By the text book the roll of the Engineers is "To assist freindly troops to live, move and fight, and to deny the same to the enemy." The second role of the Engineers is "To fight as infantry." To fulfill these roles there are five groups of Engineer tasks:
Mobility: natural and artificial obstacle breaching/destruction, construction and maintenance of bridges and roads.
Counter Mobility: Emplacement of obstacles, barriers and mines for rear area security, flank protection, or to deny the use of terrain to the enemy.
Enhance Survivability: the removal of battle feild hazzards (mines and UXO), assistance in cam & concealment, conduct of non-electronic deception, and the construction of field fortifications for the protection of personel and equipment.
Sustainment Engineering: vertical and horozontal construction (buildings, roads, & airfields), provision of utilities (water and elcetricity), rear area restoration, and maintence of lines of comunication (roads, railways, & bridges).
Geomatics: surveying and mapping.
With the technical stuff aside lets get to the heart of the questions. Yes, the engineers are often fighting forward of the infantry and armour. We often lead the other combat arms into battle. Prior to an assult, Engineers may spend the night crawling through the aproaches , proding for and clearing mines and setting charges destroy obstacles. Or, engineers can plow through right at the front of the assult in the Armoured Engineer Vehicle (AEV) and leave an obstacle free path for tanks and APC's to follow.
While Engineers do not plan the attack, they do provide a major roll in advising the comander where and how breaches can be made, where obstacles should be placed, what types of obstacles should be employed, and any other engineering capabilities. This advice will have a significant impact on how the battle is conducted.
Do you need university or collage? Only if you plan to join as an officer, in which case a BEng of BEngSci is desired. If you join as an NCM you will recieve an equivalent to a collage education through your training.
What can you expect? A lot of heavy lifting. Engineers build a lot of prefabricated bridges (MGB and ACRROW) which require the lifting of some very heavy pannels. Uperbody strength is an asset on a bridge build (and if you are tall you can expect to be doing more lifting as the short people cannot always reach the top pannels). You can also look forward to working with construction equipment, and (everybody's favorite) explosives. Engineers are the demolitions experts of the army.
SoF, another aspect you may be intrested in is the Combat Diver. This is the Exclusive domain of Army Engineers.
And, finaly, here is some additional information taken from the recruiting website and links to the site.
Field Engineer (041)
The role of the Field Engineers (FD ENGR) is to assist their own troops to live, move and fight on the battlefield, and to deny enemy troops the same ability. As combat troops, they are an important member of the Infantry/Armour/Artillery/Field Engineer Combat Arms team on the battlefield.
The men and women employed in this occupation can be compared to various tradespersons in a large and versatile construction firm; however, they work under far more difficult and challenging conditions.
What They Do:
Construct accommodations in the field;
Construct and maintain roads, airfields, heliports, bridges, causeways and rafts;
Construct and maintain buildings for the protection of personnel, equipment, aircraft and vehicles;
Construct field defences and obstacles;
Provide drinking water by testing, purification, filtration and construction of local distribution systems;
Detect and dispose of land mines, booby traps and bulk explosives;
Deny enemy mobility on the battlefield by demolishing roads and bridges, and laying minefields and booby traps;
Demolish enemy roads, airfields and buildings
Maintain engineering equipment, weapons, vehicles and supplies;
Provide engineer communications on the battlefield; and
Fight to protect themselves, or in an infantry defensive role in land battles, when required.
In combat and training situations, Field Engineers works under very demanding physical conditions, outdoors and exposed to the elements for extended periods, day and night. However, during non-combat and non-training times, working and living conditions are similar to other military personnel�living at home or in barrack type accommodation.
Working conditions often include risk of bodily injury and exposure to noise, vibration, dust or fumes. Mental stress can be high when working under adverse conditions with explosives, mines or booby traps, or with limited time to complete an assignment.
Personnel who demonstrate the required ability and ambition will undertake advanced MOC training through formal courses or on-job training as they progress in their careers. Specialty training may also be available. Field Engineers who have completed their qualification level 4 can apply for the Field Engineer Equipment Operator occupation (042).
Field Engineer (041)
Army Engineering Officer (24)
** I belive that Field Engineer (041) and Field Engineer Equipment Operator (042) have just been reunified into Field Engineer (043). The recruiting site has yet to be updated. **