Are you interested in sustainability? Are maths and science some of your favourite subjects right now? Then, becoming an Environmental Engineer is a career path you should consider!
This article will give you the low-down of what being an Environmental Engineer is all about — from a typical day at work to industry trends to advice from a current Environmental Engineer.
So, let’s dive in!
How did you end up in this role?
“I am a Graduate Environmental Engineer with Transport for NSW. I am currently in my third 6-month placement, working in the Hunter Environment Team in Newcastle,” Mark tells us, ”I applied for the role through Seek, and managed to be successful!”
The graduate program with Transport for NSW consists of four 6-month work placements in various teams. For example, Mark’s first placement was in the Northern Environment Team which mostly provided environmental advice for projects in bridge maintenance, road maintenance and vegetation clearing.
Grad programs are a great way to dip your toe into many different sectors of a company, so by the end of it, you’ll have a clearer idea of what you’d like to pursue in a full-time capacity! If you’re keen on getting started in a grad program, make sure to start searching and applying for them before you graduate.
Studies and Experience
“I studied a double degree at the University of Newcastle (Bachelor of Environmental Engineering and Bachelor of Science Biology),” Mark says.
In terms of internships, Mark completed a month-long work experience as an undergraduate at Zenviron, a civil construction company that builds wind and solar farms. After graduating, he worked as a Graduate Engineer at Zenviron for one year.
What made you want to work in this industry?
With Mark’s interest in the environment as well as the transport industry, a role at Transport for NSW was absolutely perfect for him!
What is an Environmental Engineer?
Environmental Engineers specialise in promoting sustainable infrastructure and checking on the long-term environmental impact of engineering projects. Through sustainability assessments and the analysis of results, they find solutions or develop improved methods to these engineering projects.
A lot of the work requires calculations and a general knack for strategic planning!
Roles and Responsibilities
As an Environmental Engineer, there are usually two types of work days for Mark.
“The first is an office or working from home day,” Mark explains.
“On these days, I usually respond to any emails, review environmental approval and review of environmental factor documents, provide environmental advice to clients and stakeholders, catch up and chat with colleagues, attend meetings and look up the latest environmental news and project updates.”
The second type of day is field work. “Usually starting early (sometimes before the sun is up), I will travel out to various work sites for inspections, to provide advice on any environmental issues that may be occurring, inform engineers of the level of environmental assessment required for various projects and generally enjoy being out and about in the field,” Mark says.
Which industries can this career be found in?
There are four main industries that Environmental Engineers work in!
58.6% of Environmental Engineers work in the Professional, Scientific and Technical Services Industry. Coming second at 15.3% is the Electricity, Gas, Water and Waste Services Industry. Then, the last two industries are the Public Administration and Safety Industry and the Mining Industry.
Characteristics and Qualities
The top 5 knowledge areas of an Environmental Engineer are:
- Engineering and technology
- Technical Design
The knowledge area of Engineering and technology relates to the ability to design and implement improved sustainability methods as well as checking that the environmental health standards of an engineering project are met. Similarly, an Environmental Engineer’s knowledge area of Technical Design is key to planning out appropriate assessment methods and processes during fieldwork days!
Of course, these are all foregrounded in the foundational knowledge of chemistry, physics and mathematics — these subjects inform all the assessments and reasoning behind the work of an Environmental Engineer.
Steps to Becoming an Environmental Engineer
What should you study?
To be qualified in working as an Environmental Engineer, you need to study a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering majoring in Environmental Engineering! Although it is not necessary, it is common to complete postgraduate studies to deepen and specialise your engineering knowledge.
How long does it take to become an Environmental Engineer?
A Bachelor of Engineering typically takes four years of full-time study. As soon as you start working a job as an Environmental Engineer, you are considered one!
On top of physical fieldwork tests, most Environmental Engineers use MATLAB and Excel for statistical analysis. So if you want to get a head start and familiarise yourself with the functions of these programs, it’ll only benefit you in the future!
What will this career look like in the future?
How in-demand is this career?
With the increasing impact of climate change, Environmental Engineers are more than ever playing an important part in the world.
“Environmental engineers will be in demand to work on practical environmental solutions for companies, governments and businesses, now and into the future,” Mark says.
“Recently, there has been a shift towards focusing on the environment and reducing environmental impacts, with legislation requiring organisations to do so.”
Are there opportunities to grow or specialise?
Short answer: “Absolutely!” Mark tells us, “Environmental engineers cover such a wide scope of specialisations. From contaminated site remediation, to mining, transport, marine, construction, soil and so on.”
As the capacities of technology shape our physical world, there’ll always be new projects for Environmental Engineers to take part in. For Transport for NSW, Environmental Engineers are working on the new major road and rail construction projects such as Northconnex and the Parramatta light rail.
If you’re genuinely considering a career in Environmental Engineering, you’ll always have something new or interesting to work on!
|Annual Salary||Future Growth||Skill Level Rating|
|$112,000+||Very strong over the next 5 years||Very high skill|
Influential Trends and the Future of this Industry
Undoubtedly, the biggest trend for Environmental Engineers is the growing consequences of climate change.
The need for sustainable engineering solutions is a driving factor for the rapid and strong growth of the industry. This goes into every aspect of the human-made and natural world such as in transport and air quality.
Working within environmental engineering means that you could be making a big difference with the work you do or coming up with solutions that will improve the world we live in.
Best Thing & Worst Thing
What do you enjoy most about this job?
“The field work is always fun and enjoyable — being able to go outside and enjoy some good weather makes the day go quick! It hardly feels like work,” Mark says. “I love being out and about outside and seeing the wide variety of projects that Transport for NSW conducts.”
What do you feel is the worst part of this job?
For Mark, the worst part of the job is having to do “lots of reading and reviewing of environmental documentation“.
“It can be very tiring, so I try to balance it out with field work!” he says.
With all roles, there are going to be aspects that you aren’t necessarily a fan of — for Mark, it’s the paperwork aspect, but like he said, the field work aspect of the role makes each and every day of work different, so it all balances out!
Advice for Aspiring Environmental Engineers
What do you wish you had known before you started working in this career?
“How broad the field is. An environmental engineering degree can open up so many doors,” Mark says.
Mark’s top advice is “to take any opportunity that comes your way!”
As he’s explained, environmental engineering as a degree can give you such a versatile career, so don’t be afraid to explore all the options that you have.
Why should people consider taking on this career?
“The work is very satisfying. I like to know that I have had an impact on improving the environmental outcomes for various projects,” Mark tells us.
“There are ample opportunities to gain employment and develop your career, and the pay isn’t too shabby either.” So if you’re already passionate about the environment, have a knack for maths, you could be compensated well if environmental engineering is something you choose to pursue!
“Transport for NSW has made a real shift to offering flexible working hours. We are able to work from home, dial in to meetings remotely and work hours that suit us,” Mark explains. “The 35 hour week and flex time accrual [flexible working hours] contributes to a great work-life balance.”
All companies differ, but the benefits that Mark gets from working for Transport for NSW are awesome for attaining a healthy work-life balance.
What is the workplace culture like?
“I have experienced a great workplace culture. Friendly, yet professional — everyone I have met is happy to help out, have a chat and a laugh while still getting the job done,” Mark says.
“There is support for mental health, and groups for wellbeing, LGBTIQ+, fitness, pets and even cooking!”
Lynn Chen is a Content Writer at Art of Smart Education and is a Communication student at UTS with a major in Creative Writing. Lynn’s articles have been published in Vertigo, The Comma, and Shut Up and Go. In her spare time, she also writes poetry.