Construction management is a difficult, demanding profession – it involves long days at the job site in every weather imaginable, putting out fires from sun-up to sun-down (and often all the time in between!).
If you’re a construction manager yourself, you may be thinking: why not just become an engineer? In many cases, you already have 90% of the skills of an engineer; you just lack the mathematical education and skills and the licensing requirements to become an engineer – and enjoy the quality-of-life perks that come with it.
But becoming an engineer as a construction manager isn’t the most straightforward or easy path. It requires years of hard work and planning to fulfill that dream – but it’s not impossible! With that in mind, here’s our guide to the easiest way to become an engineer as a construction manager!
Understanding the Roles: Construction Manager vs. Engineer
Before diving into the transition process, it’s essential to understand the distinct roles of a construction manager and an engineer.
- Construction Manager: Primarily responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of a construction site, ensuring that projects are completed on time, within budget, and adhering to set standards. Their education typically includes a degree in construction management, civil engineering, or construction science.
- Engineer: These professionals design the initial planning and blueprints for construction projects and ensure that their directions are followed throughout the project by regularly communicating with construction managers and other stakeholders. Engineers usually work from an offsite main office, overseeing the broader aspects of planning a construction project1. Depending on the complexity of the project, engineers may have a smaller part of the process as the project progresses.
Practical Steps to Transition
Okay, so how do you transition into an engineering career as a construction manager? Well, get ready to go back to school, as you need to get a degree in engineering to get started! You need a bachelor’s degree to get any real job as an engineer on a construction project. This is obviously for safety reasons – engineers are responsible for ensuring the physical safety of their buildings.
A bachelor’s degree in engineering provides you with the comprehensive knowledge needed to operate as an engineer in the real world – ensuring construction projects are safe and within the boundaries of physical law. You learn everything from math to design – all critical skills for engineers.
- Earn a Relevant Bachelor’s Degree: The first step to becoming a civil engineer is to earn a bachelor’s degree from a program that offers a construction engineering program. A good engineering program typically has accreditation from the Engineering Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).
- Engineering schools like Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY can be a great place to go for a streamlined, proven engineering course.
- Get A License: To practice as an engineer, you don’t technically need a license, but in reality, you do. If you’re a civil engineer, you must obtain a Professional Engineer (PE) license. Μuch like getting any other CSLB license, this includes four years of experience operating as a “journeyman” engineer under a licensed engineer. In addition to licenses for civil engineers, most states require specific licenses. All of these routes require you to pass engineering exams as well. The steps to licensing are:
In many cases, you have to apply for and receive a state license from your state. There may even be state and local requirements as well.
Skills Needed for Engineers
Transitioning to an engineering role requires a blend of technical and soft skills. Luckily, if you’re a construction manager, you have all the necessary soft skills needed, in addition to knowing the ins and outs of construction – something that gives you a huge advantage in understanding and communicating logistical realities to clients and higher-ups.
The key difference in skills needed is your engineering skills – the knowledge and understanding of the mathematics and physics needed to construct a building that is safe and fit for humans, meets local codes and bylaws, and may even need to be sustainably developed.
- Total understanding and control of physics such as dynamics, mechanics, tension and more.
- Strong mathematical skills such as calculus and geometry, with the ability to apply them.
- Design skills such as blueprinting, conceiving, and sketching.
- Proficiency with design and visualization programs like AutoCAD and TileFlow.
- Programming skills to get maximum value from design tools such as SolidWorks and AutoCAD. In the electrical and mechanical engineering fields, specialized programming languages such as MATLAB and RAPID are often used.
- Specialized construction knowledge of common high-use projects like roads, tunnels, bridges, and so on.
- Ability to accurately estimate cost and communicate trade-offs when it comes to materials and design.
- Knowledge of sustainable and energy-efficient materials and their properties with regard to construction.
- Ability to effectively communicate the project to stakeholders.
- A consistent ability to problem-solve real-world problems posed by the physical and material challenges of production.
Similarities and Differences Between Construction Managers and Engineers
- Both roles are the backbone of the construction process. Without either of them, no building gets built.
- Both demand a profound understanding of construction principles and practices, on both a macro- and micro-scopic level.
