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Prev.: Environmental Technology jobs and careers
Remember back to your first semester of college when you had physics, calculus,
chemistry, English composition, and , perhaps, a history class? You probably
felt like you were never going to get out from underneath all of those assignments.
Now you have a chance to be rewarded for all of your hard work. A very high percentage of environmental engineering graduates land jobs in their field within six months of graduation, or they are admitted to graduate school. Additionally, they command some of the highest starting salaries among college graduates.
Environmental engineering evolved from the chemical and civil branches of engineering and only recently emerged as a distinct discipline. Though Purdue University established its major in 1943, many additional programs emerged in the late 1960s and 1970s. The University of Delaware, as a matter of interest, established its program as recently as 1995. As we discussed in the introduction to the guide, the environmental movement gained a great deal of momentum during the l970s, and public awareness of environmental problems increased tremendously at this time. Students demanded courses that focused on solving these problems, so courses with an environmental theme became very popular. Eventually, these classes were merged into academic minors, and following that, many institutions created majors in various areas of environmental studies, including engineering.
Environmental engineering is both interdisciplinary and exceedingly technical. Environmental engineers prepare for their profession with classes in chemistry, physics, engineering drafting, engineering principles, and math. But, depending on the specialty within the field that is chosen, courses in geology, hydrology, geomorphology, soil science, and even biology can be elected. To design systems to protect and clean up the environment, engineers must also understand the mechanics of the atmosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere. Environmental engineers working for private industry, industrial plants, environmental consulting firms, and federal, state, and local governments provide services that lead to safe drinking water, proper disposal of solid and liquid wastes, clean air, and remediated sites that were contaminated by hazardous wastes.
The Natural and Social Sciences Are Merged
Many college and university academic programs emphasize the fact that training in the human dimension is as important as the natural sciences for environmental engineering careers. Course work emphasizes conservation, reuse, and pollution prevention to manage the environment. Political and economic issues are given consideration as well, because the reality is that political and economic conditions affect how environmental engineers go about solving the problems they face.
Environmental Engineers at Work
The American Academy of Environmental Engineers rewards innovative design for various projects annually. In a recent year, these important projects and programs were wide ranging in scope. Read through them to gain a better understanding of the kinds of activities you can get involved in as an environmental engineer.
A winning entry for 2007 developed a better way to handle the bio-solids stemming from waste disposal plants. The biosolids were heated to high temperature and vitrified, sterilizing the microbes and encasing any toxic metals in glass during the heating process. Vitrification prevents toxins from leaching out of the remaining solids. The heating process employs the bio-solids themselves as a biomass fuel. This process eliminates long-term disposal of solids in landfills.
In Montenegro, a U.S. firm employed an integrated scheme to deliver upgrades to overtaxed and neglected water and wastewater systems. Their comprehensive approach took into consideration local needs, costs, environ mental impact, and the desire to retain services during the economically vital and essential tourist season. Additionally, the site used for the plant construction was a remediated brownfield!
Another award went to a Midwest university where a process was developed to purify ethanol using an integrated approach to meet an industrial challenge. A low-energy-input approach, alcohol purification contributes to a reduction in the energy required resulting in a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a subsequent positive impact on global warming and air pollution.
In Cincinnati, Ohio, a leading environmental firm designed a system to significantly reduce the volume of diluted, yet untreated waste that is diverted to streams during a heavy precipitation event. Their design will significantly improve stream quality and reduce coli-form bacteria levels in watercourses. This design was cost effective and innovative.
Each of these innovations was directed by a team of project engineers whose task was to research and analyze the problem, design a system to solve it, and manage the outcome. Not every project that environmental engineers work on is as remarkable as these examples, but you can quickly see that such innovations do help society, they have a positive impact on the environment, and they are cumulative. Not only has increasing technology set a cascade of environmental problems in motion, but it has provided solutions to these problems as well.
Your Role in Solving Environmental Problems
The literature put out by one of the top-rated engineering programs suggests that “graduates in this field have a significant opportunity to make an impact on the quality of life for people.” Not every career offers this same opportunity. Environmental engineers develop the tools to solve environmental problems. Taken individually, these environmental solutions might be regarded as fairly insignificant. Collectively, they reduce or mitigate the effect of human activity on the earth’s ecosystems. Now you will be able to claim that you are part of the solution!
