Geotechnical Engineer

Geotechnical Engineers analyze soil, rock, groundwater, and other earth materials to inform and guide construction projects and environmental conservation. Their work supports infrastructure development like buildings, bridges, and dams, balancing technical requirements with environmental stewardship. This profession requires a blend of fieldwork, analysis, and collaboration with multidisciplinary teams to solve complex engineering problems.

At a Glance

Imagine working as a licensed professional geotechnical engineer at a firm specializing in pile load testing and deep foundation engineering. You and your team, consisting of other engineers and technicians, are tasked with developing sustainable designs for a deep foundation project within an industrial complex. The project is a multi-year commitment, integrating innovative pile testing technologies with proven engineering design principles.

The objective is to ensure the foundation's sustainability and durability, addressing the environmental and technical challenges of constructing on varied geological terrains. As the project progresses, you encounter a complex problem: the site's unique soil composition threatens the stability of traditional foundation designs.

Leveraging your expertise and collaborative efforts, the team adopts a solution-oriented approach. You incorporate advanced geotechnical analysis and sustainable construction materials to redesign the foundation system. This adjustment mitigates the initial risks and enhances the project's environmental footprint.

The successful application of these innovative and sustainable engineering solutions underlines the project's significance, demonstrating how to overcome technical challenges with teamwork, expertise, and a commitment to sustainability. This experience affirms the vital role of geotechnical engineers in developing resilient and environmentally responsible infrastructure, showcasing the profession's contribution to sustainable development.

Job Duties

Job duties vary from one position to the next, but in general, geotechnical engineers are involved in the following activities:

  • Conduct field and laboratory tests on soil and rock samples to assess properties under various conditions.
  • Conduct site investigations to evaluate soil, bedrock, and groundwater for feasibility and design.
  • Design structures' foundations, considering load, soil characteristics, and environmental impact.
  • Assess and address slope instability, landslides, and erosion risks for project safety.
  • Evaluate the environmental impacts of projects, focusing on sustainable practices and regulatory compliance.
  • Support construction by monitoring earthworks and foundations to ensure adherence to designs.
  • Prepare geotechnical reports with findings, analyses, and recommendations for stakeholders and regulatory bodies.
  • Manage geotechnical projects, handling the budget, schedule, and team coordination.
  • Identify and manage risks to ensure construction safety and integrity.
  • Research and develop new geotechnical engineering methods and technologies, contributing to advancements in the field.

Work Environment

Geotechnical engineers operate within the office, field, and laboratory. In each of these settings, individuals in this occupation carry out various duties.

The office:

  • Draft reports summarizing field and laboratory data, analyses, and construction and remediation project recommendations.
  • Use specialized software to design and analyze geotechnical structures and integrate field site data.
  • Discuss project needs and findings with clients and propose engineering solutions to meet client needs and regulatory standards.
  • Ensure project designs comply with all relevant environmental and construction regulations.
  • Develop and manage project budgets, including estimating costs for site investigations, laboratory testing, and engineering design work.
  • Coordinate with other engineering disciplines, project managers, and construction teams to achieve project goals and address geotechnical issues.

The field:

  • Conduct field investigations with drilling, sampling, and in-situ testing to collect data on soil, rock, and groundwater conditions.
  • Perform environmental assessments to evaluate potential impacts of construction on the surrounding area environment and identify contaminated sites.
  • Oversee construction activities to ensure they meet engineering design standards, focusing on earthworks and foundation installations.
  • Conduct field assessments to evaluate slope condition and stability identifying areas at risk of failure and recommending mitigation measures.
  • Install and monitor wells to assess groundwater levels and quality, particularly for projects where groundwater management is critical.
  • Collect geotechnical data in the field using various instruments and tools, such as penetrometers, vane shear testers, and nuclear density gauges.

The laboratory:

  • Conduct tests on soil and rock samples to assess mechanical and physical properties like compaction, permeability, and strength.
  • Classify soil and rock samples by composition and characteristics to guide design and construction decisions.
  • Perform quality control tests on construction materials like concrete and aggregates, to meet project specifications and regulatory standards.
  • Analyze test results to identify material behaviours and characteristics, aiding the engineering decision-making process.
  • Participate in research to refine or develop testing methods or improve existing ones for geotechnical use.
  • Maintain and calibrate laboratory equipment, ensuring testing accuracy and reliability.

