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Insights What is the role of a geotechnical engineer, and why are they so important?

Geotechnical engineers are vital members of diverse teams, supporting work related to flood protection, dam designs and, waste containment technologies. At its core, the geotechnics discipline deals with soil and rock behavior from an engineering perspective.

Within AtkinsRéalis and our brands Atkins and Faithful+Gould, we provide cutting-edge, multidisciplinary engineering, procurement, and construction solutions to projects across North America and many other regions worldwide. As a global leader, our clients trust us to deliver some of the most prestigious projects, and geotechnical engineering is just one of many exciting career choices you could embark on with us.

hand holding up a piece of from the ground and a construction site in the background

What does a geotechnical engineer do?

Geotechnical engineering is a branch of civil engineering; however, it involves using scientific methods and principles to collect and interpret the physical properties of the ground. Geotechnical engineers are involved in all stages of the design of structures, from concept to construction. Their work is essential in the design and planning process as they assess the integrity of soil, clay, silt, sand, and rock, prior to construction commencing. They start by undertaking a desk study, assessing maps, and contacting local authorities. This is followed by a ground investigation based on the findings of the desk study and involves trial pitting and sampling to uncover any potential issues.

Geotechnical engineers work within multidisciplinary teams, supported by intermediate and junior engineers as well as by CAD technicians. As a senior geotechnical engineer on a hydro plant project, tasks may include participating in technical reviews (e.g., peer reviews), tailings dam inspections, dam safety reviews, and other studies related to the design and construction of mine waste facilities.

Why is a geotechnical engineer so important?

The role of a geotechnical engineer is so important because they are responsible for evaluating the ground conditions of a site prior to build-out. Ground conditions can vary greatly even on a small site, and with added challenges such as climate change impacting the environment with droughts and floods, the role of a geotechnical engineer is becoming even more significant. They must determine whether the ground can withstand the added pressures or changes brought by construction, which can ultimately avoid costly issues further into the project.

What does it take to be a geotechnical engineer?

To be a geotechnical engineer, you will need a degree in geotechnical engineering, geological engineering, geo-environmental engineering, or a related field. Depending on your level of entry, you may need experience in design work, for example on dikes and dams. It is also beneficial to have some knowledge of slope stability, flow, and stress-strain software such as GeoStudio, FLAC and Plaxis.

As previously mentioned, geotechnical engineers work in teams, so it is essential to have good communication and team-building skills to effectively work with various stakeholders, including clients. It’s also important to be innovative in this discipline, building a greener future for the growing population and factoring in other major social, economic, and environmental factors that will be a catalyst for change.

Geotechnical engineering rocks at AtkinsRéalis

At AtkinsRéalis , we tailor our approach to each project, ensuring we engage the right methods and solutions for the task at hand. Our geotechnical experts are industry-leading and assess risk, test materials, investigate and undertake surveys until they can assure clients that it’s safe to continue. To do this, we provide all our colleagues with training, research programs, testing facilities, and hubs so they can explore new technology and data.

Our clients choose us because our experts have an unparalleled skillset and a commitment to delivering excellence. By joining us as a geotechnical engineer, you will have the opportunity to work on complex projects varying in size, with access to learning and development programs, training, and expansive career opportunities.

We’re always looking to the future, and we’re growing our teams to provide a sustainable future for the next generation. Browse our available geotechnical engineering roles today, or if you can’t quite find something that suits you, sign up for job alerts so you’ll never miss another opportunity.