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Debate: Graduate pay

Calls for better financial rewards for graduates to attract more talent into the profession have resurfaced in NCE's letters pages. Responses have included a call to 'whingeing' graduate engineers to stop complaining about their salaries and 'take the pai


Greg Lutton Consultant engineer, Entec

I am fortunate enough to have an employer prepared to reward my work appropriately, but my contact with other graduates has convinced me that the experience of a significant number is much less happy. The last NCE Salary Survey may seem to provide the profession with some grounds for complacency, but the 'significant variances' referred to within that report should not be ignored. Reports of graduates being forced to take on part- time bar work simply to make ends meet should give us all pause for thought.

There are some who consider that graduate engineers are paid no less than they are currently worth. They probably also feel that the valuation should be as low as can be got away with. These people are doing our profession a disservice.

I concede that the graduates with the lowest incomes are those who are unemployed. But to allow civil engineering to be a low wage career choice for graduates, or even to allow it to be perceived as such, stores up difficulties for the future.

Civil engineering requires good quality, motivated graduates. There are now tuition fees and four-year courses to contend with. The uncorrected impression that our profession inadequately rewards the effort required to join it will deter excellent engineers from entering the industry.

This is a career that can, at its best, deliver unmatched levels of personal satisfaction. In that context, the vision of a 'brave new world' offered by Mark Whitby in last week's NCE must be applauded.

It is unfortunately a description of the profession that many within its lower tiers will not recognise. We see applications for civil engineering courses showing a worrying drop, and may yet find ourselves returning to the situation in the late 1980's, when accountancy became the profession of choice for many civil engineering graduates. Probably only when it is too late, and a shortage of talent is seriously affecting our industry's performance, will any attempt be made to rectify the situation.


Mike Honeyman Graduate engineer, Babtie Group

It cannot be disputed that our profession is losing young engineers, as the entry standards we require and management skills we develop can often be better financially rewarded in other fields. It has been argued, inevitably, that the latest SARTOR requirements will only accelerate this.

I am myself striving to be a chartered engineer but have no inclination to leave the industry. I am satisfied to be paid the 'going rate' for a 26 year old graduate. My salary is secondary to the enjoyment I gain from the work I am entrusted with and the company of colleagues who are happy for me to learn from their experience. You cannot put a value on this, although perhaps one ought to consider the cost to most civil firms of administering their graduate training programmes to gain an insight into how highly we are regarded by our mentors.

Of course I would love to be paid more - wouldn't we all! However, as a young civil engineering manager I find myself struggling to make a business case for this.

Modern civil engineering in the developed world is increasingly about being maintenance men (and women) for the infrastructure our predecessors designed and built. This is reflected in the changing nature of the industry and the amount our clients are prepared to pay us.

Working for a consultant serving the water industry I can guarantee that the current drive for efficiency savings will not see water companies rushing to pay us a higher rate. Most clients are under similar pressure.

So exactly where from the narrow profit margins of the vast majority of civils firms would those unhappy with their pay wish the extra cash to come from? Perhaps when those graduate engineers to whom the 'bottom line' is paramount have all jumped ship those of us who remain can be paid a little more, work a little more efficiently as chartered 'managers' and incorporated 'engineers' and listen to a little less complaining. We can then get on with civil engineering in the next hundred years and more.

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