
- the International Baccalaureate Diploma
However, course requirements vary, so please check college/university websites very carefully.
Some universities accept the Welsh Baccalaureate as equivalent to 1 A level.
It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.
If you don't have the qualifications needed to enter a degree course, you might be able to start one after completing an Access course, for example, Access to Science. You don't usually need any qualifications to enter an Access course, although you should check this with the course provider.
A foundation year before the start of a science degree is available at some universities and higher education colleges for students who don't have the science A levels usually needed for entry to the course.
Birkbeck, University of London offers degree and postgraduate courses in geology and earth sciences on a flexible basis: part-time (evenings) or by distance learning.
A number of other universities offer part-time degrees in geology and Earth science.
The Open University offers a degree in Geosciences and a postgraduate degree in Earth Science, by distance learning.
A number of universities offer part-time postgraduate degrees in engineering geology.
Funding for postgraduate study and research is available, through universities, from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).
- 6% of people in occupations such as Geotechnical Engineer work part-time.
- 14% have flexible hours.
- 8% of employees work on a temporary basis.
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