Environmental Engineering: Definition of the Career Path
Environmental engineering can be separated into three principal sets of tasks: problem analysis, system design, and management and administration. Various combinations of duties lead to lots of different kinds of jobs for you to choose from. First we’ll discuss the three task groupings, and then we’ll show you the jobs that result from different combinations.
Engineers receive lots of training in the problem-solving process. They learn to break a situation down into a series of components and devise steps to arrive at a solution for the overall problem. An example might include the creation of a new process for the disposal of solid waste, perhaps by introducing bacteria into the waste stream in order to break down materials into by-products such as water and carbon dioxide.
Environmental engineers employed by firms that specialize in the design of wastewater disposal systems often work closely with mechanical engineers to produce an entire wastewater treatment plant. Other projects might include a large-scale system to handle recycling of refuse, including plastics, metals separation, or the digestion of recycled paper so that new paper can be manufactured. Environmental engineers may develop strategic plans for the protection of municipalities from hazardous waste emergencies.
Management and Administration
Some environmental engineers may serve as water treatment or municipal water plant managers. To properly manage such a system, the supervisor must know how every component of the plant operates. In other work settings, environmental engineers are called on to write and administer regulations to protect the public and the environment. Their interdisciplinary training pro vides them with the experience to understand the science behind environ mental regulations.
Environmental engineers also undertake research to develop methods and procedures, systems, and devices to reduce air and water emissions, clean up toxins, and improve site restoration techniques. Law firms, advocacy groups, governmental bodies, and consulting firms utilize environmental engineers to produce white paper reports for legislative bodies and lawsuits, to assemble background data for lobbyists, and to summarize research findings for commercial clients. Engineering graduates possess the technical background, the scientific foundation, and the human dimension of environmental issues needed for research given their interdisciplinary training.
From the examples shown next, you will discover the diversity of opportunities for environmental engineers and the wide-ranging set of skills and tasks expected for various jobs. Some require fieldwork and sampling, others call for technical writing; many request that the successful candidate be very familiar with computer hardware and software, and some require travel to distant sites and the ability to deal with rugged terrain. Now let’s look at some recent job advertisements.
What characteristics do all of these job descriptions have in common? Many share a number of expectations. The ability to work as a member of a team appears in several job descriptions. Travel and fieldwork are often components of a new engineer’s job description as they travel to distant sites to evaluate, collect data, and plan and design solutions to problems. Employers also expect excellent written and oral communication skills. Technical skills are assumed; these are learned in the core engineering courses. But many jobs also require some expertise in GPS, GIS, and CAD, and facility with computer hardware and modeling software. Additionally, knowledge of environmental processes and regulations is expected, and OSHA and HAZ WOPER training is desired, although many firms will see to it that you receive such training after employment.
In every work setting you will be expected to work on a team. Faculty are continually asked by employers to be sure to assign group projects so that graduates are accustomed to and prepared for work in teams. Belonging and contributing to a team is a skill that takes some time to develop. You have to learn to deal with diverse personalities and different work habits, such as speed, attention to detail, and punctuality, and accept the consequences from your peers if you are a poor contributor. Teamwork involves communication, both written and verbal. Even though you pursued an engineering program while at college, with lots of math, physics, and chemistry, you are still expected to be able to effectively handle all sorts of communication and “people” issues.
Travel and Fieldwork
Travel and fieldwork are other expectations. Entry-level engineers will be expected to travel to distant sites to gain experience, learn to supervise data collection, install monitoring devices, scope situations, collect data, perform field analyses, and sometimes simply visit with and reassure clients.
Well-Developed Technical Skills
Most of these position descriptions request a person with well-developed technical skills. You may not have been introduced to every possible technique or instrument while receiving your engineering training, but you were taught how to learn; that is what is important. You can figure out how to operate equipment and work your way through unfamiliar software.
