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—  8 min read

What Does a Construction Engineer Do?

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Last Updated Feb 7, 2024

A construction enginereer on a jobsite holding a tablet

Engineers play a critical role in the construction industry: The construction engineer is involved in projects from conception and design through completion, helping to ensure buildings and infrastructure are constructed safely, on time and within budget. While design engineers create the plans and specifications, construction engineers work on-site during the building phase to implement those designs and manage key aspects of the construction process.

These professionals are not just builders but problem solvers who ensure that every structure stands strong, functions efficiently, and integrates harmoniously with its surroundings. 

In this article, we’ll delve into an engineer’s typical responsibilities, challenges they typically encounter and the innovations shaping the future of construction engineering — and the industry as a whole.

Table of contents

The role and responsibilities of a construction engineer

A construction engineer — often referred to as a project engineer in the commercial construction realm — generally supervises various specific scopes of work, ensuring that tasks align with the project's requirements.

Who works with a project engineer?

Project engineers work in tandem with various stakeholders. They assist the superintendent, the primary contact in the field responsible for ensuring the quality, timing, and sequence of work. Additionally, they support the project manager, who oversees the financial aspects of the project. Essentially, the project engineer acts as a liaison, ensuring smooth communication between the field and the office, especially concerning their assigned scope of work.

Typical construction engineer duties

Construction engineers work with the general contractor to build the project’s design. Below, we’ll explore an engineer’s primary responsibilities on the project. 

Design review

Construction engineers study drawings, specs and other documents to fully understand the intent of the design. Project engineers ensure that the construction aligns with the design specifications, addressing any discrepancies and coordinating with architects and subcontractors for design modifications.

Planning and coordination

Project engineers help develop master schedules, sequencing plans and specific tasks to execute the build. They serve as the hub connecting the owner, designers, project manager, superintendent, and all subcontractors. Additionally, construction engineers attend progress meetings, relay issues, and ensure everyone is on the same page.

Quality control

Construction engineers verify work is done correctly and in compliance with plans and requirements. They are responsible for conducting quality inspections, ensuring that the work meets the project's quality standards.

Cost management

When it comes to managing costs, project engineers may:

  • Help identify, document and track potential change orders
  • Work with subcontractors to prepare and submit change orders to the owner
  • Review subcontractor change orders prior to submitting to the owner

Safety

Construction engineers work in conjunction with the site superintendent and safety manager to implement safety best practices on site. They may assist the superintendent with plans and identifying any potential hazards. 

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The Day-to-Day Work Life of a Construction Engineer

The typical workday of a construction engineer involves dividing time between the jobsite trailer office and being out in the field.

In the office

In the office, they may attend progress meetings with the owner, designers, project manager, and superintendent. OAC meetings allow all parties to discuss progress to date, any problems that arise and plans on how to move forward. The construction engineer communicates critical issues impacting their scope of work and provides updates on productivity.

Project engineers also manage needed changes through the RFI (request for information) and submittal process. RFIs go to the designer when there is missing information or discrepancies in the plans. Submittals are created by the subcontractor and sent to the engineer for review. Then, the engineer sends the documents to the design team for approval. 

In the field

Out in the field, construction engineers perform quality control inspections and check work for compliance with contract documents. They verify that the proper materials are used and that the installations meet project requirements. Safety compliance is also monitored by enforcing proper protocols and PPE on site.

A major duty involves coordinating procurement and delivery of materials on time so specialty contractors can work efficiently. Delays can quickly throw off the master schedule, so construction engineers work diligently to avoid disruptions in the flow of supplies to the jobsite.

Construction engineers wear many hats required to take a project from conception to completion. Their versatility and organization are crucial for marshaling the people, materials, and information needed for a successful build.

Pathways to Becoming a Construction Engineer

The journey to becoming a project engineer is both academically rigorous and practically enriching. It requires a combination of formal education, hands-on experience, and the development of specific skills that are crucial for success in the field.

Get a Relevant Educational Background

Construction engineers come from diverse educational backgrounds, with engineering, construction management, and construction science degrees being the most common. Engineers who wish to move into construction often study civil, structural, mechanical, electrical or other engineering disciplines. This provides in-depth technical knowledge for understanding architectural and engineering drawings. 

Construction management and construction science programs also produce many construction engineers. Their curriculum focuses specifically on topics like project planning, estimating, scheduling, safety, construction law, and building codes. Communication skills and team dynamics are emphasized as well.

