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Insights Is a building engineer the same as a structural engineer?

Designing a better world. That's what all engineers strive to do. As we continue to push the boundaries of design, this presents increasingly challenging and rapidly changing projects for ambitious engineers to work on. They have the chance to influence these projects from beginning to end, designing solutions to the challenges that construction projects throw up and then seeing those solutions become a reality.

In the UK alone, engineering makes up around 18% of the working population, and this presents a whole host of unique career options, like building engineering and structural engineering. Though they might sound like similar roles, there are some key differences.

Building engineers work on the design, construction, legal compliance, fire safety, and maintenance of buildings alone. Meanwhile, structural engineers work across many markets, including cities and development, energy, defence, water, transportation, and beyond. Whichever route, they play an integral role in helping unlock the potential of a project, facing challenges head-on and keeping safety front and centre.

quote marks

Structural engineers are the guardians of public safety

The Institution of Structural Engineers

Is a structural engineering career right for you?

Structural engineering is just one facet of engineering. It's a specialist field that focuses less on the overall design of a project and narrows in on the materials used for its construction. So while building engineers are concerned with the design of structures - such as skyscrapers, homes and airports - it's a structural engineer's role to ensure the materials used are fit for purpose.

Examples of specialist projects that structural engineers will work on include:

  • High-frequency fatigue tests of plain concrete
  • Estimation of marine salts behaviour around the bridge structures
  • Seismic analysis of interlocking blocks in walls

The developing field of structural engineering

There are many ways in which building and structural engineering are the same. Both fields demand professionals who can proactively manage client demands, bring a flexible approach and adopt a problem-solving mindset. Additionally, both are ever-evolving, creating exciting career prospects. Take structural engineering, for example. As the field expands and develops, professionals get to work with new technologies and narrow their focus on new elements, enabling them to make their own mark. 

As we see new trends emerge within structural engineering, more possibilities are presenting themselves, including:

Designing sustainable solutions

When assessing the suitability of materials, structural engineers will also consider lean design - creating more value with fewer resources. Why is this important? The construction industry accounts for 40% of CO2 emissions globally, and the spotlight is firmly on this industry in the quest for a net-zero world.

Structural engineers don't only deliver sustainable solutions. They are the sustainable solution. Reaching net zero by 2050 is a headline target for engineers worldwide. It requires collaboration between countries, industries and within those industries too. For building engineers to design carbon-neutral structures, they need the support of structural engineers. With more research into alternative materials and optimisation strategies, the construction industry could reduce embodied carbon in buildings by 25%, bringing the industry closer to achieving its carbon goals.

An inclusive workforce

Evidently, a collaborative workplace is key if the engineering sector is to make an impact. But what is the key to collaboration? Inclusivity. In an environment where everyone knows they'll be heard, everyone knows they can contribute. As Structural Engineer Louise explains, everyone stands to learn from other people in their team, whether they're a senior structural engineer or an apprentice. Louise has set out to make engineering more inclusive. Not just because it leads to better work, but because it's the right thing to do.

Work with a first-class team on ground-breaking projects

At AtkinsRéalis , and our Atkins and Faithful+Gould businesses, we take great pride in creating functional, unique and thought-provoking structures. But we do more than just that. We help our clients drive change. To achieve this, we need talented minds with a passion for designing a better world.

If you want to be a part of a strong delivery culture where everyone has the chance to voice their ideas, browse our latest structural engineering roles. Or explore our other opportunities to learn what career paths are available to you at AtkinsRéalis .