There is a lot of lingo, like UST (underground storage tank), VCP (Voluntary Cleanup Program), RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act), NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act), and RI (remedial investigation), that potential employers will expect you to know. Section 8 defines and describes many of these terms, so it will be worth your time to review that information.
As with any entry-level position, you will be expected to gain experience before you are assigned projects of your own. Whether you accept an offer from a small municipality, an agency of the federal government, or an environmental consulting firm, you will be mentored. You might be assigned to a team or you may work under the direction of an experienced, licensed engineer or project manager. You will assist in any way possible as you learn the business. This mentorship might last for a year or two before you receive your own assignments. After you are working on your own, you can still expect assistance from other members of the team or department.
Typically, employers provide benefits such as paid holidays; two weeks of paid vacation; health, dental, and vision coverage; and a retirement package.
When working at the office you would likely have an office or cubicle (which might be shared) and , of course, a computer. When you’re on the road, you’ll likely share accommodations with coworkers. Your employer will reimburse you for specific expenses as outlined in the company policy.
Attire will probably be casual as you may spend time outdoors each day, checking on the progress of the various projects you’re involved in, or working in the lab.
Training and Qualifications
To qualify as an environmental engineer, you will have to present credentials for a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental or civil engineering. Some employers may expect you to have completed the OSHA forty-hour HAZWOPER training program, or that you are willing to complete it early in their employ. See Section 8 for more information about this training.
Lifelong education and professional development are expected of professionals working in environmental engineering. There are myriad short courses and institutes that your employer is likely to ask you to attend. A sampling of environmental consulting firm staff qualifications confirms that key personnel have taken many of these classes to become familiar with new techniques and processes and to remain abreast of continually changing regulations and safety standards. Training might take one of three forms: on- site, off-site, or on the job.
• On-site training. Sometimes a training company will be employed by a firm to come to the offices and conduct a formal short course for staff members on any one of a number of topics, such as safety standards or hazardous materials handling. Some firms provide their own in-house training sessions. One company that we contacted suggested that informal “lunch and learn” sessions were conducted frequently.
• Off-site training. Your employer might, however, send you to a college or university to take classes for which you will be reimbursed. Continuing education is expected of you so that you can keep abreast of changes in technology and changes in your field. Professional associations such as those listed at the end of this section offer ongoing training at their major annual conferences and at regional conferences. Once you join an association or two, you will begin receiving mailings about training programs that are offered.
• On-the-job training. Much of your training will be conducted on the job under the direction of a mentor. You will learn informally by observing and then assisting with subtasks. As your confidence grows and as your men tor’s confidence in you blossoms, more exciting and comprehensive tasks and assignments will become the norm.
Though licensure is not required at the entry level, most practicing engineers will work toward and achieve certification because it is necessary to advance at their organization and within the field. Most states regulate the licensing and registration of engineers and engineers-in-training (EITs). In Indiana, for example, the State Board of Professional Engineers requires the following for registration of engineers: (1) graduation from an approved four-year engineering curriculum, (2) four years of experience in engineering work, or eight years or more of engineering education and work experience, (3) successful completion of a sixteen-hour written exam, and (4) payment of fees for applications and exams. Engineers-in-training status demands are similar, with the exception that the exam is eight hours in duration rather than sixteen. Both exclude those persons convicted of a felony.
In comparison with the other four paths described in this guide, environ mental engineers can expect to earn the highest starting salary. At the time this guide was written, engineers with a Bachelor of Science degree could demand a starting salary in the $36,500 to $44,000 range. In larger areas or higher cost-of-living areas, salaries will be at least 10 to 20 percent higher. Once you become licensed (a minimum four-year process) and have five years of experience, your salary can jump into the $60,000 to $80,000 range.
As has been discussed previously in this guide, governmental policies, laws, and regulations are driving forces behind the need for environmental professionals, including engineers, working in the United States. The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, indicates that “environmental engineering jobs are expected to increase much faster than the aver age for all occupations through 2014.” A new emphasis is being placed on preventing problems, and environmental cleanup projects will continue.
