Here's a joke... Reaching the end of a job interview, the personnel officer asked the young engineer fresh out of university, 'What starting salary are you looking for?'
The engineer said, 'Around £25,000 a year, depending on the benefits package.'
The personnel officer said, 'Well, what would you say to six weeks paid holiday, full medical care, matching pension contributions to 50% of salary, and a company car - say, a BMW Three Series?'
The engineer sat up straight and said, 'Wow!!! Are you kidding?'
And the personnel officer said, 'Of course... but you started it.'
This column makes no apology for returning to the subject of civil engineers' salaries (NCE 16 March and 20 April). My campaigning zeal has diminished a little after receiving just one e-mail wanting to know which firm was paying graduates £19,000 plus a car. I can only assume you thought I was having you on (which I wasnot).
Much attention gets focused on starting salaries, but they may not be the biggest disincentive to improving job satisfaction, as well as to recruiting and retaining quality staff.
Young doctors, lawyers and accountants are willing to accept very low wages when they first start. They do so because they know that on qualification they will see a dramatic jump in their salaries.
Many newly qualified engineers receive no salary increase at all.
For those lucky enough to get one, increases range from a token £500 to £2,000. Usually the only way to get any decent rise (for contractors in particular) is to find another job.
Given that the price of something is usually related to the value it has to the buyer, we must assume that employers do not value civil engineering qualifications. This is not entirely true. Most good firms will acknowledge that the effort needed to become a Chartered Member of the ICE, though not unfortunately an Associate Member, is the sign of somebody with ambition, drive and talent.
They just do not feel the need to reward those efforts with extra cash.
This is a ridiculous situation. If the industry's own employers are not prepared to reward the attainment of professional qualifications, then it will be difficult to persuade clients, Government, potential recruits and the general public that they matter or that they underpin quality of work.
The ICE clearly has a major role in tackling this paradox. It must say very clearly how much becoming a Chartered or Associate Member is worth. For example, it might argue that a newly Chartered Member should expect to receive a 20% increase in salary and anew Associate Member a 10% rise.
Having set its benchmark, the ICE must be active in contacting employers which do not reach it and convincing them to step into line.
This is not 'acting like a trade union', a common criticism of this kind of action, but instead a business-like and professional approach to preserving the 'value' of the ICE's main assets, its qualifications.
The Institution, of course, will have to be sure that its qualifications do add real value to employers businesses.
Alastair McLellan is editor of NCE