Vancouver Career Spotlight: Structural Engineer

Vancouver Career Spotlight is an interview-style blog series that features the amazing professionals that live and work in the Greater Vancouver area. Our vision is to showcase the many career opportunities that exist in Vancouver and provide inspiration to the future generation of workers and career changers.

Patrick is a Structural Engineer working in Vancouver.  He obtained his Bachelor of Applied Science degree from the University of British Columbia and Masters of Engineering degree from the University of Toronto.


Why did you choose this career path?

Engineering is all about applying theoretical science to the real world. One of the world’s widely recognized scientists, Sir Isaac Newton laid the foundation of classical mechanics which are extensively used today from aerospace to automobiles and to the building industry. Among various sub topics in physics while studying back in high school, I was particularly good at solving Newtonian mechanics problems which eventually led me to my career choice as a structural engineer.

Compared to other sub-disciplines, structural engineering allows you to see and appreciate the physical realm to which you have designed. Whether it is the Bird’s Nest in Beijing, the 30 St. Mary Axe in London or even just a typical powerhouse in Vancouver, no matter how big or small the project, your structural designs have a profound impact on society and the advancement of our development.

What are your main responsibilities?

The Structural Engineer works as an active member with Project Engineers and Technologists within project teams from preliminary design of structures to detailed design stages, all the way through to its construction. A typical project cycle involves modelling and designing your structure with a specialized analysis program, drafting your design and eventually visiting the construction site to observe your creation morph into a reality. 

What are the opportunities for career growth and advancement? 

When you start out as a junior engineer, you will be working under a senior who will guide you through the design process. After at least 4 years of experience, you can apply for a Professional Engineering license which promotes you to an intermediate level, which allows you to stamp your own drawings to further advance your career.

Depending on what company you are working for, your experience will vary dramatically.  Smaller firms have fewer design tools such as pre-written spreadsheets and analysis programs which means you may have to create your own instead. On the other hand, larger firms have more design tools and more people with specialized expertise, though there are challenges that come with working with larger design teams.

What kind of person would like a career as a Structural Engineer?

A person who enjoys piecing ideas together to create solutions would absolutely pursue this career. Structural engineering can be a bit iterative at times but a person who has persistence, motivation and a commitment to self-learning can truly perform well in this career. 

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What is a common misconception people have about this career? 

A common misconception of graduate engineers is that they treat each project given as if it were a typical homework assignment. Imagine if you were the client to receive a finished product that is 90% accurate — would you feel safe to occupy the structure? It is integral that the engineer evaluates every angle during the design process with a pessimistic view in which every possible failure mode is identified in order to keep the public safe.

What school subjects would a person in this career typically excel in?

Typically, a preferred candidate is one who excels in theoretical knowledge in math and physics but due to the evolution of technology throughout the years, programming is also becoming an essential qualification.

What type of education would you typically need to work as a Structural Engineer?

First you would need to complete a four-year bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.  A fresh graduate will need to register with the provincial engineering association (EGBC for British Columbia) to obtain his/her Engineering in Training certificate in order to land a job. For the junior engineer job title, you will be working under a senior which will guide you through the design process. After at least 4 years of experience, you can apply for a Professional Engineering license which promotes you to an intermediate level which allows you to stamp your own drawings to further advance your career.

What are the best programs to get this education?

Engineering is very common and any post-secondary institution will teach you the required knowledge. A prospective candidate would attend UBC or BCIT which offers civil engineering programs in Greater Vancouver.

What types of organizations would typically hire a Structural Engineer?

Some examples of large corporations nationwide in Canada include: Aecom RJC, Stantec, and SNC-Lavalin. There are also many medium-sized firms that operate locally as well.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in pursuing a career as a Structural Engineer?

Whether it is taking a course, doing homework or working on a job, always ask questions when you do not know the answer. One important point to ingrain in your mind is that there is no such thing as a stupid question. Never lose sight of the fact that you are there to learn or perform your job. Second guessing yourself is normal and you might feel intimidated by your professors, peers or seniors but if you are holding back on asking questions, not only is time being wasted, you are also depleting valuable project budget. 

Lastly, an important takeaway is that engineering is in a very competitive market and when you just graduated from university, avoid being overly ambitious and apply to all related positions that are available online. Everyone starts from the ground up!

I hope you enjoyed this Career Spotlight interview about the structural engineering career track. Below are additional resources if you’re interested in researching this career further. Feel free to ask questions in the comments. If you’re interested in seeing if this career is right for you, send us a message here, and let’s help you find a career that aligns with your personality, interests, and goals.


More information about Engineering in BC:

WorkBC – Civil engineers (earnings, workforce statistics, related careers, etc.)

Engineers & Geoscientists British Columbia

Structural Engineers Association of British Columbia

Education Programs (in the Greater Vancouver area):

University of British Columbia | British Columbia Institute of Technology

Crossroads Career Audit Email Course

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