Strategy for Finding the Job
The requirements listed in many, many job advertisements include knowledge of equipment and software, the ability to relate to clients and those affected by environmental problems by using effective communication skills, and knowledge about laws and regulations. Read on to learn more about how to be a contender as you undertake your job search.
Specifically Describe Your Expertise in Equipment and Software
One of the top schools offering a program in environmental engineering brags about the equipment it has in its lab. The equipment includes a gas chromatograph, total organic carbon analyzer, atomic absorption analyzer, pH meters, centrifuges, constant-temperature water baths, ovens, exhaust hood, various mixing devices, and pumps. You will have gained experience using at least some of this equipment and possibly most. Be sure to highlight your capabilities in this area as you begin talking with potential employers.
As you have been reading this section, you have seen references to lots of different software. Included were modeling, word-processing, spreadsheet, database, and geographic information system (GIS) software. As with equipment, no employer will expect you to know all the software in use at its company. But be sure to talk about the specific proficiencies you do possess, as well as your willingness to learn to use other tools as you begin your work.
Don’t Forget the Human Element
Environmental engineers bridge the gap between technology and the people and societies the technology serves. Understanding the interplay between the two will be critical to your success in this field. Highlight your studies in the humanities, political science, and psychology in your résumé or cover letter, and talk about it during your interviews.
Hone and Highlight Your Communication Skills
Environmental engineers interact with lots of different people. You will encounter people with varying levels of education, people who may be either happy to see you or not, and people who have a high level of technical expertise or none at all. Your ability to communicate effectively and persuasively will play an important role in your success. Prepare to be successful by taking appropriate course work and taking advantage of every opportunity to practice both the verbal and written communication skills you learn. You will be demonstrating these skills beginning with the presentation of your résumé and cover letter and then in your interviews. Be prepared to communicate effectively!
Keep Up on Current Affairs That Affect the Environmental Industry
If you haven’t yet learned much about the laws and regulations that will affect your work as an environmental engineer, visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s website (epa.gov) and read as much as you can. This site presents overviews and very detailed information that is critically important to the work of environmental engineers. Then share your knowledge and talk about your willingness to learn as you prepare for and engage in interviews.
Sustaining a career in environmental engineering may involve shifting your expertise over the years. You need to be committed to lifelong learning. Show your willingness to do so by reading appropriate professional journals (see the list of associations and the journals they publish at the end of this section) and by keeping up on current affairs that relate to the environmental industry. For example, know the latest status of projects the World Bank (worldbank.org) is funding. Firms you hope to work for may be involved in completing these projects.
Several major types of environmental protection efforts are taking place, including air pollution control, industrial hygiene, radiation protection, hazardous waste management, toxic materials control, storm water management, solid waste disposal, public health, and land management. As an environmental engineer you will have a variety of employment settings to choose from.
Consulting Engineering Firms
Recently the top-ranked hazardous waste services consulting firm was advertising a position for an environmental engineer. They were providing an opportunity for a newly degreed engineer to learn task and project management skills through experience and training they were expecting to pro vide. They were looking for someone who would investigate hazardous waste sites, remediate contaminated soil and groundwater, create environmental plans, and ensure environmental compliance. If this kind of work interests you, keep reading!
Help in Locating These Employers. Using your favorite search engine on the World Wide Web and the keywords consulting engineering firms, you can bring up a wonderful selection of links to industry information and to the home pages of quite a variety of companies. Many of these companies post job openings on their website. In addition, the American Society of Civil Engineers’ website (asce.org) also contains a list of job openings. Begin your exploration this way if you have access to the Web. Otherwise, work with the librarian at your college or local public library to use resources such as Moody’s to review listings of consulting firms. These references will contain contact information for the company. and if you’re looking for employment in the area in which you currently live, don’t forget to check yellow pages listings for categories such as “environmental and ecological products and services,” “engineers—consulting,” or “engineers—environmental.”
In the environmental technology career path, we discussed testing laboratories as one of the major employers for technologists. They also employ environmental engineers to oversee and work with environmental technologists. If you like working in a lab environment and analyzing the results of tests that others conduct, this may be the type of employer for you.
