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The Differences Between a Structural Engineer and a Building Engineer

Engineer on the roof
Engineer on the roof

The Differences Between a Structural Engineer and a Building Engineer

Renovation tradesThe Differences Between a Structural Engineer and a Building Engineer

Structural Engineer vs Building Engineer: What are Their Roles?

Who is the Structural Engineer?

The structural engineer is integral to ensuring the stability and durability of structures amid environmental pressures. They specialise in designing, analysing, and managing various constructions, from skyscrapers to bridges. Utilising a variety of cutting-edge software, they calculate stability factors and develop detailed plans, overseeing construction progress on-site. Legally mandated in Quebec for public projects or those exceeding $100,000, they prioritise safety and compliance, conducting environmental studies to address potential challenges and ensure structural integrity.

Who is the Building Engineer?

At the helm of all operations, the building engineer plays a crucial role in the planning and construction process. They work closely with architects to design essential building systems such as lighting, heating, water, and air conditioning, ensuring compliance with regulations. They oversee construction activities, manage project budgets and schedules, and address client needs. Responsible for organising and coordinating the entire project, they handle administrative tasks, supervise on-site operations, and collaborate with structural engineers to deliver safe and environmentally-friendly buildings while meeting client expectations.

How Do You Become a Structural or Building Engineer in Quebec?

Engineer with computer avec renovation plans

Source: Canva

Whether you want to start a career as a structural or building engineer, your academic route will be relatively the same. Before even applying for your engineering permit, something you’ll need to call yourself an engineer in Quebec, you’ll first need to obtain a Bachelor of Engineering (B.Eng.) from an educational institution whose program is recognised by the Engineers Canada Accreditation Board (ECAB). Although not necessary, for those wishing to pursue their education even further, there are graduate engineering programs available.

Once you’ve gotten your undergraduate degree, you’re now ready to apply for your permit with l'Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec (OIQ), the regulatory body which oversees the engineering profession in the province. You’ll need a completed and signed application form, proof of identity like a birth certificate or passport, an official transcript for each degree in support of your application — if you graduated from Concordia University or McGill University, documentation demonstrating you possess adequate knowledge of French is required — and, finally, you must pay your application fees. 

After your application has been accepted, which typically takes between 8 to 12 weeks following submission, you can enroll in the Professional Admission Program thus becoming a Candidate to the Engineering Profession (CEP) and are included in the OIQ’s register. You will have a maximum of five years and a minimum of 24 months to complete the program which involves three components: (1) theoretical, (2) practical, and (3) language.

  1. Theoretical: The program provides 25 to 30 hours of online theoretical training, accessible through the CPI portal. Its goal is to prepare individuals for a professional exam consisting of approximately one hundred multiple-choice questions. To pass the exam, a minimum score of 60% is required.

  2. Practical: To qualify, individuals need to complete at least 24 months of practical experience and acquire 6 specific competencies (to have the required technical skills, communicate effectively, manage a project, work in a team, act professionally, and manage one's professional development) through self-assessment. The practical component must be supervised by a chosen engineer and reported to the Order.

  3. Language: To practice engineering in Quebec, proficiency in French is necessary. If you completed your bachelor's degree in French, you fulfill the language requirement. If not, you must fulfill one of the following conditions:

  • If you studied full-time for at least three years in a French-language secondary school, cégep (college), or university, you must provide transcripts as proof. Note that credits obtained for research and writing are not recognised.

  • If you passed the native French language exams in the fourth or fifth year of secondary school in Quebec, you must provide transcripts as proof.

  • If you have a Quebec high school diploma (earned after the 1985-1986 school year), you must present your high school diploma issued by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education.

If you do not meet any of these three conditions, the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) will evaluate your knowledge through an exam. This exam is for anyone seeking a professional title in Quebec. Once you pass the French exam, you must provide a certificate from the OQLF.

Once these three components have been completed, your file will be sent to the Admission Committee who will review it, make a final decision, and grant you your permit. If you make it past this point, then congratulations, you’re now officially registered on the OIQ’s roll and are a certified engineer in the province of Quebec! 

Keep in mind that, per the rules set out by the OIQ, all members are required to complete 30 hours of training every two years to continuously hone their skills and knowledge.

Academic Path and Skills of the Structural Engineer

To become a structural engineer in Quebec, the academic path typically begins with a degree in civil engineering, with a specialisation in structures, or a relevant engineering discipline. McGill University, Concordia University, Université Laval, École Polytechnique, and l’Université de Sherbrooke all offer accredited civil engineering programs. As previously mentioned, you’ll then need to complete the licensing program with l’Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec.

Aside from educational and licensure requirements, you’re going to need a mix of skills to be a successful structural engineer. Here are a few must-have competencies:

  • Communication skills: Structural engineers often need to communicate regularly with contractors, senior management, and the public. Effective communication, both verbally and in writing, is essential for conveying project ideas and technical concepts to non-technical audiences. 

  • Analytical and mathematical skills: Structural engineers analyse, plan, and oversee projects using advanced mathematical skills. They meticulously assess details, evaluate viability, and consider environmental factors. Exceptional analytical and mathematical skills are essential for decision-making and accurate design using software like AutoCAD.

