Highways Maintenance Engineer

Highway maintenance is a specialised branch of civil engineering.  Maintenance engineers work in conjunction with urban planners and other engineers in traffic management and transportation to look after the state of our highways.  In managing highway maintenance they have a responsibility for monitoring planning schemes, construction and repair work.  

Work Environment
This is both office-based and on-site on public highways.  The standard working week is 37 hours but there will be weekend and evening work required as well.  Special clothing such as hard hats, strong boots and visible clothing is provided.  The engineer will always carry tools and equipment on site visits.

Daily Activities
In general, highway maintenance requires not only oversight of the actual condition of the roads but a duty to promote good relations with members of the public, parish councils and consultants. We all use the highways and have a right to an opinion on what and where they are. In addition, the engineer will work with managers and operatives employed by the public utilities - gas, water and electricity - because any road development or repair can involve existing pipes, cables and pylons.  From the point of view of the environment, maintenance engineers have to bear in mind the consequences of any proposed highway development or reconstruction as well as the upkeep of existing road networks.  They will have to consider what it means in terms of safety, transportation, access and preservation of the urban or rural landscape.  The maintenance engineer's main accountabilities can be broken down as follows:

Programme Formulation: This involves maintaining the public highways cost effectively. The engineers conduct road condition surveys and put together proposals for recommended reconstruction and resurfacing.  They will ensure that design briefs are prepared and estimates calculated.

Programme Delivery: Together with formulation, this takes up most of the engineers' time.  In conjunction with whichever body is responsible for carrying out the work (the provider) engineers develop annual maintenance schemes to ensure the safest highway network.  These will include:

  • surface dressing materials and procedures; 
  • indicators about who is responsible for issuing instructions on various aspects of the job; 
  • agreement about the time scale required for completion; 
  • budget limits; 
  • that the work meets the requirements of Health and Safety legislation; 
  • the organisational detail of winter maintenance and emergency operations;
  • procedures for monitoring performance in terms of contract stipulations.

Customer Relations:  This entails representing the authority at local levels; dealing with correspondence; promoting good relations with the public, media, police, council members, other local authorities, public, professional and private bodies.  The aim is to deal effectively with complaints and foster an understanding of council policy and the constraints of limited resources.

Contractors and Consultants Supervision and Monitoring:  The responsibility here is to ensure that works are carried out within the design brief and completed within allocated budgets.  Maintenance engineers will keep records of the performance of the deliverers indicating their suitability for future work and recommending proposed tender lists for each contract. 

Staff:  Maintenance engineers have a responsibility to supervise and train staff and lead a disciplined and motivated team.  In addition they will train client staff to develop high quality procedures for inspection, supervision and record keeping.

Control of Activities in the Highway:  This entails oversight of any proposed private work and use of equipment within the highway that will have an effect on the council's activities.  It could include dealing with private applications for permission to work in the highway or place refuse skips, scaffolding and apparatus.

Development Control:  This involves liaising with the council's development section to inspect any construction by developers of roads and footways which are to be adopted as public highways. For example, the engineer will have the final say about whether an industrial unit development can be used as a public highway by the developer and what restrictions might apply.

Skills & Interests
The attributes required are those that all engineers are expected to have:

  • practical ability; 
  • a facility for solving problems - and enjoying it!
  • creativity; 
  • ability to think logically; 
  • teamwork skills;
  • effective written and mathematical skills;
  • computer literacy.

Entry Requirements
A degree or HNC in Engineering or other appropriate qualification is essential.  As this post involves civil engineering work it may be necessary for the Maintenance Engineer to complete the Professional Qualification Scheme of the Institution of Civil Engineers - this includes training, practical experience and examinations.  It is usually desirable to have some post qualification experience in maintenance engineering work at the technical level and/or in a related engineering field like transportation engineering.

Future Prospects & Opportunities
Possible opportunities in construction and related industries in both the public and private sector include:

  • construction contractors; 
  • engineering consulting firms; 
  • national government; 
  • public works and environment departments; 
  • property developers; 
  • public utilities - gas, water, electricity; 
  • traffic and transportation engineering.

Many companies offer apprenticeships to school leavers as well as sponsoring undergraduates.  In these, as in local authority work, engineers may progress to project management and Chief or County Engineer posts.  In the private sector some become company partners or establish their own companies.  For those with appropriate qualifications, lecturing in universities and further education establishments is possible.

Further Information & Services
Engineering Council www.engc.org.uk
Institute of Highway Engineers www.theihe.org
Institution Of Civil Engineers www.ice.org.uk
SEMTA www.semta.org.uk

You may find further information about this area of work through Careers Wales (www.careerswales.com/) or in your local library, careers office or school careers library.

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