Geotechnical Engineer

Geologists study the structure, composition and history of the earth's crust. Geotechnical engineers apply their knowledge of geological principles to the planning, designing, construction, operation and safety of civil and structural engineering projects.

Geotechnical engineers examine the types and geological structures of soils at construction sites and ensure that large structures such as high buildings, dams, roads, or new townships are designed to suit the soil conditions or strength of the rock. They ensure the firm and safe construction of the foundations in the most cost-effective way. They also examine the materials used in the construction of roads. Geological engineers work most closely with civil engineers.

Geotechnical engineers conduct studies to analyse geological and geotechnical conditions, and they plan, develop and coordinate programmes of geotechnical, geological, geophysical or geohydrological data acquisition, analysis and mapping to assist in the development of civil engineering, mining, petroleum and waste management projects, or for regional development. They analyse and prepare recommendations and reports for the construction of, or improvements to, the foundations of civil engineering projects, such as rock excavation, pressure grouting, rock slope stabilisation and hydraulic channel erosion control. They conduct theoretical and applied studies of groundwater flow and contamination, and they develop specifications for site selection, treatment and construction.

They also plan, develop, coordinate and conduct theoretical and experimental studies in mining exploration, evaluation and feasibility studies with regard to the mining industry. They conduct surveys and studies of ore deposits, ore reserve calculations and mine design. They design, develop and implement computer applications for geophysics, geochemistry, geology, mapping and related fields, and they supervise technologists, technicians and other engineers and scientists.

Personal Requirements

  • scientific and mathematical aptitude
  • above-average intelligence
  • dedicated to their work
  • good observation skills
  • work independently or as part of a team
  • willing to work outdoors under all weather conditions

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Science 
Recommended subjects: Engineering and Graphic Design 

What to Study

The minimum qualification required for registration (Geology) at the South African Board for Natural Scientists is a BSc (Honours) degree, or a 3-year diploma in Geology at a university of technology. A course in Geology is available at RU, US, UJ, UP, UFH, UFS, NWU, UV; Geotechnical Science at UKZN, UCT and Geoscience at Wits and NMMU.


  • civil engineering companies
  • government departments and municipalities
  • large institutions concerned with civil and structural engineering projects
  • consulting Geotechnical companies
  • quantity surveyors
  • self-employment, with enough experience and capital, can start own business as a consultant

Further Information

South African Institution of Civil Engineering (Geotechnical Engineering Division)
94 Bekker Road, 
Vorna Valley, Midrand
Tel: (011) 805-5971

Getting Started

  • read up as much as possible about this field
  • try to obtain vacation work in a geological surveying or civil engineering company
  • make an appointment to speak to an engineering geologist about this type of career

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

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