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Geotechnical Engineers: Roles and Responsibilities

Written on 7/11/13

Geotechnical Engineers: Roles and Responsibilities

The process of understanding and working with soil and rock, underground water, site and structural conditions, in relation to a construction project, is known as geotechnical engineering.

In their professional capacity, geotechnical engineers plan and design the structures for buildings, roads, embankments, canals and hundreds of other construction projects. Beyond their construction role, the geotechnical engineer will also deal with geological hazards like landslides, soil erosion and, in some extreme conditions, earthquakes.


Geotechnical engineering is multi-disciplinary. You'll be expected to have a working knowledge of a number of engineering fields - including ocean engineering, structural engineering, petroleum engineering and material science. The information and research data  which you'll be expected to deal with can be varied, complex and demanding - in addition to their engineering duties, geotechnical engineers are mathematicians, technicians and scientists.

As a career, geotechnical engineering is exciting and diverse - but also very demanding. If you are thinking about a career in geotechnical engineering, what are the roles and responsibilities you can expect to encounter in the job?

Subsurface investigation: the job of the geotechnical engineer essentially starts with a collection of soil samples from the project's intended site, using bores and test pits. Amongst other factors, the analysis will determine the ground's stress bearing capability and stability.

Field test: after research into soil quality and stress-bearing factors, geotechnical engineers must determine whether issues like erosion, settlement and slope will pose a safety risk to the proposed project.

Computer analysis: as a geotechnical engineer, you will be required to analyse the results of subsurface investigations and field tests with dedicated software. Your ability to understand data and model future conditions will be crucial to the development of the construction project. After analysis, geotechnical engineers may be required to assist in the development of earthworks and foundations suitable to the conditions of the site.

Client meetings: a regular duty of the geotechnical engineer is to meet with clients for evaluations of project progress. Budget and time constraints will be important factors in any discussion and geotechnical engineers will be expected to know and provide a variety of important information.

Geotechnical life

Geotechnical engineers will be required to spend most of their time in the field - and in analysis laboratories. The job involves lots of travel and plenty of strict deadlines - and work in most weather conditions. A geotechnical engineer should be inquisitive, motivated and dedicated but will also require formal, university level training - a bachelors degree, sometimes in a subject relating to the field (mathematics, science, geology). Beyond the undergraduate level, some postgraduate courses may deliver an advantage when applying for geotechnical positions. Professional accreditation may also be required.

Geotechnical engineering is a constantly changing field - employees will have to deal with new equipment, updated safety regulations and other factors - above and beyond their duties to a client's construction project. With this in mind, keeping on top of scientific and  industry news is an important habit - but also a way to seek out the best employment opportunities.

If you would like to find a role in Geotechnical Engineering and start your search today, follow this link: