We spoke to Dr Haris Alexakis about the advancements in civil engineering and how it’s becoming one of the most thriving industries to work in. Let’s explore some achievements within civil engineering, why it’s important today and where it can take you. 

What can you learn by studying civil engineering?

Civil engineering is a vital branch of engineering dealing with the design, construction and maintenance of the built environment and its supporting infrastructure. It is about everything you see that has been built around us, such as our roads and railways, cities, ports, airports, water and energy supply networks, and telecommunication infrastructure.

If you choose to study civil engineering you will learn the core scientific principles and tools that modern engineers use today in their everyday practice, which enable them to build in a safe and economic manner long-span bridges and high-rise buildings, or manage complex large-scale systems, such as big cities and national transport networks.

Why is civil engineering important today?Civil Engineering image

Civil infrastructure systems are considered the foundations of modern civilisation, enabling us to sustain high living standards and improve prosperity for societies. Soon after the primeval man left the caves and started to build the first prehistoric villages in search for locations with better access to resources (e.g. water and food), it became clear that future generations could benefit from the infrastructure that previous generations leave behind, as this would allow them the time and means to pursue well-being.  

What have been the main achievements in civil engineering over the years?

Civil engineering is a broad field with a centuries-long history of achievements. For instance, one of the biggest engineering challenges for millennia has been to bridge large spans in a safe and sustainable manner for either providing shelter to people (e.g. by building roofs) or enabling water distribution and transport networks (e.g. by building bridges and aqueducts). This became possible with the invention of the masonry arch, which dates back 6000 years ago in Mesopotamia. Since then, there have been constant advances in the structural forms, design and construction methods, materials and structural elements manufacturing processes, to name a few, including our ability today to form broad international and interdisciplinary collaborations for the construction and management of mega projects, such as high-speed rail networks, wind farms or hydroelectric dams. But above all, the major achievement has been to provide the means to other engineers and professionals to flourish within a secure and prosperous environment. 

Why should more students want to study civil engineering?

For centuries, civil engineers have been shaping the world around us through creativity and imagination. In addition today, they have the opportunity to combine these skills with modern science and digital technologies and deliver fascinating projects with global impact. UK Government employment and employability surveys show that the field of “Infrastructure and the Built Environment” has one of the highest levels of vacancies, which is a strong indication for the maintenance of high salaries and working condition standards in the coming years. According to the Industrial Strategy policy paper of the UK Government, the “major upgrade of the UK’s infrastructure” is one of the main five pillars to transform the national economy. The government has “committed to the biggest ever increase in public and private investment in research and development”, which corresponds to a £31bn new investment on transport, housing and digital infrastructure. Hence, civil engineering will be a key profession to support future economic growth and address societal challenges, not only in the UK, but around the globe.

What opportunities do students have studying at Aston? 

Aston is globally recognised for its high employability rate and close collaboration with the industry. Most degree programmes are offering placement opportunities that help students to boost their professional career, supported by a dedicated award-winning placement team. Our lecturers in the civil engineering department are maintaining strong links with the Joint Board of Moderators (JBM) and the Construction Industry, promoting digital innovation and industry-focused teaching and research. 

What type of jobs can students expect to go into by studying civil engineering?Civil Engineering

Constant innovation over the centuries in construction technologies and design methods, combined with advances in modern science and digital technologies has led today to the development of a very wide range of different civil engineering branches, such as structural engineering, geotechnical engineering, environmental engineering, surveying and geomatics, project management, logistics and finances. This makes civil engineering one of the most broad, versatile and employable professions. 

The UK is home of some of the biggest multi-national contractors and consultant engineering firms, including several local authorities, service industries, infrastructure managers, government bodies and academic institutions that create all together a constant stream of job opportunities in all civil engineering branches. 

What is the future of civil engineering?

The building and construction sector accounts today for nearly the 40% of CO2 global emissions, with 11% corresponding to construction materials manufacturing. Hence, achieving climate neutrality requires radical reduction of material and energy use in construction, while improving maintenance and longevity of existing structures. Simply put, societies will not be able to meet net zero and sustainability targets, unless the new generation of civil engineers manage to build and maintain our systems more efficiently, with less resources.

The future of a resilient built environment for sustainable and safe societies lies in the hands of our children. We are committed to helping in the creation of a future generation of civil engineers that will lead digital innovation to address the upcoming world-changing challenges.