This is the final part of a 3 Part Series on Professional Credentials for Civil Engineers (Read 1 and 2). Civil Engineering is a large and broad career field. Finding your unique passion/skillset is important to a successful and rewarding career.
by Talmage Hansen
I remember as a kid, whenever I’d get asked the common question—”What do you want to do when you grow up?”—I’d smugly answer, “a Civil Engineer.” In my mind, not only was this a good answer, it was a specific answer. However, I’ve since learned how broad Civil Engineering truly is—in other words, we don’t all design bridges (which is probably the most common response to what a civil engineer does by non-civil engineers).
First of all, there are the 5 general categories of Civil Engineering:
- Geotechnical (soil, foundations, pavement)
- Structural (buildings, bridges)
- Transportation (includes infrastructure and systems for auto, rail, etc.)
- Water Resources (stormwater management, retention ponds, flood studies)
- Construction (the actual construction, not design, of everything else)
Most graduate degrees will fall into one of these and the Professional Engineer Exam comprises them as well. There are a few oddballs like Environmental Engineering which sometimes is lumped into Water Resources and other times stands alone. There’s even Geospatial Engineering which is what I studied at Virginia Tech. But in general these are the 5 big ones.
In other words, being a Civil Engineer isn’t quite as clear-cut an answer as I first thought. Truth be told, there are a lot of specialties within Civil Engineering, many of which have their own unique credentials. Here I’d like to touch on a few that are popular within land development.
RPLS (Registered Professional Land Surveyor): Believe it or not many Civil Engineering PEs also have their RPLS. In fact, many years ago it came standard with a PE (albeit a highly contested practice). Though that’s not the case nowadays, many civil engineers in land development find themselves doing surveying more often than not. The licensure process is similar to the PE in experience required, exam length/difficulty, and responsibility. Texas uses the full acronym while other states may only use RLS, PLS, RS or PS.
PMP (Project Management Professional): One of the best civil engineering project managers that I’ve had carried this designation—and proudly! While rarely a requirement for a position or project, the PMP shows both experience and general knowledge about managing projects. PMI (Project Management Institute) also offers many other certifications to best fit your needs.
PTOE (Professional Transportation Operations Engineer): For civil engineers who’ve chosen the transportation path, the PTOE certification “is a powerful demonstration of requisite knowledge, skill and ability in the specialized application of traffic operations engineering” (source). BIG RED DOG recently added Traffic and Transportation Engineering as a service in part due to the frequency with which its land development clients requested this service.
RAS (Registered Accessibility Specialist): So much of our civil engineering designs are governed by ADA accessibility requirements. Any good civil engineer has to have a general knowledge of these requirements, but some choose to take all of the guesswork out and become an RAS. Issued by the Texas Department of Licensing and Registration (TDLR), an RAS reviews construction documents to determine accessible design and inspects finished buildings to verify accessible construction.
And that’s not all—not even close. There are certifications and licenses ranging from erosion control and stormwater management to geographic information systems. Choosing the right one(s) can verify a competency that you already have, teach you more about a subject and differentiate you from your peers. However I would add a short disclaimer, that is, sometimes certifications only show that you have the knowledge to pass a test. Try not to lose focus of the end goal which is competency.