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Careers in civil engineering: Real-world experience prepares grads to meet industry demands

July 13, 2022

Over the past two years, some industries have slowed down. Some have even come to a stop for certain lengths of time.

In civil engineering, though, there’s been no shortage of demand. No matter the discipline, the work of building and planning has continued and even increased as the world has dealt with COVID-19.

“COVID did not stop construction,” says Shari Bielert, program chair for Civil Engineering Technology (CET) at RRC Polytech.

“The supply-chain issues we hear about every day have to do with materials, but (they exist) on the employment side, as well. The construction industry, the environmental industry, all of it needs students in the program getting these skills and graduating.”

The demand in the industry is a phenomenon addressed by the program, where first-year students get a general introduction to different CET disciplines before branching off, doing co-op work, and choosing one of five program options: Architectural/Engineering Technology, Environmental Engineering Technology, Geomatics Technology, Municipal Engineering Technology or Structural Engineering Technology.

The co-op aspect is a fantastic opportunity for students to not only get into the workplace, get paid and see how their theoretical knowledge can be applied, but also get more established than their university peers in the workplace, often as early as their first year of studies.

“Our students have the advantage of working more months than students in university programs — basically until it freezes up in Winnipeg in October, which is good,” says Dylan Yanchynski, one of the co-op coordinators for CET.

“There are those who leave and go back to university and the construction firms are left with a lot of paperwork, there’s a lot of outstanding things from the end of summer. Our students can work until winter and we’ve noticed that over the last couple of years that employers are, for the first time ever, keeping their co-op students throughout the year as they get tied to a project, or take a lead on that project.”

In a CET student’s first year, they spend eight months in the classroom before a mandatory six-month work term. Then, after choosing a discipline to head off into, they have another six-month work term in their second year.

“We make it really easy for students,” says Yanchynski, adding the demand for co-op students is higher than ever.

“There are many ways they can satisfy their co-op requirement — there’s Job Central (now Carer Bridge), which is a website where only RRC Polytech students can go on and find positions. We run through about, on average, 120 specific postings that equate to almost 350 positions. This year and last year, we’ve been breaking records. Where we typically have 120 postings a season, this year we have eight more weeks of posting jobs — school’s not out yet — and we’re at last year’s total already, around 160 job postings.”

Where students are doing those placements matters, too, especially when it exposes you to something truly life-altering. That was the case for RRC Polytech grad Mélan Howe, who after their co-op, got their start in an exciting career in water monitoring.

“As a Water Survey Tech, I got to jump out of helicopters and wade mountain streams that were teeming with salmon,” says Howe (shown above).

“When I returned home to Manitoba, I was awarded a senior technical position in the same field for a different branch of government with Manitoba Infrastructure. Scientists with PhDs applied to be my assistant, but we selected an RRC Polytech graduate because she came with the practical skills needed to get the job done. No regrets!”

These practical skills include technical knowledge, as RRC Polytech students are often ahead of the curve when it comes to engineering software and what’s coming down the pike.

“You think of the new tagline, ‘in front of what’s ahead,’ that’s truly what we’re trying to do,” says Bielert. “You look at the software students are using, the technology they’re using, we embed in them the skillsets and the knowledge of what industry needs, but also what’s coming down the pike to industry.”

Bielert highlights how, for example, RRC Polytech students in the architectural field were introduced to Revit and BIM software early, while most of the industry was still using AutoCAD.

“They had some idea of how to use that software and they were hired to help the organization move in that direction. The industry can do less training because they can hire knowledge directly into their organization by hiring our students.”

It’s not just what you can do technically, though. Through workplace experience, students also gain the confidence to know they’re ready for a career before graduation.

“Even after one co-op term, it’s a complete change,” says Yanchynski. “A complete change in terms of maturity, how they work in their courses, once they get a case of responsibility and confidence that ‘yes you can do that,’ it’s a game-changer.”

Those careers are as varied as the disciplines themselves. In architectural engineering technology , it might be a building systems designer or project manager. In environmental, it could be a water survey tech like Howe, or an environmental operations specialist. For geomatics, it’s a career out in the field, in construction and land surveys, possibly with mining and oil surveys.

Graduates from Civil Engineering Technology programs help build Manitoba, from the buildings to the roadways, bridges and systems connecting them.

“Even if somebody isn’t sure if this is meant for them, we also teach these students how to learn,” encourages Bielert.

“If [you are] familiar and interested in the industry but don’t know where they want to go, come into Civil Engineering Tech, get an idea of what kind of opportunities are out there, have a work experience through a co-op, and find out that this is where you’re meant to be.”

Civil Engineering Technology

Prepare for a career as an engineering technologist in architectural engineering, environmental engineering, municipal engineering, structural engineering or geomatics technology. The Civil Engineering Technology program is still accepting application for the upcoming Fall 2022 intake, but seats are limited so apply today.

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Profile by John Gaudes (Creative Communications, 2012)