  • Problem-solving skills: Structural engineers utilise problem-solving skills to address faulty building plans and existing structural issues. They diagnose problems, devise solutions, and recommend necessary refurbishments. Engaging in multiple sub-projects concurrently, they prioritise tasks and maintain attention to detail to produce effective, reliable, and cost-efficient strategies throughout the development process.

Training and Key Skills of a Building Engineer

To become a building engineer, on the other hand, you can also study civil engineering while specialising in buildings, or you can enter a dedicated program like Concordia University’s Building Engineering program. Make sure to contact your university to make sure your chosen program will set you on the right path.

As a building engineer in the making, it’s important to know what sort of skills you’re going to need throughout your career. So, here are some essential competencies you’ll need:

  • Leadership skills: The building engineer oversees both the worksite and its various players while simultaneously keeping a keen eye on the work being performed and the manner in which it’s carried out. 

  • Technical skills: The crux of their trade, the building engineer must master their technical skillset, whether it involves plumbing, HVAC, or electrical systems.

  • Preventative maintenance: Building engineers use preventive maintenance to proactively prevent equipment failures by implementing schedules, conducting inspections, and tracking maintenance activities, thus minimising downtime and costly repairs.

Daily Responsibilities and Project Interaction

Contractors on the field checking the structure 

Source: Canva

Tasks and Responsibilities of the Structural Engineer

  • Design structures (buildings, bridges, etc.) using computer-aided design software,

  • Determine loads and pressures from environmental or human factors,

  • Select appropriate materials based on structural requirements,

  • Analyse structural integrity and risks,

  • Ensure compliance with building regulations and safety standards.

Role and Implications of the Building Engineer in a Project

  • Study of the specifications and the initial proposal,

  • Plan, design, and study of project feasibility,

  • Staying within the budget and schedule,

  • Site coordination,

  • Taking charge of the administrative aspect of the site.

Tools and Technologies Used

Software to manage project

Source: Canva

Specific Tools in Structural Engineering

As TealHQ puts it, “in the meticulous field of structural engineering, the arsenal of tools and software at one's disposal is not just about convenience; it's a cornerstone of precision, efficiency, and innovation.”

So, what are these indispensable tools?

Structural analysis and design software are vital tools for Structural Engineers, enabling them to simulate and assess the forces and stresses structures will face. These platforms, like finite element analysis software, allow engineers to model, analyse, and verify designs against codes and regulations, ensuring structural integrity and safety.

With so many things to keep track of, project management software is crucial for efficiently organising, overseeing, and tracking every project detail. These tools facilitate scheduling, resource management, budget tracking, and communication, ensuring timely and budget-friendly project completion.

Computer-aided design (CAD) tools, namely the building information modeling (BIM) software, are vital for structural engineers, allowing them to craft accurate drawings and blueprints of structures. These platforms aid in the intricate design journey, from initial sketches to final construction plans, and play a crucial role in conveying design concepts to clients and construction teams.

Precise documentation and reporting are essential for structural engineers to uphold records, adhere to regulations, and convey discoveries effectively. These tools aid in generating thorough reports, organising project documentation, and guaranteeing easy access to all essential information in a well-structured manner.

Data analysis and visualisation tools empower structural engineers to decipher intricate datasets and present findings clearly. They are pivotal for scrutinising structural performance, anticipating potential problems, and guiding data-driven decisions.

Preferred Technologies and Software for the Building Engineer

The building engineer uses much of the same technologies and software as the structural engineer to optimise daily tasks and ensure the accuracy of their work. Among these digital tools are, once again, building information modeling (BIM) software like Autodesk Revit, essential for building design and analysis. Additionally, structural calculation software automates complex structural calculations.

For effective team collaboration and file sharing, project management software is key. Tekla, a building information modeling software, for example, is commonly used to create constructible models, aiding with cost control and enhancing collaboration among stakeholders.

Lastly, computer-aided design (CAD) software such as AutoCAD is also employed by the building engineer for technical drawing. These tools and technologies are vital for improving the efficiency and precision of the building engineer's work.

Employment Outlook and Professional Development

Engineer on the fiels checking renovation plan

Source: Canva

What Is the Average Salary of a Structural Engineer or Building Engineer in Canada?

According to Indeed, the average salary for the structural engineer is around $91,000 per year. For the building engineer, it’s approximately $87,500. It’s important to note that an engineer’s salary can vary greatly depending on which province they’re working in, the nature of the project, the years of experience they have, and their qualifications. Later in their career, both structural and building engineers can expect to make upwards of $100,000 per year.

Career Trajectory and Growth Perspectives

The career of a structural and building engineer offers a wide range of progression opportunities. Initially, the engineer focuses on acquiring key skills and managing increasingly complex projects.

With experience, it is common to see these engineers progress into leadership roles, such as head of the design office or project director. This is particularly the case in large companies, where hierarchical advancement opportunities are more abundant.

Some engineers also choose to move into research and may aspire to roles as R&D (research and development) directors. This allows them to innovate and contribute to the advancement of their field.

Finally, structural and building engineers may also consider specialising in specific areas, such as project management, estimation, health, and safety.


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Last modified 2024-04-29

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