Structural engineers work to design and repair structures such as houses, offices, stadiums, bridges, oil rigs, hospitals, factories and even satellites. They have to make sure that structures can withstand pressures both from within the structure itself at various points, and also make sure they can withstand pressures from outside, such as extreme weather e.g. winds, in order that structures do not bend, twist or vibrate, or even collapse when exposed to such pressures.
The design usually takes place via CAD (Computer aided design) and using mathematical modelling techniques the engineer can create simulations of the structure and test how various forces will impact on it. They will work with a team of people, including architects and other engineers in order to reach agreement about how the structure should progress and how best to accommodate safety features within the aesthetic objectives desired. The structural engineer will be available to advise on each stage of its building by visiting the work in progress. Their job could entail visiting existing structures in order to assess how safe they are, and whether they need repairing or even re-building.
Some of their typical work duties include using computers to calculate the basic components of a structure, and predict the pressures the building will undergo and how it will be affected. They will examine how changing the material of the structure from e.g. wood to steel will cause the pressures to change. They will produce detailed diagrams and drawings which are understandable by those building the structures and will liaise with them at all stages of the erection of the structure in order to make sure they are building in accordance with all directions.
The job of a structural engineer is a very responsible one, since they make sure that our buildings and structures are safe and fit for purpose. The pay is good – upwards of £50,000 once qualified and there is the opportunity to become self-employed and take career breaks, since demand is always high for experts in this area. Some structural engineers work abroad on international projects e.g. airports, or may travel to countries which have experienced extreme weather e.g. earthquakes, in order to advise on the repair and rebuilding of structures.