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Peace and Blessings. While doing research about the Civil Engineering profession, I see that they typically do a lot of computer work, desk work, meetings, and fieldwork in the sense of overseeing their project. I think this is cool but I was wondering do they ever physically partake in the construction (or demolition) of said project. I then came across this video on youtube. Under the description it stated:

In this video I discuss whether jobs in engineering are hands-on, more computer work, or in the field. Some people might have the wrong image of an engineering job which may cause confusion down the road. The good news is that engineers do everything listed. They make computer models, they work with hardware, and they can go to sites where their projects are being constructed. However, you will notice that a large majority of engineering jobs are desk jobs because that's where a lot of design work and engineering drawings are done. The hands on work is often left to technicians, operators, machinists, and construction workers who physically build (and sometimes test) the designs made by the engineers.

The video gave more insight into my inquiry but did not fully answer my question (in the video it showed Civil Engineers just taking samples from a site to test which I know isn't indicative of the full extent of what Civil Engineers do "hands-on"). He also made mention of depending on the size of the company may determine how much "hands-on" work a Civil Engineer will do. Do Civil Engineers ever really physically get involved with the project and if so how likely or often will they? As always thank you for your time and assistance.

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    $\begingroup$ I deleted the comments because they were unhelpful. If you have an answer, then answer. $\endgroup$
    – hazzey
    Jun 17 at 1:46
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The short answer is:

  • They are permitted/allowed to do work.
  • Sometimes they can do (they have skills) at least some of the labor.
  • Usually they don't get involved with the actual labor.

The last part is the most important - IMHO- and there are many reasons for that:

  • there is literally not enough time (usually engineers need to see the larger picture and the labor work is usually micromanaging).
  • the manual labor does not pay as well as the engineer's job
  • At least to my personal experience (this probably is less evident in more progressive countries), there is - unfortunately - a snobbish aspect. Some engineers don't want to get their hands dirty because they feel its beneath them. On the other hand, some construction crews may perceive negatively the effort of an engineer to get involved with the manual labor (some may see it as an insult to their craftmanship, others might feel threatened, or just loose respect).
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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your short answer which covered and illustrated your point beautifully. Thank you for the breakdown at the end. I know laborers/tradesmen can have a lot of pride pertaining to their craft so I can see both ends of the spectrum (the snobbish demeanor or the insult).....pertaining to the manual labor I would assume the engineer wouldn't do it for extra finances but maybe to save $$$ (if they own their own firm/business) or for the love of actually doing the labor (have no evidence to back that theory just throwing it out there). $\endgroup$
    – יהודה
    Jun 17 at 5:34
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    $\begingroup$ "I would assume the engineer wouldn't do it for extra finances but maybe to save $$$ (if they own their own firm/business)": at the end of the day they won't save as much (especially for large projects). "for the love of actually doing the labor." this is the best case scenario IMHO, and you'd probably get really nice pieces of engineering from the second lot. $\endgroup$
    – NMech
    Jun 17 at 5:42
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A Civil Engineer is a person trained on how to solve problems or put things together (build) using his/her brain and express his/her thoughts/ideas on the papers (reports, drawings) for the persons in trades to carry out (build), using their trained knowledge and skill for the specific trade, which usually requires physical strength.

Actually, many engineers do not have the specific knowledge (details) of the building trades until been on the job for a length of time, and not likely to acquire the skill that requires another set of training, which usually obtained through a trade school or apprentice, and possess the required physical strength and endurance.

Finally, as noted by others, construction is a laborious trade, and typical labor is paid much less than the engineer. The difference in pay scale has prevented an engineer from performing labor tasks. Even arguably that in certain times and markets, highly skilled labor could be paid much better than the engineer, but then, the engineer is unlikely to have the high-skill which can only be acquired through time and practice.

