Why Engineering Consultants Are Crucial for Modern Design

December 7, 2021 - Emily Newton

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When companies embark on complex or difficult engineering projects, they often turn to subject matter experts with deep knowledge of a particular field — like chemical, geotechnical or civil engineering. These consultants — often employed by consulting firms — provide expert advice and oversight to project owners, helping them successfully execute the project while meeting safety and quality standards. The specific role and responsibilities of an engineering consultant will vary from project to project. In general, however, they play a key role in making complex engineering projects possible.

What Is an Engineering Consultant?

In most cases, engineering consultants — or consulting engineers — are experts that provide engineering advice to a client on a per-project basis. 

The consultant may have a background in any type of engineering — from civil engineering to electrical engineering to chemical engineering. They help construction and renovation project owners solve problems when a project becomes too complex or too unfamiliar for the owner to move forward. 

These project owners are often architects, planners, designers and non-engineers who eventually need engineering advice. Depending on the project owner’s needs, consultants may be involved from the very beginning of a project, or only provide assistance briefly. 

Typically, the engineering consultant is a licensed professional with a credential that proves their knowledge in a particular engineering discipline. 

What Are Engineering Consultant Firms?

Typically, engineering consultants work directly with or as partners of an engineering consultant firm. These agencies, associations or groups allows consultants with different background to come together and offer their combined expertise as a service to business clients.

Firms help consultants identify clients, communicate and work on projects. Clients may hire firms for both individual tasks or entire projects, appointing client engineers to complete the job on their behalf.

Some engineering consultants will also work freelance, selling their services directly to interested clients. These engineers are ultimately responsible for much of the advertising and administrative work that the firm may otherwise handle. 

What Projects Do Engineering Consultants Work On?

Engineering consultants work on a wide variety of projects related to their particular field of expertise. 

For example, one engineer may design HVAC systems for new or renovated buildings. Another company may bring on an engineer to design and manage calibration systems that keep equipment running within the correct parameters.

Any time a business is managing a project and needs engineering expertise that isn’t available within the organization, they may look to engineering consultants and firms for help.

The specific responsibilities of an engineering consultant can vary from project to project. On one job, an engineering consultant may need to prepare project documentation, create a project budget or design a project plan. 

On another, the consultant may be responsible for both planning and coordinating teams of workers directly involved in completing the project.

When Do Companies Choose to Work With Engineering Consultants?

Typically, companies reach out to engineering firms or freelance consultants when internal company resources aren’t enough to complete a project on time or to the standard required. If a project requires niche or specialized expertise, companies may also need to reach out to engineering consultants.

Because engineering consultants often lead multi-disciplinary teams of workers and professionals, they can provide leadership and organizational skills when administrative or managerial capacity is tied up in other projects. 

Companies may also take advantage of third-party consultants when they want to preserve or free up company resources for other tasks — like other projects or developing internal capabilities.

How Do You Become an Engineering Consultant?

Most engineering firms require a four-year degree from an accredited engineering program for entry-level positions. In some cases, a degree in a relevant science discipline may also be acceptable. 

New hires will also typically need a PE license — the process for getting licensed is covered in the section below. In some cases, you may be able to become employed with a firm without a license, but you probably won’t be able to act as an engineering consultant until you’ve gotten licensed. 

Some engineering consultants also work freelance or create firms of one. Before freelancing, you’ll also need to have a degree and receive your PE license.

Networking, gathering experience and working on professional engineering projects will also be important.

Having a license is the first step to becoming an engineering consultant, but most consultants also have a wide range of experience and professional contacts who can vouch for their abilities or provide work advice.

For insight from a working engineering consultant and licensed engineer, you can read this article on becoming an engineering consultant from David Reeves, PE, the senior mechanical engineer with a Mississippi-based shipyard, Ingalls Shipbuilding.

Professional Engineer (PE) Licensing for Individuals and Firms

In the beginning of the 20th century, anyone could work as a professional engineer without licensing or any other professional credentials. Now, “engineer” is a protected profession, and individuals who want to work as engineering consultants must have licensing to prove their expertise. 

In the United States, this means applying for and receiving PE (or professional engineer) licensure. These licenses are granted by individual states, each of which has its own process and State licensing board that regulates and manages engineering licensure in the state. 

To receive a PE license and use the PE seal, engineers must typically complete several steps:

  1. Earning a four-year degree from an accredited engineering program,
  2. Passing the Fundamentals of Engineer (FE) exam,
  3. Acquiring four years of progressive engineering experience under a licensed PE,
  4. Passing the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam.

Once an engineer has their PE license, they must continually maintain and improve their skills throughout their career — otherwise, they may risk losing their license. 

Both individuals and firms can receive engineering licenses. Firms typically must meet certain requirements to receive a license, certificate of authorization or describe themselves as an engineering firm in some way. Specific regulations vary from state to state

In the state of Georgia, for example, businesses offering professional engineering services must be authorized to do so. If a firm that is a business corporation wants authorization, that firm must have at least one principal officer that is a Georgia licensed engineer.

In California, on the other hand, the state doesn’t issue licenses or certificates of authorization to firms. Instead, businesses that offer engineering services must provide additional documentation to the state. 

The Average Day of an Engineering Consultant

Like many professionals, the engineering consultant usually begins (and ends) their day with communication — reading emails, responding to messages from clients and reviewing documents that they received after leaving work the day before. 

They’ll also provide clients with progress updates and reach out to new clients that they may be able to work with. 

Next, the consultant will get into the work that makes up the bulk of their day. They’ll meet with other experts, draft documents and create resources like CAD files that their clients will use to complete projects or develop more effective project plans.

They may also take an in-person visit to a project site, giving them a chance to inspect project progress and receive updates from the crew and managers who have been working on the job directly.

Before the day is over, the consultant will likely have one last meeting with their manager at the engineering firm. They’ll discuss the projects that the consultant is working on and the progress they’re making. Ideally, the consultant is providing services that are satisfying their clients and will encourage these businesses to work with the firm again on future projects.

The consultant’s day will end like it started — reviewing emails, communicating with clients and going over project-relevant documents.

Why Engineering Consultants Are Crucial for Modern Industry

Modern construction, design and engineering projects can become extremely complex and require input from engineers with a variety of backgrounds. 

When companies don’t have the right in-house engineering expertise for a project, they turn to experienced engineering consultants.

As our world becomes more complicated and more dependent on good engineering, consultants will likely become even more important in construction and design.

Revolutionized is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commision. Learn more here.


Emily Newton

Emily Newton is a technology and industrial journalist and the Editor in Chief of Revolutionized. She enjoys reading and writing about how technology is changing the world around us.

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