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Is Civil Engineering The Most Important Profession in America?

Is Civil Engineering The Most Important Profession in America?

Civil engineering is one of the most respected professions of all time, but just how relevant is it to modern American society? Let’s dive deeper into the inner-workings of this storied profession and see just how important it is to American society.


A Brief History of Civil Engineering

The roots of civil engineering as a discipline can be traced back to 1716, in France. With the foundation of the Bridge and Highway Corps, the world saw the first signs of public systems being approached with strategies and ideas that had, previously, only been used in the military. This new methodology eventually gave birth to the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées in 1747, a historical moment which would culminate with the inception of what the world would soon come to know as the discipline of civil engineering.

Teachers and instructors wrote lessons during this time which applied military tactics, concepts, and systems to non-military, public systems and mechanisms. This resulted in something of a “great awakening”. In fact, this new approach was so paradigm-shifting that British engineers would teach themselves French to learn from  their manuscripts and books. Once these French ideas and concepts were translated to English, the revolution was truly born.

But revolutions take time, of course. It wasn’t unti the 1800s that civil engineering became a mainstay in Western teaching worldwide. France and Germany emerged during these times as innovative world leaders in the field of effective public systems, and Great Britain would aid in continuing to educate their populace and implement these systems, insuring that civil engineering was a trade that was here to stay in the modern world… and it certainly did.

Civil Engineering in America

Civil engineering was first taught in America in 1819 at Norwich University. Later, in 1852, the American Society of Civil Engineers became the first engineering society in the USA. The discipline has continued to grow exponentially ever since then, and there are now thousands of civil engineering students every year attending one of the 227 civil engineering schools nationwide. Compounding this data with the fact that the top 5 states (Texas, Florida, Illinois, California, and New York) boast over 100,000 jobs in civil engineering collectively with annual mean wages either approaching-or-surpassing 6-figures, the current state of civil engineering in the US seems to be more solid than ever before.

How Civil Engineering Impacts Your Life

Unless you live on a remote island or some other part of the world that is untouched by any sort of infrastructure or society, then civil engineering is most certainly a vital component of your everyday life, though you might not notice it (which is precisely the point).

The roads that you drive on, the buildings that you enter, the bridges you cross, the stoplights you adhere to as you travel along these things, how those things are designed, how cohesively they blend and work with and around one-another, etc. These are structures and systems that are created and controlled by civil engineers, making civil engineering the invisible hand that allows us to go about our daily lives with structure and convenience.

How Civil Engineering Adapts to Society

In a macro sense: as a country develops, so too does the engineering of that countries public systems and structures. Civil engineering is the “how” of that equation, they make it all possible.

Let’s assess it from more of a micro-persepctive.

Let’s say that you live in a small town in Idaho.The population is less than 5,000 and things move relatively slowly, but the town has an excellent reputation and over time, more and more people start to move in. If this trend continues, as it typically does, then slowly things will need to be built. Roads, neighborhoods and houses, schools, bars, restaurants, tourist traps, businesses, etc. This will also call for more complex advancements as well that most of us probably don’t think about at first glance: things like electricity systems, water systems, and traffic systems will need to be improved upon to accommodate the growing needs of this once-small town in Idaho. 

Civil engineers are at the center of these developments: without them, these innovations wouldn’t be facilitated  and the small Idaho town would crumble under the pressure of its own success.

The Future of Civil Engineering in America

The job outlook for 2021 – 2031 for civil engineering is looking bright indeed. Employment for the field is expected to grow by 7%, with the number of jobs expected to increase by 318,300. The typical entry-level position simply requires a bachelor’s degree and there are a wide array of opportunities within the field, including (but not at all limited to) opportunities in architecture, local government schools and hospitals, petroleum and coal manufacturing, and oil and gas extraction.

With so few barriers for entry, such high pay, and so many different fields within the discipline, it only makes sense that we’re expecting to see civil engineering grow in relevance as the years go by.

In Conclusion

“Is civil engineering the most important profession in America?” It’s a valid question, and one that has proved itself worthy of discussion. There is a layer of subjectivity around the topic, what’s important and what isn’t… But we don’t benefit from pitting civil engineering against other important public-work professions. To do so contradicts the very nature of civil engineering. 

As we’ve observed from the history of its formation, civil engineering is an embrace of multiple disciplines into one, with the purpose of streamlinging the process of maximizing the functionality of all public systems. It’s because of civil engineering that most citizens don’t need to worry about the structure of the various systems which allow them to get to work, see their families, celebrate their weekends and travel to different cities and places safely.

Because of civil engineers, people are given the opportunity to focus on things which are immediately important to them. Looking at it from this perspective, civil engineering is not only a huge component of everyday American life, but a hugely relevant proponent of the American approach to life: freedom. 


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