Help in Locating These Employers. Superpages.com (http://yp.superpages.com) has online yellow pages listings that you can search by topic and by state. A search on the category “environmental” for the state of New York showed a total of 3,089 listings, some of which were environmental testing labs. Also visit the website for the American Society for Testing and Materials (astm.org). It has an online listing of testing labs organized by geographic region and subject area.
Environmental engineers are hired by many federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Health and Human Services (HHS), U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Transportation. The Indian Health Service, an arm of HHS, was recently looking for a sanitary engineer to work in Arizona to design plans and prepare documents for construction of individual home water sup ply and wastewater disposal systems, community potable water supply and treatment systems, and community wastewater collection and treatment systems. Recently, the EPA was looking for an environmental engineer to work in the Waste Management Division, Underground Storage Tanks Program Office, in San Francisco, to review alleged violations of underground storage tank (UST) program requirements.
Help in Locating These Employers. Graduates with a bachelor’s degree in engineering can expect to start in a General Schedule (GS) position of 5 or 7. Visit the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s website (usajobs.opm.gov) and select the “Professional Career” option. In the menu of job types, the first item you will see is “engineering, architecture, and transportation.” Simply highlight this job type, enter the keyword environment, select the job experience/education option for GS-5/G5-7, select the salary range for a GS-5/ GS-7, select a geographic area that you’d like to search, and then submit your request. When we undertook this selection, more than thirty jobs were avail able for review. Removing the keyword and resubmitting the search brought up more than 350 listings. Some of the civil engineering positions listed might be of interest to an environmental engineer.
State employment offices also list federal jobs available in that state. and you may also find federal positions listed in metropolitan newspapers. Review The Directory of Federal Jobs and Employers, put out by Impact Publications, and similar books on federal employment for additional information.
Almost 20 percent of environmental engineering jobs are found in state and local governments. Read the next two sections to find out more about tap ping into these types of jobs.
The District of Columbia advertised a position for an environmental engineer to develop and implement the District’s water pollution control and storm water programs. One of the largest cities in California was recently looking for an assistant engineer with a specialty in storm water to perform professional storm water engineering work in the design, investigation, and construction of public works. Others include the design and supervision of regional solid waste disposal systems and recycling center design and operation. These are just a few of the many, many state jobs available to environmental engineers.
Help in Locating These Employers. State jobs can be found online at a variety of sites. One site, called Environmental Career Opportunities (eco jobs.com), lists some state government engineering jobs. The two jobs just described came from the nonsubscription list available to the public at that site. You can subscribe to get a complete list available through this organization. If you aren’t interested in paying to see the full list, be sure to visit the website for a state’s employment office. Appendix A provides a list of state employment office websites. Then work through the site’s instructions for reviewing state employment listings. State positions are also advertised in area newspapers. Be sure to visit or call your state’s employment office to find out how to obtain listings of open environmental engineering positions.
Most environmental engineering jobs available with local governments are in the areas of storm water and wastewater treatment and disposal, water treatment, solid waste disposal, and recycling. Larger local governments hire their own engineers to do this work. If you’re interested in helping solve environ mental problems that local governments face, numerous jobs and careers are available to you.
Help in Locating These Employers. Larger local governments will advertise their job openings in area newspapers, on their own websites, and on the websites of professional associations like the American Society of Civil Engineers. Be sure to review the list of associations at the end of this section for additional sources that list local government engineering positions.
Nearly every company in every industry, from natural resources and energy to construction, industrial materials to production and manufacturing equipment, and information and communications to transportation, undertakes activities to avoid polluting and creates plans to respond to emergency situations. These activities lead to a need for in-house environmental engineers at the larger companies. General Motors, an automobile manufacturer, hires environmental engineers. The work at this company involves management of waste reduction, wastewater discharge, air discharge, and waste from manufacturing operations and processes. The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company’s Environment, Health, and Safety Division recently advertised a position for an environmental team leader that required an engineering degree. The successful candidate would help develop policies and strategies relating to the company’s oil and gas exploration and production operations. Environmental engineers are needed all around the world!
