Environmental engineering jobs are part of the first line of defense against environmental issues such as pollution, climate change, drinking water safety, and environmental sustainability. Environmental engineers serve an important role as protectors of the environment, providers of solutions to environmental problems, and advisors to those in business and government. Let’s learn more about the role they play in the environmental issues affecting our communities.
What Is an Environmental Engineer?
Environmental engineers use their knowledge about soil science, biology, chemistry, and engineering to solve environmental issues. An environmental engineer works to prohibit, regulate, or reverse environmental damage. They can address issues such as soil, water, and air pollution. They also can solve public health and waste disposal concerns. Finally, they can improve recycling programs. Being an advocate for the environment is only part of the job. An environmental engineer must also know government regulations and how to meet them, all while keeping within a budget and the time constraints of a particular project. An important aspect of the job is analyzing samples and designing treatment for soil, water, and air. A company may hire an environmental engineer as a consultant to help ensure that their project is meeting all required environmental regulations.
What Types of Skills Are Required for Environmental Engineering Jobs?
Environmental engineering jobs require a practical knowledge of regulations. Environmental engineers must be able to be creative in order to problem solve issues with air, soil, and water. They must be able to manage waste and control pollution. Environmental engineering jobs require the use of technology to monitor environmental concerns. Environmental engineers must also know how to apply for permits and maintain plans for projects.
Where Does an Environmental Engineer Work?
If an environmental engineer is working on planning and permitting, such as when they do urban and regional planning work, they may be in an office environment. When they work with business, industry, or lawyers, they may be at seminars or meetings presenting their findings. They may also need to be on site to evaluate environmental concerns, which requires being outdoors. Travel may be required for environmental engineering jobs as part of meeting with governmental leaders, business developers, scientists, and lawyers. Sometimes, they must travel to work sites to oversee the cleanup of contamination.
Who Employs Environmental Engineers?
According to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are the largest providers of environmental engineering jobs.
- Engineering Services: 25%
- Management, scientific, and technical consulting services: 20%
- State government (excludes education and hospitals): 15%
- Local government (excludes education and hospitals): 9%
- Federal government (excludes postal service): 6% (1)
Typical Tasks Required in Environmental Engineering Jobs
Below are some duties of an environmental engineer.
- Design environmental protection plans
- Obtain permits
- Prepare reports
- Develop and maintain plans and procedures
- Give subject-matter expert support for environmental remediation projects and legal actions
- Review scientific data
- Make quality control checks
- Inspect facilities to ensure compliance with regulations
- Assist private and governmental representatives in environmental cleanup projects
- Evaluate environmental programs
- Prepare studies
Environmental engineers may prepare studies on the effects of hazardous materials in the environment. They may be asked to provide solutions for treating, containing, or removing these hazards. Part of their job may be designing a wastewater treatment facility. Others may evaluate the impact of construction projects on the environment.
What Kind of Schedule Do Environmental Engineers Work?
Most people in this field work full time. About 20% of environmental engineers say they worked more than 40 hours a week in 2016. Working in this field requires management of projects and deadlines. It can also require troubleshooting issues that arise, requiring more than the standard 40-hour schedule.
How to Become an Environmental Engineer
A bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering is a standard career path to environmental engineering jobs. Degrees in mechanical, civil, chemical, or general engineering can also be desirable in this career. Many employers prefer practical experience for their prospects. If you can participate in a cooperative engineering program, which provides college credit for work in the field, you should take that opportunity.
Some educational institutions offer joint bachelor’s and master’s degrees with completion in five years. Some colleges and universities allow those with a graduate degree to instruct or do research at their institutions. Some employers prefer a master’s to a bachelor’s degree, depending upon the position. If you are interested in becoming a consultant, a master’s degree is usually recommended.
Many employers prefer that environmental engineer candidates graduate from a program that is accredited by an organization called ABET. ABET stands for the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. A degree from an ABET program is generally required to become a licensed and professional engineer. However, most entry-level positions do not require immediate licensure.
An environmental engineer can obtain a Professional Engineering (PE) license. This lets the engineer take on greater responsibilities such as managing and reviewing the work of other engineers, approving projects, and working directly with the public. Most states require the following milestones to be met for a PE license.
- A degree from an ABET-accredited program
- A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) test
- Pertinent work experience (usually at least four years)
- A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) test
After a bachelor’s degree is earned, you can choose to take the FE test. If you pass, you are designated as an engineer in training (EIT) or engineer intern (EI). After the work experience requirement is met, EITs and EIs can take the PE test. Each state has its own requirements for licensing. Some states recognize requirements from other states. Many states require continuing education as a requirement for maintaining a license.
After you obtain your license, environmental engineers can acquire a board certification. This certification is issued by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists. It designates the recipient as an expert in one or more specialty areas of study.
What Classes Should I Take in High School?
If you are interested in pursuing environmental engineering jobs, you should focus on math and science. Specifically, focus on science classes such as biology, chemistry, and physics. In mathematics, concentrate on algebra, trigonometry, and calculus. High school students can also enroll in engineering summer camps to help them identify important classes and skills needed for this area of study.
What Are Some Important Characteristics of Environmental Engineers?
Here are some traits that are important to those entering the environmental engineering field:
Ability to Find Solutions
Environmental engineers face issues where they need to multi-task and problem solve. For example, they need to consider the safety of workers on the job site, along with the protection of the surrounding environment. The must forsee issues ahead of time when planning facilities. They must also propose and execute solutions to problems to be successful.
Environmental engineers must see how systems they design are part of a bigger picture. They must visualize how planned designs will work as part of a larger system which may include people, equipment, and the environment itself.
Those in environmental engineering jobs must work in a team toward a shared objective. They may work with a diverse group including technicians, scientists, lawyers, business people, and government representatives.
Reading and Comprehension
In working with business people, lawyers, and others, those in environmental engineering jobs may be asked to review documents outside their breadth of study.
Environmental engineers are expected to be competent writers of reports, plans, proposals, and specifications. Because they do work with many people who are not themselves engineers, they must write clearly and concisely so that those outside their field may understand.
Availability, Salary, and Future Environmental Engineering Jobs Outlook
According to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay in May 2017 for environmental engineer jobs is $86,800. The number of jobs in 2016 was 53,800, with a ten-year job outlook of 8%. This is considered an average growth rate with about 4,400 new jobs created.
Part of choosing a career for many is doing something that makes you happy. According to U.S. News, here is how those with environmental engineering jobs rate their job satisfaction.
- Upward Mobility: above average
- Stress level: average
- Flexibility: average
In addition, CNN Money listed B ratings in the categories of “personal satisfaction” and “benefit to society” for environmental engineers.
The concern about water usage and safety is a driving factor in the growth of the environmental engineering career outlook. Many government agencies, including those at the state and local levels, require environmental engineers for wastewater treatment and tasks to deal with water efficiency. In regions of the United States where drilling for shale gas is occurring, the treatment and disposal of wastewater produced as a result of drilling is of special concern.
In addition, environmental engineers can work with local utility companies, advising them how to comply with regulations. An example of this situation would be an environmental engineer giving guidance to a coal-burning power plant regarding emissions.
Environmental engineering jobs are essential for the environment and its future. Although some people think of them as environmentalists, environmental engineers are multi-faceted. An environmental engineer can protect the environment through planning a complex system, through remediating a hazardous spill, or by advising others on how to meet the regulations set forth by the government.