Geotechnical Engineer Job Description

Get the dirt on being a geotechnical engineer! Working in the civil engineering field, geotechnical engineers assess and analyze the ground on which buildings and other structures will be erected. These engineering professionals examine soil, check underground water flow, and conduct other tests to ensure the stability of an area before construction begins. Geotechnical engineers can work for engineering firms, construction companies, utilities companies, petroleum companies, mining companies, or real estate developers. They typically work full time, sometimes beyond a usual 40-hour week as projects demand. Most geotechnical engineers enjoy health and retirement benefits, vacations, and paid time off. This is generally an occupation with low levels of stress and high job satisfaction.

Geotechnical Engineer Duties and Responsibilities

Geotechnical engineers work in a variety of industries. Specific duties and responsibilities may vary, but there are several core tasks associated with the job, including:
Survey Building Sites
A main task of a geotechnical engineer is examining sites of proposed buildings or other structures, such as dams or tunnels, or those to be used for drilling or mining projects, to check soil stability and rock formations. Geotechnical engineers confirm the safety and durability of surfaces for building projects, design structural foundations, and conduct environmental testing.
Perform Laboratory Tests
Once geotechnical engineers have taken soil, rock, and groundwater samples from a site, they conduct tests on these items in a laboratory. They study properties, note any contaminations or other issues, and produce reports about their findings for project managers.
Review Quality Standards for Projects
Geotechnical engineers study safety quality standards for different projects and make sure that each project adheres to these standards. Inspecting foundations, observing drilling activities, and reviewing work plans are some of the ways geotechnical engineers ensure adherence to these standards.
Prepare Field Observation and Inspect Reports
All observational and laboratory findings are presented to project leaders in reports prepared by geotechnical engineers. In these documents, geotechnical engineers discuss possible project risks, explain seismic activities, make recommendations for foundations and excavation activities, and summarize the progress of individual projects.

Geotechnical Engineer Skills and Qualifications

Detail-oriented, analytical individuals who love to work outdoors and have a strong interest in engineering principles and practices find success as geotechnical engineers. After studying various online job postings, we have concluded that most employers seek candidates with the following skills and abilities:

  • Computer skills – using various software applications to run lab tests and summarize field tests is important for geotechnical engineers
  • Physical endurance – geotechnical engineers must have the ability to walk, stand, stoop, and kneel for long periods of time, and to endure various climates when surveying jobsites
  • Project management – the ability to budget, create project schedules, meet deadlines, and produce estimates is important for geotechnical engineers
  • Analytical thinking – analyzing soil, water, and rock samples is a key aspect of being a geotechnical engineer
  • Communication skills – explaining test findings and generating reports call for strong verbal and written communication skills
  • Work independently – these engineers spend a great deal of time in the field and should be able to make observations and collect data with little to no supervision
  • Problem-solving skills – once they have identified any risks, it is up to geotechnical engineers to make suggestions and recommendations to resolve any issues and drive projects toward successful completion 

Tools of the Trade

Geotechnical engineers should be able to use the following:

  • Geotechnical engineering software (Geo Studio, Geo5, Flac3D)
  • Computer-aided design software
  • Rock hammers and drills
  • Augers
  • Dip meters

Geotechnical Engineer Education and Training

A bachelor's degree in civil engineering is the best place for aspiring geotechnical engineers to start. They might also obtain a four-year degree in environmental science, soil science, or geology. Courses include wastewater management, surface water management, structural design and dynamics, construction management, and environmental engineering. Professional engineer (PE) certification can be helpful and might be preferred by some employers.

Geotechnical Engineer Salary and Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median annual salary for all civil engineers, including geotechnical engineers, is close to $85,000. In the lowest percentile, these engineers are paid a yearly wage of just over $54,000, while those earning in the top percentile realize median annual salaries of more than $138,000.
The highest-paid geotechnical engineers tend to work for architectural or engineering firms and make an average yearly salary of nearly $93,000. Industry-wise, top earners are often employed in the oil and gas extraction (just over $118,500) and waste treatment and disposal (more than $111,500) fields. Alaska ranks #1 when it comes to the highest average annual wage for geotechnical engineers, at more than $122,000. It’s followed by California ($107,700) and New Jersey ($102,000). Texas also averages a six-figure salary for these engineers, at just more than $100,000.
An 11 percent employment increase is projected for geotechnical engineers through 2026, according to the BLS, which is higher than the average for all engineers. The expected repair and rebuilding of various infrastructures and buildings and the replacement of aging water systems are believed to be the major factors influencing this expected growth.

Helpful Resources

Looking to build a career as a geotechnical engineer? If so, refer to the resources provided below to learn more about what it takes to work in this field of civil engineering:
Geo-Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers – join G-I to get the best of both worlds: membership in ASCE and in the G-I specialty membership organization. More than 11,500 members currently enjoy access to continuing education programs, conferences, professional journals, and networking specifically for geotechnical engineers. This is the US member society of the International Society for Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering (ISSMGE)
Geotechnical Engineer's Portable Handbook – learn about the best methods and tools for field explorations, lab tests, erosion analyses, and more. The text discusses code regulations, charts, formulas, and other methodologies for performing most geotechnical engineering tasks
International Journal of Geotechnical Engineering – check out this journal to review abstracts relating to corrosion, geotechnical engineering technologies, wind erosion, soil stability, and so much more
Hart Crowser Blog – hosted by engineering consulting firm Hart Crowser, this blog provides details about recent studies, projects, and design practices in the field of geotechnical engineering. It allows you to see geotechnical engineering principles and applications at work
Engineering Management Institute Civil Engineering Podcast – although focused on the field of civil engineering as a whole, these podcasts cover many topics relevant to geotechnical engineers, with entries like "Challenging Aspects of Construction Engineering" and "How Civil Engineers Can Adapt to Climate Change and Its Effect on Infrastructure." You'll find career tips as well as info about communication strategies, leadership, and change management
Geology for Geotechnical Engineers – this short but thorough book explains properties of rocks and soil, the purpose of geotechnical engineering surveys, and the impact of rocks and soil on structural design. It contains detailed drawings and definitions of key geological terms

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