Learn From Internships and Onsite Experience

Internships play a pivotal role in shaping the career of budding project engineers. By working with general contractors or specialty contractors, interns gain invaluable on-site experience. 

This hands-on exposure to real-world construction scenarios, safety protocols, quality control measures, and other essential aspects of the job provides them with a comprehensive understanding of the industry. Having internship experience and being familiar with the dynamics of a construction site significantly aids in transitioning to a full-fledged project engineering role.

Transition from Trades to Project Engineering

While a formal education in construction management is a common route, it's not the only one. Some individuals transition into the role of a project engineer after years of working in the trades. 

For instance, someone who has spent years as a plumber, HVAC technician, or electrician might decide to shift to a project engineering role. Their hands-on experience in the trades equips them with a unique perspective and understanding of construction processes, making them valuable assets in project engineering roles.

Key Skills of a Project Engineer

Regardless of the degree, essential skills for any aspiring construction engineer are:

  • Reading and interpreting blueprints, specifications, submittals, and other contract documents
  • Understanding construction sequencing, logistics planning, scheduling techniques
  • Knowledge of regulations like building codes and standards
  • Familiarity with common construction methods and materials
  • Communication and collaboration skills to work with diverse teams
  • Math and analytical abilities for tasks like estimating and scheduling

Construction engineering offers an exciting career path for those interested in the intersection of design, planning, management, and hands-on building. With the right combination of educational foundation and field experience, construction engineers can help drive the process of turning designs into reality.

Impacts on the Outlook for Construction Engineers

The construction industry is constantly evolving, with new technologies and methodologies reshaping the landscape. As the industry advances, the role of project engineers is also expected to undergo significant transformations.

Streamlining With Document Management Software

One of the most notable impacts of technology on the role of project engineers is the introduction of document management software. Tasks such as tracking RFIs, submittals, drawing revisions, and material procurement used to be primarily done using Excel spreadsheets. The shift to document management platforms has revolutionized the way project engineers manage and access information. 

These platforms ensure that everyone involved in the project has access to the same information, from the most current schedule to the latest drawing revisions. The ability to centralize and streamline document management processes has not only improved efficiency but also reduced the chances of errors and rework. Avoiding rework is not just about saving time and money; it's also about ensuring safety on the construction site.

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Visualizing With Building Information Modeling

Another technological advancement that has significantly influenced the construction process is 3D modeling or Building Information Modeling (BIM). The ability to visualize buildings or plants in a three-dimensional space has proven invaluable for coordinating work in the field. 

As humans, we are naturally better at visualizing things in three dimensions than in two. This 3D visualization aids in planning, logistics, and helps everyone involved in the project get a clearer understanding of the work.

Exploring the Possibilities of Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) could help certain construction tasks like planning, estimating, and progress monitoring. Such AI-driven tools could act similarly to Siri or Alexa, assisting project engineers in real-time. 

Imagine a scenario where a project engineer could verbally request a specific submittal or document, and the AI assistant would instantly fetch the required information. This technology would expedite many processes on the jobsite, making information retrieval almost instantaneous.

Construction engineers play a vital role in building our infrastructure and environments. Their expertise in design, project management and construction methods and best practices allows them to oversee complex construction projects from conception to completion. 

As infrastructure continues to develop and expand globally, there will be an ongoing need for skilled construction engineers to turn architectural visions into physical realities. Their contributions help shape the world we live in, one project at a time.

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Written by

Fernando Munoz

Fernando is a Product Designer at Procore. Previously, he worked as a Project Engineer and Project Manager at JE Dunn Construction. He also spent 5+ years as a fabrication and field engineer for CB&I, a global designer and builder of industrial storage facilities. Fernando holds a BS in Industrial Engineering from Louisiana State University and an MS in Civil Engineering, Construction Engineering & Project Management from the University of Texas at Austin. He lives in Austin, TX.

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Bob Hanes

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Bob Hanes is a professional writer and entrepreneur. He previously worked as a military sales and applications engineer for an aerospace firm, and cofounded a biotech company that creates drug screening solutions for the pharmaceutical industry. Bob has an MBA from the University of Buffalo in Logistics, Materials, and Supply Chain Management, and a BE in Mechanical Engineering. He is an avid Buffalo Bills fan.

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