Where to Work

Across different environments and industries, geotechnical engineers face exciting challenges and apply their knowledge of soil mechanics, foundation engineering, and earth science. Their work ensures the stability and long-lasting performance of structures and systems in a wide range of areas, such as:

  • Civil engineering firms
  • Environmental consultancies
  • Construction companies
  • Government public works departments
  • Mining companies
  • Oil and gas industry
  • Geotechnical engineering consultancies
  • Infrastructure project companies
  • Universities and research institutions
  • International development agencies

Search for jobs on the ECO Canada Job Board.

Education and Skills


If you are considering a career as a geotechnical engineer, you should have a keen interest in:

  • Understanding soil and rock mechanics.
  • Environmental conservation and sustainability.
  • Designing and problem-solving in engineering contexts.
  • Working with advanced technology and software for analysis.
  • Fieldwork and hands-on laboratory research.

If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as a geotechnical engineer, the following programs are most applicable:

  • Civil Engineering
  • Geological Engineering
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Geotechnical Engineering
  • Earth Sciences

In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as a geotechnical engineer is a graduate degree.

Professional certification for a geotechnical engineer establishes a recognized standard of competence and ethical practice in the engineering community. It enhances credibility and career advancement opportunities and demonstrates a commitment to maintaining the field's highest professional and technical standards. Key certifications include:

  • Professional Engineer (P.Eng.) License: Issued by provincial engineering associations in Canada, such as Engineers Canada, the P.Eng. license is crucial for engineers seeking to practice professionally. It validates compliance with national engineering standards and ethics.
  • Geoscientist-in-Training (GIT) or Professional Geoscientist (P.Geo.): Offered through Geoscientists Canada for engineers with a focus on geoscience, requiring completion of education, work experience, and examinations relevant to geoscience practice.

Our Environmental Professional (EP) designation can also help you progress in your chosen environmental career.


Technical Skills

  • Soil mechanics
  • Rock mechanics
  • Foundation engineering
  • Environmental geotechnics
  • Groundwater hydrology
  • Geotechnical investigation techniques
  • Geotechnical design software
  • Slope stability analysis
  • Construction material testing
  • Project management

Personal and Professional Skills

  • Problem-solving skills
  • Critical thinking
  • Communication skills
  • Teamwork and collaboration
  • Adaptability
  • Attention to detail
  • Time management
  • Leadership
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Ethical judgment

Environmental employers look for professionals who can combine technical knowledge with soft skills. Watch our free webinar Essential Not Optional: Skills Needed to Succeed in Canada’s Environmental Industry or take our Essential Skills courses.

Role Models

Your Impact

A geotechnical engineer specializes in understanding the earth's materials, particularly soil and rock, and their interactions with structures built upon or within them. This occupation assesses and manages construction projects, ensuring they are safe, sustainable, and minimally invasive to natural landscapes.

Geotechnical engineers are critical in preventing environmental degradation and promoting ecological balance by analyzing soil stability, groundwater flow, and the risk of landslides or erosion. Their expertise guides the design of foundations, retaining walls, and other critical infrastructure, incorporating sustainability into engineering solutions to reduce carbon footprints, manage waste, and conserve resources.

Economically, geotechnical engineers enhance the durability and lifespan of structures, minimizing expensive repairs and reconstruction. Socially, their efforts bolster public safety and resilience to natural disasters, thereby improving community welfare.

Geotechnical engineering embodies an environmental role by combining principles of environmental science with engineering practices to protect and preserve the earth's resources while meeting human needs, making it an essential profession in pursuing sustainable development.

Occupational Classification

Geotechnical engineers are classified into the following occupational groupings:

NOC Code: 20010 – Engineering managers

NOC Code: 21331 – Geological engineers

The National Occupational Classification (NOC) provides a standardized language for describing the work performed by Canadians in the labour market. It gives statisticians, labour market analysts, career counsellors, employers, and individual job seekers a consistent way to collect data and describe and understand the nature of work within different occupations.

See ECO’s Blue National Occupational Standard for a career competency profile for an offshore geotechnical engineer that outlines the specific skills, knowledge, and behaviours required for individuals to perform effectively in this particular role. This profile is a benchmark for training and development, ensuring consistency and quality across professions within the blue economy.

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