Help in Locating These Employers. The range of potential corporate employers is so wide it would be difficult to detail how to find all of the relevant job listings. Appendix B contains a list of the major North American Industry Classification System sectors. Once you have identified the names of industry categories that interest you, use your favorite Internet search engine and enter individual industry names as keywords. For example, when the key-words chemical manufacturers were entered, a link took us to the American Chemistry Council site, which in turn led us to a list of member companies. There was a link to each company’s website, and each site that we checked included job listings for environmental engineers. Conduct a similar search for an industry that interests you.
Possible Job Titles
Most of the job titles for environmental engineers will have that keyword, engineer, in the title. But don’t overlook other job titles, such as designer, manager, or regulator. Review the list shown below and use it as a starting point as you look for job listings in environmental engineering.
Environmental engineers use their science and math knowledge to solve specific problems. Those same skills are useful in other engineering jobs and in a variety of other occupations. Some representative job titles are shown below.
The professional associations listed below are specifically related to engineering. Be sure to review the lists of professional associations at the end of the other sections, too. Many of the websites associated with these other organizations will list job openings for environmental engineers.
American Academy of Environmental Engineers
130 Holiday Ct., Suite 100
Annapolis, MD 21401
aaee.net; e-mail available from home page
Members/Purpose: Students, academics, and professional engineers. AAEE is dedicated to improving the practice, elevating the standards, and advancing the cause of environmental engineering to ensure public health and safety and to enable people to live in harmony with nature
Training: Certification organization; links online to publications, conferences with workshops, and training sessions
Journals/Publications: Environmental Engineer journal; online bookstore Job Listings: None.
American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE)
3 Park Ave.
New York, NY 10016-5991
Members/Purpose: Students, academics, and professional engineers. AIChE is a professional organization whose purpose is to provide leadership in advancing the chemical engineering profession. Members are creative problem solvers who use scientific and technical skills to develop processes and design and operate plants to assure the safe and environmentally sound manufacture, use, and disposal of chemical products
Training: Conferences, including student conferences; training modules; many professional and technical courses
Journals/Publications: Chemical Engineering Progress journal; CD-ROMs; training modules; technical reports, online catalog of videos, books, journals, and journal articles; trade publications and software
Job Listings: Many online postings and job search tools.
American Society of Civil Engineers
1801 Alexander Bell Dr.
Reston, VA 20191
asce.org; e-mail available to various offices at home page
Members/Purpose: Professional engineers, students, and academics. Purpose is to develop leadership, advance technology, advocate for lifelong learning, and promote the profession
Training: Many opportunities
Journals/Publications: Online access to twenty-nine related journals; online bookstore, manuals, technical reports, conference proceedings
Job Listings: Online search.
American Society of Safety Engineers
1800 E. Oakton St.
Des Plaines, IL 60018-2187
Members/Purpose: Academics, students, professional engineers, and engineers-in-training. Members manage, supervise, and consult on safety, health, and environmental issues for industry, insurance, government, and education
Training: Annual conference, on-site seminars, symposia, professional development, professional certification
Journals/Publications: Online bookstore, technical publications, online book reviews
Job Listings: Online job bank for members, résumé posting.
Association for Facilities Engineering
12100 Sunset Hills Rd., Suite 130 Reston, VA 20190
Members/Purpose: Professional organization with student, academic, corporate, and professional members. Purpose is to support facility professionals by improving productivity and profit and providing opportunities to learn, lead, and influence
Training: Certification programs, online courses and seminars, conferences with workshops and seminars. Courses are free to members but have a fee for nonmembers.
Journals/Publications: Facilities Engineering Journal; books and videos available online
Job Listings: View job listings and post résumés online.
National Society of Professional Engineers
1420 King St.
Alexandria, VA 22314-2794
Members/Purpose: Represents individual engineering professionals and licensed engineers (PEs) across all disciplines. Promotes engineering licensure and ethics, enhances the engineer image, and advocates and protects PEs’ legal rights at the national and state levels. Has fifty-three state and territorial societies and more than five hundred chapters.
Training: Provides continuing education opportunities.
Journals/Publication: Engineering Times; online US. Engineering Press Review; monthly e-mail NSPE Update
Job Listings: None
Prev.: Environmental Technology jobs and careers