Environmental engineers see good career prospects

environmental engineer
Environmental engineer Charlie Selkow of Cardno ATC conducts a water test in Modesto.

As the movement to protect the earth’s environment has grown over the past several decades, the demand for professionals that develop methods of safeguarding the earth’s natural resources has accelerated rapidly.

With a general objective of solving environmental problems related to water, air, and land, environmental engineering is one such vocation.  In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the field of environmental engineering will grow 15 percent from 2012 to 2022, a rate faster than the average for all occupations.

In order to support this rapid growth, local firms continuously are in search of skilled environmental engineering professionals.

“I expect demand to increase and historically there has been a shortage of qualified engineers and scientists who have the skills to collaborate, communicate and problem solve real world problems,” said Bob Job, President of Condor Earth Technologies.

With offices in Stockton, Merced, Sonora, Jamestown, and Roseville, Condor Earth Technologies is a diversified, multidisciplinary organization providing a variety of earth and environmental sciences, engineering, GIS, and construction management services to private and public sector clients.

Local firm Cardno ATC also anticipates an increase in requested services as well.

“Budgets and political agendas impact the demand for environmental engineering services but it should increase as our demand for water resources increases and global warming worsens,” said Jeanne Homsey, PE and Branch Manager at Cardno ATC in Modesto.

ATC of Modesto merged with the international firm Cardno in 2012.  The new entity, Cardno ATC, is an integrated professional services provider, delivering a diverse range of services including environmental engineering in areas such as urban, traffic, water and coastal arenas. Environmental services include assessment, remediation, air quality, NEPA/CEQA studies, asbestos and lead testing, and mold testing.

So what exactly do environmental engineers do?

“The primary functions of an environmental engineer are to assess and remediate environmental concerns in various media–air, vapor, soil, water, groundwater–and to identify, reduce, and/or eliminate an environmental liability or risk,” said Homsey.

Because of the broad spectrum that environmental issues and problems cover, the profession of environmental engineering actually involves expertise and experience across multiple sciences and disciplines.

“We do not have any environmental engineers.  We have a team of discipline experts – civil engineers, geologists, geotechnical engineers, bio-chemists, hydro-geologists, etc. that collaborate to understand and solve environmental problems, each bringing a deep understanding of their respective areas of expertise to the table,” Job said.

According to Job, the designation of Environmental Engineer specifically is not a title or area of engineering practice regulated by the California Board of Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Geologists.

“The typical work performed by environmental engineers can vary significantly.  Environmental engineers use the principles of engineering, soil sciences, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems,” said Job.

Condor Earth Technologies expects to remain busy in the coming year with projects involving water quality management, pollution prevention, soil and water quality assessment and clean up, chemical and safety risk management, and environmental compliance services.

Currently, services involving water supply are in greatest demand at Cardno ATC and are expected to dominate projects in the future.

“Water treatment, water supply, and greenhouse gas projects will be in greatest demand over the coming years,” said Homsey.

Students interested in pursuing a career in environmental engineering should plan on earning the minimum of a bachelor’s of science degree in civil or chemical engineering, soil and water science, biology, chemistry, geology or similar earth sciences.

Condor Earth Technologies’ engineers have graduated from universities throughout the country, many with master’s degrees.  Job recommends that students pursue advanced degrees for future jobs.

“Obtain a bachelors, preferably master’s degree from a college recognized in engineering and science.  In the consulting industry a PhD is valued,” he said.

Locally, Cardno ACT employs engineers who have earned Bachelor of Science degrees at the University of California Davis, University of California Berkeley, California State University Stanislaus, and California State University San Jose.

Balancing the cost of such education against future income is an exercise all students should perform. Prospective environmental engineers should note that the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that the median income in 2012 for practicing environmental engineers was $80,890 with the lowest 10 percent earning less than $49,510 and the top 10 percent earned more than $122,290 annually.


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