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As work on highways speeds up, airports expand and the Commonwealth Games 2010 kick in a new round of development, civil engineers are in demand, reports Rahat Bano.

education Updated: Sep 17, 2009 16:45 IST
Rahat Bano

The mere mention of a civil engineer brings to mind the image of a yellow-helmeted person surrounded by mounds of concrete, cement dunes, cement mixers, loaders, cranes and bulldozers. But for people like Sachin Pandit, 31, these elements are not part of his everyday work environment. This deputy manager with India’s largest power equipment maker, Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL), leads a team which designs structures for thermal power plants, prepares bills of quantities (based on which estimated tender cost is worked out) for new projects, does soil investigations and engineering, and sets out “civil specifications” which define, for example, which grade of concrete to use and how the entire civil works have to be carried out.

The last choice
For this IIT Delhi alumnus, civil engineering was the last choice but he settled for it due to his entrance test rank. Till about 10 years ago, high-ranking students avoided civil engineering. That was 1999, computer science was in demand, even electrical and mechanical were giving well-paying jobs.

But the economic climate has changed since then. “Things are looking up” in the infrastructure sector, says this MTech (civil engineering - structures).

The Central government launched the Rs 1.25 lakh crore Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. The Golden Quadrilateral, network of highways linking the four metros, is to be six-laned. Delhi is moving a lot of earth to get a facelift for the Commonwealth Games. Delhi and Mumbai airports are expanding. New greenfield airports are coming up in different cities and towns. Railways are going to build freight corridors and add more lines. The government intends to accommodate slum-dwellers in proper housing in the next five years.

Says O P Goel, former president, Institution of Engineers (India) and retired director general, Central Public Works Department (CPWD), “Today, mega projects costing lakhs are being taken up.” R R Singh, Director General, National Real Estate Development Council, says that there are great employment prospects in a developing country like India in the long-term.

Money has been a big factor in why bright students gave this discipline the cold shoulder. But according to experts, there’s a revision in the trends – due to higher scales under the sixth pay commission and the dips in the downturn-hit computer and IT spheres.

A K Nagpal, Head, Department of Civil Engineering, IIT Delhi, says that unlike student preferences in years past, “civil engineering has improved in the last one or two years.” A fresh civil engineer’s salary, is somewhat close to their computer science and IT counterparts. The starting salary for IT engineers in general used to be Rs 3 lakh-Rs 3.5 lakh a year; now it’s Rs 2.5 lakh for IT professionals and Rs 2 lakh-Rs 2.5 lakh for civil engineers.

Demand ‘picking’ up

Singh says the manpower demand has dropped but this is “a temporary phenomenon. Now, it has started picking up. It will take a minimum of one to one-and-half years to come to 2007 levels.” The slowdown notwithstanding, there is a demand for quality professionals.

S.K. Singh, professor of civil engineering at Delhi Technological University (formerly Delhi College of Engineering) says. “There’s a lot of scope for consultancy for infrastructure development.” Environmental engineering is coming up, too, as projects require the “green” signal, literally, he adds.

Civil engineering is about the design and planning, construction, supervision, quality control and maintenance of physical structures, such as buildings, roads, bridges, dams, canals, sea ports, power plants and airports. Specialisations include structure, transportation, geo-technical and geo-environmental, and water resources engineering. Employers include municipal bodies, the defence forces, National Highway Authority of India, government development arms like the DDA and Noida Authority, BHEL, Larsen & Toubro, etc. The Union Public Service Commission holds the Indian Engineering Services exam for the Indian Railway Service of Engineers, Central Engineering Service, and other services

9 am: Reach my den. Work on designs and projects on the comp using software such as AutoCAD, STAAD and ANSYS
10 am: Vet the draughtsman’s drawings, based on the engineer’s design of columns for an upcoming project. Make changes, finalise it and send it to the site
11 am: Look at my diary for the five-six projects in the works. Shoot off mails to the mechanical and electrical departments for their inputs
12.30 pm: Go through inputs received from various departments for other projects. If any clarification is required, fire an e-mail back
1.30-2 pm: Tank up on food
2 pm: Again go through e-mails and correspondence from customers asking for clarifications and commenting on my drawings
5 pm: Summarise the entire work – prepare a report and see if any follow-up is required. Call the travel desk to check on my air tickets for a district in Jharkhand where some technical problem has cropped up
6 pm: Close shop for the day

