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A geotechnical engineer analyses soil, rock, groundwater and other earth materials prior to major construction projects. They look at the risk of geological hazards and make sure that any factors affecting engineering works are identified and managed.

Average salaries are in the region of £19,000.00 to £55,000.00. Salaries will vary depending on location / employer

Career Profile

A geotechnical engineer analyses soil, rock, groundwater and other earth materials prior to major construction projects.

What they do

They look at the risk of geological hazards and make sure that any factors affecting engineering works are identified and managed. They then advise on procedures required and the suitability of construction materials.

Geotechnical engineers work in areas such as site investigation, foundation engineering and tunnelling. They also analyse sites and designs for environmentally sensitive developments, such as landfill. 

A geotechnical engineer works to preserve and protect the physical environment. They often work alongside geological engineers and hydrogeologists. 

Typical tasks include:

  • Gathering and analysing data
  • Using specialist computer software
  • Creating analytical two and three-dimensional models
  • Making complex calculations in planning or assessing structures
  • Consulting geological maps and aerial photographs to advise on site selection
  • Assisting with the design of built structures, using specialised computer software or calculations
  • Planning detailed field investigations by drilling and analysing samples of deposits or bedrock
  • Supervising ground investigations and budgets
  • Advising on and testing a range of construction materials including sand, gravel, bricks and clay
  • Making recommendations on the proposed use of a site
  • Advising on problems such as subsidence
  • Managing staff, including other engineering geologists, geotechnical engineers, consultants and contractors

Career progression

To begin with, a geotechnical engineer works mostly on site, with some office work. The physical conditions on site can be challenging.

A chartered geotechnical engineer has completed at least five years of continuous professional development and relevant work experience and applied for chartered status. They usually begin with lots of work on site, and some office work. The work becomes more office based as they progress.

Hours & Salary:

  • Newly trained geotechnical engineers can earn in the region of £19,500 - £23,000
  • Trained with experience geotechnical engineers can earn in the region of £23,000 - £32,000
  • Senior, chartered or master geotechnical engineers can earn in the region of £32,000 - £40,000

Salaries typically range depending on location and level of responsibility. Salaries and career options improve with chartered status.


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Case Study

Olly Carlton is a geotechnical engineer for Arup in Manchester, a large multi-disciplinary engineering consultancy in the structural, civil, water and geotechnical fields.

How did you get started?

I have been interested in engineering and how things work since I was a child. I travelled a lot when I was young to North America, Europe and Asia. Seeing large scale structures, such as the Empire State Building in New York and Akashi Kaikyo suspension bridge in Japan fuelled my enthusiasm to become a civil engineer.

I had my first taste when I was in 6th form. I knew I wanted to be a Civil Engineer so I started to look for summer placements. My first summer placement was with Arup and I spent a week working in water, geotechnics, structures and transport engineering disciplines. After my A-levels I applied to Arup and was accepted on to a pre-university placement in Leeds for a year in geotechnical engineering.

What do you like about your job?

Civil engineering is different every day, with new projects and new challenges. Each project is different. I am currently involved in projects such as designing fish passes on river catchments, to designing foundations for a supermarket and railway infrastructure.  I also enjoy the travelling aspect that civil engineering offers. My work has taken me as far as Tokyo, Japan!

What’s your working day like?

My job differs on a daily basis. A typical day includes supervising geotechnical site investigations, visiting sites to record the progress of drilling, and speaking to site engineers and drillers on site geology and contamination. Recently I have had two site investigations running simultaneously. My role is to liaise with the drillers and site engineer to ensure ground investigation is running smoothly and satisfies the specification. When I’m in the office, I get involved with designing foundation structures such as foundations for railway overhead line equipment (OLE) and gantries (sign holder/sign structure). These foundations are designed using computer software and verified by hand calculations.

I also write reports, such as geotechnical desk studies for future construction projects and ground investigation specifications. Occasionally I meet with clients to determine what they need, such as carrying out a ground investigation to reduce any risks on site, or designing a foundation for a future building. Twice a week I attend lunchtime talks. These talks provide insight into Arup’s work around the world and help to enhance my geotechnical knowledge.

As graduate engineer, I keep a daily record of activities which is part of the process to become chartered with the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).

What skills have you developed since you started?

My understanding of civil engineering and design, particularly foundation design, has increased. I have also enhanced my interpersonal and communication skills by working with different people on each project and speaking to contractors and clients on site. The learning curve at Arup is very steep; I am constantly gaining new knowledge and understanding in the field of geotechnical engineering.

What are you most proud of about your career?

Shortly after starting with Arup, I started designing 20 OLE foundations for a large railway scheme in Ipswich. Four months later the OLE structures were constructed. Given these were my first foundation designs, I was proud to see I had left my mark on such a large railway construction project!

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

I would like to be an ICE chartered engineer and involved with large scale projects, possibly overseas. Being chartered will open up new career opportunities. 

What would you say to someone about joining the industry?

If you’re currently at school, it’s worth considering doing a placement in the summer holidays or while at university. This gives you the chance to experience working life in the industry first hand and to make an impression on people, which may lead to getting a job in the future.

Qualifications & Training

To become a Geotechnical Engineer you will need specific qualifications, which are offered by a limited number of UK universities.

To get onto a degree course, you need good GCSE and A-level grades or equivalent such as Scottish Nationals or Highers, or the Welsh Baccalaureate. Relevant degree subjects include earth, physical, mathematical and applied sciences and engineering. The following subjects are particularly relevant:

  • Geology
  • Geophysics/geotechnology
  • Engineering geology
  • Mineral/mining engineering

There are a number of first degree geoscience courses accredited by the Geological Society. By completing an accredited degree, you usually qualify for membership (Fellowship) of the society after gaining relevant postgraduate experience. This is also the route to become a chartered geologist (CGeol), after a period of professional development and experience.

If you have a background in civil engineering or the sciences, it is sometimes possible to enter the field through the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) or the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3).

A postgraduate qualification, such as a Masters (MSc) in engineering geology, geotechnical engineering, hydrogeology, soil or rock mechanics, or foundation engineering is desirable.  An accreditation scheme for taught postgraduate MSc courses is also available.

You will usually achieve chartered status after completing a period of professional development and a minimum of five years relevant experience. You will also need to keep up to date with technical, legislative and statutory changes. It is important to maintain professional knowledge of industry software and technology as there are fast-moving changes in these areas. Health and safety is also increasingly important.

Professional bodies such as the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and the engineering group of the Geological Society offer continuing professional development (CPD) schemes. You can keep your knowledge up to date via central or regional meetings of specialised groups.

Want to find out more?

Try our Matching Service for work experience opportunities in your local area, with new opportunities being added on a regular basis. 

Looking for a vacancy? 

Here are some construction vacancy websites you may find useful: 




The number of jobs vacancies related to your preferred job role may vary daily, as these are external websites. Check regularly to see new opportunities as they are posted.


Career trends and forecasts

3980 additional staff needed

The UK construction industry will need an additional 3980 civil engineers (which includes geotechnical engineers) to meet demand every year from 2017 until 2021, according to the latest Construction Skills Network research (LMI). The majority of this demand will be in Greater London followed equally by East of England, North West and Scotland.

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