One day in the life of two environmental engineers can be very different, depending on the sector in which the engineers work and their roles. Entry level engineers across sectors will have certain things in common with one another, while more experienced professionals and senior level engineers in positions of high responsibility will have different daily schedules.
Typical Tasks of Entry-Level Engineers
There is one thing common to all entry-level engineers. They work most often in the field, on-site and hands-on. As an entry-level engineer, you may spend a lot of your time overseeing construction, sampling groundwater monitoring wells, carrying out site visits for Phase 1 site investigations for real estate projects. At these construction sites, you may talk to property owners and look for evidence of contamination. Entry-level engineers in health and safety may spend a lot of time checking company and industrial premises and facilities for safety.
Entry level engineers who work in the wastewater sector may conduct studies in leak detection, oversee smoke testing of water lines, collect samples at treatment plants etc. They may also have to write Phase 1 reports, create maps with GIS tools, design CAD piping systems and so on.
Moving Up the Career Ladder
As environmental engineers gain more experience with time, they will find themselves spending more and more time in the office. They may spend a lot of their time writing plans or reports, managing less experienced engineers, designing projects and so on.
At the senior-most levels, engineers will probably spend a lot of time interacting with clients, regulators and public administrators on projects. If they are involved in business development, they may work with prospective clients, write proposals, interview before government contracting committees and so on.
A Typical Day for an Environmental Engineer
Most environmental engineers have a variety of tasks that they carry out each day. In a single day, an engineer working in a firm as a manager in different companies may manage several projects. In government offices, many engineers are involved with issuing permits, remedial evaluations etc. For entry-level engineers, a lot of their day may be spent on site doing evaluations, and then coming back to make reports or for CAD designing.
Here are some of the common elements of a day in the life of an environmental engineer.
Time on the phone: Most environmental engineers will spend quite a lot of their day on the phone and checking emails. They may be taking and responding to community complaints, giving instructions to environmental technicians, offering recommendations for better environmental performance, offering support or negotiate for permit applications etc.
Working in a team: Of course, when you’re working for companies and with other technicians, scientists, engineers, architects, lawyers etc., you spend a lot of time working in a team. There is likely to be frequent group discussions for problem-solving in environmental engineering jobs.
Speaking with customers: Only a small percentage of your daily schedule as an environmental engineer will be spent on talking to customers. If you don’t think your customer service skills are your strong point, a job in this field won’t make you uncomfortable.
Most engineers don’t have to meet strict deadlines on a daily basis, nor do they have to deal with angry customers.
Quite a lot of engineers spend every day in an office environment. They may also work in a warehouse-style environment once a month to a few times a month. They may work outdoors a few times a month. If you take up a job as an environmental engineer, expect to work over 40 hours a week.
Your daily duties may include:
- Preparing, reviewing or updating environmental investigations.
- Obtaining, updating or maintaining permits, plans etc.
- Offering tech support for litigation or environmental remediation
- Inspecting facilities for compliance with regulations
- Offering administrative support by training staff and managers, collecting data, monitoring programs, etc.
- Some engineers may offer support in budget forecasts and implementation as well.
While engineers in this field may work for more than 40 hours a week, it is possible to maintain a good work-life balance after you’ve been on the field for a while. Tasks are a mix between the routine and the technical. There is no glamor in the job of an environmental engineer. But it is a job that helps the society to sustain. Knowing that you are helping society every day can offer plenty of job satisfaction.