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Debate Salaries and the ICE's role

Poor pay is the number one concern of British civil engineers. But, to date, their professional body has not intervened directly in an attempt to raise salaries.


In many countries outside the UK, the civil engineering profession is seen as having great importance and its practitioners are well paid. Unfortunately this is not the case here. Yet, the driving force behind the promotion of UK civil engineering, the ICE, sees fit to apparently ignore the consensus of its membership that poor wages are the profession's number one problem. It is apparently unable to consider promoting the remuneration of its members within all employing organisations by setting minimum pay scales.

We appear to have a culture where you do not get paid for the quality of the work you do, but instead receive the minimum that will be accepted. I am sure very few of us would suggest to our solicitor that he cut his fee by a third, or lose business to another practice. Unfortunately, doing for a shilling what another fool would do for a pound has put us where we are now.

The ICE has reacted to the technical needs of those coming into the profession through the implementation of SARTOR, but money speaks loudest. I have provided assistance at two careers events in Sheffield, on behalf of the Engineering Council, to promote civil engineering.

I spoke to many 'high flyers' and informed them of the bursary that was available if they got the grades and read engineering at college. When they saw the range of salaries open to them in their future, through training and beyond, they laughed and turned away.

The right people need to be encouraged into the profession and the existing ones must have their worth promoted. The difficulty appears to be that, although the ICE is a membership organisation, the key employers would appear to have the loudest voice in Great George St. One wonders if it is in their interest to raise the levels of remuneration at all.

Instead, we should adopt a democratic decision-making process that would bring the ICE into the 21st century. I can still remember the words of two Fellows of the Institution some eight years ago: that the only way the public would respect the title Chartered Engineer was if those who bore it were paid a decent minimum wage.

The ICE is not an organisation for employers but for its membership and it should consider putting the question of minimum salaries to that membership.

Only this way will they feel the ICE reacts to their concerns.


Civil engineering pay is currently set by the laws of supply and demand which determine the market rate. Pay should be based on an individual's abilities and not determined by the ICE.

The ICE is not a trade association, a union or a lobby group. It is a professional institution with the responsibility to set standards in qualifications, training and professional conduct. It ensures that membership is worth attaining and that members develop throughout their career. It cannot also be expected to determine rates of pay. This would simply be abdication of responsibility.

The professional examination provides a thorough test of our abilities. It is a measure of our potential at a single point in time and for most of us it represents the end of our training and a coming of age. In my opinion Membership should be seen as a significant personal achievement and not some promise of a guaranteed salary.

The declining status of our profession would only be further eroded by the adoption of guaranteed pay scales. I also believe prescriptive rates of pay would be lower than most existing salaries. This would have the effect of capping salaries not raising them.

Of course, it is easier to find fault with this proposition than to offer alternatives. So what can we do to improve our lot?

Civil engineering provides a challenging and worthwhile career. But job satisfaction alone is not enough to attract and retain the best students and engineers. They want money. To provide it we must value ourselves as highly as other professions.

We must publicise and promote our expertise and highlight our contribution to the value of a project. Only in this way will clients and employers be convinced that our work is worth paying more for.

The facts

Only 52% of civil engineering graduates enter the civil engineering profession.

Asked what was the biggest problem facing UK civil engineering in a recent NCE survey, 76% of respondents said 'poor pay'. The next greatest concern was that business management was poor, voted for by 43% of respondents.

Over 90% of the survey respondents who had been in the industry for five years or less rated low pay as the biggest problem.

According to the most recent NCE/ICE salary survey, conducted in the first quarter of 1999, civil engineers aged under 25 can expect to earn on average between £13,860 and £15,650. Those aged between 30 and 34 can look forward to salaries ranging from £22,260 to £25,500.

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