Civil engineer ranked among top careers with low stress

December 2010 » Departments » COMMENT
Shanon Fauerbach, P.E.

Money magazine and teamed up to rank the top 100 careers with great pay and growth prospects, as well as categorical lists such as job growth potential, stress levels, and others, in its November 2010 issue. For those of you who felt your career choice was never vindicated, fret no more. Your day in the sun is now, even if it is chilly and gray outside.

Based on data sources including, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and Money research, civil engineer ranked sixth on the overall list of the top 100 careers with great pay and growth prospects. Job growth was listed as 24 percent for a 10-year forecast based on estimates for 2008-2018 from the BLS. Sister professions ranked equally well — environmental engineer (No. 5), project engineer (No. 41), structural engineer (No. 47), and transportation engineer (No. 51). The related profession of geographic information systems analyst made the list as well at No. 97.

For those who have debated whether it’s better to be an engineer or architect, engineers unquestionably win based on the results presented here. While architects made the top 100 list, they ranked only 94th.

What beat out environmental and civil engineers in the ranking? Software architect, physician assistant, management consultant, and physical therapist ranked one through four.

Although when ranked by job growth — civil engineer didn’t rank as high as in the overall list — the profession still came in at a healthy thirteenth place. We also, by comparison, are enjoying low-stress jobs. Seventy percent of biomedical engineers say their job is low stress, earning it the top rank on this niche list. Transportation engineer came in second with 69 percent of respondents claiming low stress. GIS analyst is fifth, and civil engineer is ninth with 53.3 percent saying their job is low stress.

Realistically, I guess it depends on the day. When there is a flood, an earthquake, a hurricane, a significant structural failure, or some other catastrophic event, I’d say transportation and civil engineers are feeling very stressed indeed. But since civil engineering jobs often offer autonomy in your work, well-established deadlines, flexibility, creative thinking, and permanence (society will always need civil engineers!), there are many reasons for it to point toward lower stress on a meter.

I was disappointed with one outcome of this study in the special category of “benefit to society.” Civil engineers did not respond favorably enough to rank on this niche top 10 list. When asked if their job makes the world a better place, as compared with professionals such as anesthesiologists, physical therapy directors, emergency room physicians, and other health care and social service professions, civil engineers didn’t fare well. Knowing the importance of civil engineers’ work and its influence on citizens’ safety, health, quality of life, economy, national security, and other fundamentals of life, I’m surprised more civil engineers didn’t sing the praises of our profession in this category. But by comparison, surgery would be awful without anesthesiologists and what would we do without doctors when our loved ones are ill?

In any case, kudos to civil engineering! Favorable publicity, especially given the state of our infrastructure and the potential shortage of U.S. civil engineering graduates, is something we need more frequently.

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Shanon Fauerbach, P.E.,

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