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    $\begingroup$ Your assessment "I actually assumed that they would be more familiar with it beforehand due to the intensive planning that is involved in the early stages....." is correct with a fact to be noted: The planning requires/involves many levels of engineers that having a different level of engineering experience, which in turn, largely depends on the length of service of the individual engineer. Since construction involves so many sub-trades, it shouldn't be a surprise that many things of a sub-trade would only be learnt on the job, and only time will broaden and strengthen the experience. $\endgroup$
    – r13
    Jun 17 at 12:52
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    $\begingroup$ "if there is an error within the structure when does blame fall on the laborers compared to the engineer?" This is a very broad question with many possibilities and scenarios. In general, the engineer will be blamed for the design mistakes, deviation from the design code, or providing specifications that contrasting the recognized industrial/engineering standards. These errors can be noticed or assessed by the government agency that issuing the construction permit or by the experienced contractor. $\endgroup$
    – r13
    Jun 17 at 13:37
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    $\begingroup$ The contractor is required to provide materials and labor to construct (build) per the construction documents issued by the engineer, and he/she also has the responsibility to ensure the quality of works sticking/meeting the industrial/trade standard, any deviation of the above duties/responsibilities, the contractor will be assigned the blame. Yes, many unforeseeable conditions or undesirable construction results would be noticed by the laborers, then it is the contractor's duty to address the engineer the issue to find a solution. $\endgroup$
    – r13
    Jun 17 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ Note that the deviation of site conditions and the unacceptable construction results may also be noticed by the engineer during the routine visit, or the construction inspectors that are responsible for overseeing the construction activities and ensure the quality of the constructed works. But, neither the engineer nor the contractor will be blamed for the unforeseeable conditions or undesirable results which may be caused by other factors that neither party has control. $\endgroup$
    – r13
    Jun 17 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ To conclude the lengthy comments, I'll emphasize that the duty of the engineer is to plan, design, and offer his/her intent through drawings and specifications. The duty of the contractor is to build the structures in conformance with the intent of the design. The laborer is to physically carry out the design by hand, thus can /will only be blamed for his/her lack of skill or negligence in follow through with the standard care of the trade. $\endgroup$
    – r13
    Jun 17 at 14:35
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Of course engineers can do the physical trade labor, but the reality is that they likely have other jobs to do (supervision, quality inspection, etc.) instead of operating tools or equipment. It's unlikely that the average engineer has the skills necessary to perform most trade tasks, and the skills the engineer does have (working a shovel) are probably a poor labor choice.

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    $\begingroup$ Peace and thank you very much for your comment/input. I can see the time aspect (so many other responsibilities) being a factor to take them away from it but I am extremely surprised by the responses about how a lot of Engineers lack trade skills (initially at least). I know from other career fields in regards to those in leadership positions, they usually have experience working over those whom they lead. $\endgroup$
    – יהודה
    Jun 21 at 15:48
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The answer depends on the work environment. In some unionized shops in the USA, engineers are specifically prohibited from performing any sort of work AT ALL on the factory floor. If the shop steward sees an engineer just walking through a production area with a tool showing in his or her pocket, the steward will write up a grievance against the engineer and the engineer will be subject to discipline.

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  • $\begingroup$ Peace and thank you for the answer. That's a great (very important) piece of info. Any idea why they would be so strict and stringent in prohibiting the Engineers from performing any type of laborious work? $\endgroup$
    – יהודה
    Jun 18 at 20:28
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    $\begingroup$ In the USA, engineers are considered in the same class as "management" and are paid a fixed salary. As such, they are the enemy of the hourly unionized workers and if an engineer performs a task on the factory floor, he is stealing work from the union. So the union inserts a clause into their contract that prohibits engineers from joining in the work- and even CARRYING a tool is a reportable grievance. $\endgroup$ Jun 18 at 22:27
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    $\begingroup$ In the US, this might apply to 5% of job sites. $\endgroup$
    – Tiger Guy
    Jun 21 at 13:26

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