- Effective and consistent communication is the key in both roles, especially when coordinating with other professionals and stakeholders.
- Engineers have more stringent education and licensing prerequisites, with a stronger emphasis on the mathematics and physics of construction.
- Engineers are involved early on in planning and design, well before anything is touched on a job site. Construction managers take the plan and make it happen – they are the day-to-day torchbearers on a job site.
- Engineers are generally much more mathematical and “brainy” than construction managers, and their work is much less ambiguous than construction managers. CMs are constantly working with the human side and the day-to-day work, which means they’re doing less math and less time in an office chair.
- Engineers may never step foot on a job site, often working from the comfort of an office. Construction managers are pretty much on the site from the beginning of the project all the way to the bitter end.
Engineering vs. Construction Management Salaries and Economic Impact
It may surprise you that, in general, it is more lucrative to be a construction manager than an engineer!
As of May 2022, the median annual wage for construction managers was $101,480. The employment of construction managers is projected to grow by 5% from 2022 to 2032, which is faster than the average growth rate for all occupations. This indicates approximately 38,700 job openings for construction managers each year over the decade.
On the flip side, civil engineers (the best representation of this diverse career) had a median annual wage of $89,940 in May 2022. The employment landscape for civil engineers is projected to burgeon by 5% from 2022 to 2032. This signifies about 21,200 openings for civil engineers each year, on average, over the decade.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that financial compensation is only one piece of the puzzle when deciding one’s career. A construction manager is often in the trenches with their team, dealing with rain, snow, wind, and all sorts of weather conditions, at all hours of the day, often working long days to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Engineers, on the other hand, are generally white-collar jobs. Engineers generally work regular hours from the comfort of an air-conditioned office. With a difference of ~$10k, it makes sense for a lot of seasoned CMs to want to change to something that’s a little less demanding. You may be one of these people!
Transitioning to a Licensed Engineer in California: The Golden State’s Path
As always, let’s take a look at the process for construction managers in California looking to change course and become an engineer in the Oldie Goldie State.
Steps to Become a Licensed Engineer in California:
- Before applying for licensure, ensure you’ve passed the NCEES Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam and the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE-Civil) exam.
- Confirm that you meet the qualifying experience requirements set by the state.
FOR CIVIL ENGINEERS ONLY – APPLY TO BPELSG
- Once you’ve passed the necessary exams and have the required experience, submit your application for licensure to the California Board of Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, and Geologists using the online BPELSG Connect portal.
- California requires additional state-specific exams: Civil Seismic Principles and Civil Engineering Surveying.
- These exams are offered on a continuous quarterly basis, and there’s no final filing date.
Get Your CSLB License
- Now you need to apply for your CSLB Class A General Engineering Contractor License!
- As always, you have to meet the CSLB’s licensing requirements before applying.
- Then, you just have to pass the CSLB exam and get the necessary bonds and insurance
Receive Your License And Start Working!
Once you’ve passed the CSLB exam, you can start working as an engineer right away!
- For Civil Engineers – Three Types Of BPELSG Licenses: BPELSG California offers three categories of licensing for engineers:
- Practice act (Civil, Electrical, and Mechanical Engineering)
- Title act (Agricultural, Chemical, Control Systems, Fire Protection, Industrial, Metallurgical, Nuclear, Petroleum, and Traffic Engineering)
- Title authority (sub-branches of Civil Engineering: Structural Engineering and Geotechnical Engineering).
- Eligibility and Experience Requirements: Applicants must meet the qualifying experience requirements outlined in Business and Professions Code sections 6751(c) and 6753 and Title 16, California Code of Regulations section 424.
- Background Check and Fingerprinting: All applicants are background checked and fingerprinted by the CSLB before they are given a license. Check out our comprehensive article on that topic for more information.
Should I Become An Engineer As A Construction Manager?
The answer to that question can only lie within. The reality is that construction managers do make a bit more money, but the trade-offs of having set, reliable hours, and working off-site (or even from home!) means that it could be absolutely worth it for you and your family to make the transition to engineering.
If you’re looking to become an engineer in California, we’ve got you covered with everything you could need to know about what it takes to become a CSLB-certified construction engineer in our great state.