(The average day of a site engineer would be different, involving supervision and people and material management)

In general, a fresh civil engineer can make Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000 a month. Someone with 15-20 years’ experience can earn Rs 75,000 to Rs 1 lakh a month. In the government sector, for example, the CPWD director general earns Rs 80,000 a month

Spatial thinking – ability to visualise a design
. Quantitative skills
. Quick decision-making skills
. People-orientation
. Physical stamina

How do i get there?
Take up science with maths at the plus-two level. After this you may go for a BE/BTech degree in civil engineering or a diploma. Admission to degree programmes is usually through a competitive test. Diploma-holders have the option of upgrading to the Bachelor’s level through the Associate Membership of the Institution of Engineers (AMIE)S

Institutes & urls
The Indian Institutes of Technology, Delhi, Bombay, Guwahati, Kanpur, Kharagpur, Madras, Roorkee and Bhubaneswar
. Institute of Technology, Varanasi,
. Delhi Technological University
. BITS Pilani
. Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra (Ranchi)
. National Institutes of Technology - Tiruchirapalli, Warangal, Surathkal, Calicut, Kurukshetra, Durgapur, Rourkela, Jalandhar, Hamirpur, Jamshedpur
nitt.edu, nitw.ac.in, nitk.ac.in, nitc.ac.in, nitkkr.ac.in, nitdgp.ac.in, nitrkl.ac.in, nitj.ac.in, nitham.ac.in, nitjsr.ac.in
. Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology, Allahabad,
. MN Institute of Technology, Jaipur,
. Maulana Azad NIT, Bhopal
www.manit.ac.in (Indicative list)

Pros & Cons
You hold a technical qualification
. Challenging job
. You might get to work on the President’s house or some other landmark
. See the physical manifestation of the fruit of your labour
. The profession is not given its due
. Relatively low compensation
. You’ll be hauled up if a structure (building, bridge, road, etc) has a problem
. Get to travel but you might have to move away from family


Q&A with O P Goel

'The climate is changing'

O P Goel, retired director general, Central Public Works Department and past president, Institution of Engineers (India), talks about the profession, then and now

What is the scope in civil engineering today?
Since pre-civilisation days, civil engineering has been the basis of all human development. Once, primitive man wanted to cross a stream. He found an uprooted tree and put it across the stream. That became the world's first bridge. In the Mughal era, huge constructions were done, such as the Taj Mahal. In Egypt, the pyramids were built. Then, there was no concept of cost and time. Today, we are worried about time and cost. Today, in the world at large, take any sector, be it infrastructure, services, tourism, the basics have to provided by civil engineers - roads, bridges, ports, power plants, dams, fertiliser plants, nuclear plants, schools... Take any sector of development, it's based on civil engineering… Huge investments are available under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission... Industries are being set up. New refineries, too.

The need for civil engineering and civil engineers is paramount. In fact, we are not able to provide the number of (quality) civil engineers required by government departments, contractors and consultants.
Many companies have advertised to recruit civil engineers from other countries. This paradox has emerged because these professionals were not duly compensated. In the last 25 years, the student intake in civil engineering reduced. And after civil engineering, people migrated to other countries or moved to IT or management. Civil engineering was not glamorous because of the pay disparity and thus bright students didn't take it up. IEI is trying to improve the situation by upgrading diploma-holders and others with informal education, to become associate members of IEI (AMIE), which is equivalent to graduation.

What's the demand for civil engineers today?
Quality demand is still higher. Now, many poor quality institutes have come up. IoE and others are training these boys in practical construction management - with six- and nine-month courses in different areas like construction, design, quantity surveying, field surveying, managing labs…

Adequate number of engineers are not there, so projects are suffering in time and quality. That's why, some people retired from different government posts have been hired again in various roles in the government. People from the government (CPWD) have joined the private sector. Consultants and contractors want have asked the National Highway Authority of India to relax the upper age limit for advisers so they can hire people around 75 years.
The (industry's) climate is changing. The need is huge. The scope is huge.

What about the pay packages?
Pay packages have slightly improved. A good civil engineer can earn about Rs 20,000-Rs 25,000 a month.

Interviewed by Rahat Bano