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Go out and get what you deserve from the industry

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the need to invest in our graduates. To be honest I have been flattered and shocked by the scale of responses posted online at nce.co.uk.

If you haven’t already done so, please have a look yourself. Personally I was quite amazed at the level of (anonymous) venom and sheer disgruntlement that is on display.

I say shocked because, as you will see from our Graduate Awards feature, there are some seriously talented people young people entering the profession.

And behind this new young talent stands a raft of committed employers. They understand that investing in talent is critical and no longer something to be debated.

It was a point made well by Arup director Kate Hall at the House of Commons reception to launch EngineeringUK last week. She explained that her career started in the early 1990s recession when so many others firms were cutting their graduate recruitment. The result is the missing generation of 40-something engineers.

“As you will see from our Graduate Awards feature, there are some seriously talented people young people entering the profession.”

While every firm will have to make tough decisions about staffing levels and rewards, few will now be prepared to entertain the prospect of not investing in young engineers. Easy to say and a quick look at the web will demonstrate that not everyone in the industry necessarily agrees.

While the web is a great place to exorcise and vent all manner of pent up frustration and anger, the scale of feeling suggests that there are clearly more than a few engineers out there who are far from happy with their career choice. As one reader pointed out in a letter, no one ever enters a career in civil engineering to get rich quick. Some of course do, but most don’t.

And it is probably not a civil engineering specific issue. There are probably similar numbers of angry lawyers, accountants and doctors looking across at their peers’ careers and salaries with envy and disgust.

There are probably also quite a few public servants feeling a bit miffed that their rewards haven’t kept pace with the recent absurd public sector pay inflation. Then there are the bankers…

“If you think that you are worth more than you are being paid then go to the market and test it.”

But this latter example is perhaps where all the anonymous disgruntled civil engineers should learn from. Rather than rant and rave why not do as the bankers threaten and just vote with your feet.

It’s simple, if your employer isn’t investing in your career then find one who will. If you think that you are worth more than you are being paid then go to the market and test it.

Recession or not, firms are always interesting in employing and keeping the best talent. If that’s you then you have no problem. But if not then perhaps now is the moment to keep your head down − just enjoy reading about great civil engineering careers and great civil engineering companies in this week’s bumper festive issue.

Happy Christmas! See you on 7 January.

  • Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor

Readers' comments (133)

  • Antony thank you for acknowledging posts from other articles in regards to graduates employments concerns.

    As a young professional often I feel that my voice is never heard nor deemed to matter, but if engineer employers acknowledge what we are saying to them (as you have) and do something about it. I feel the Civil engineering industry in the UK can have a strong future.

    Whilst I applaud this article, I do disagree with the section relating to "if your employer isn’t investing in your career then find one who will". I dont know anyone whose gutsy enough to do so, especially as employers at the moment appear to live by the policy last-in first-out (this happened to me).

    Have you ever thought about a NCE Forum where members can voice there concern. Of course making sure this didnt just turn into a facility for rants. It would certainly bridge a ever-present gap between the ICE and many of its members.

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  • This is the editor (and possibly ICE) telling us engineers to stop expecting ICE to do anything about our pathetic pays.

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  • "Rather than rant and rave why not do as the bankers threaten and just vote with your feet."

    Bankers 'vote with their feet' by switching to banks that pay better from banks that don't pay as well.

    What can you do when the salaries in the entire industry are depressed? Switch from one low-pay civil engineering job to another low-pay civil engineering job?

    This is like the Institution of Civil Engineers asking civil engineers to leave the industry.

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  • It is good to see that the Editor does appear to actually read the comments.

    However, his recent article does beg the question: What, exactly, does the ICE do for its Members?
    They paid £10.6 million in staff costs in 2008 - what were they doing (apart from the commercial arm of TT) to further the interests of its Members?

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  • its easy for employers to talk about retention and training etc. It appears that this however is not happening from the comments. Talk as they say is cheap.

    Good to see the editor respond though.

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  • Anthony Oliver is obviously far removed from the realities of trying to raise a family on a graduate wage. The tone of his piece suggests that we should just stop whinging and get on with it. As noted by the other posters the whole industry is suppressing the wages of engineers. So, to follow his advice and 'vote with our feet' would mean moving industries for a living wage. It is worth noting that in one recent year of Cambridge University students graduating in civil engineering, not one of them went into the industry. They all went to work in the city. So much for keeping the best talent in the industry.

    The problem is that consultancy fees are based on an absurdly low percentage of the overall project cost. There needs to be an agreement across the industry on minimum levels of fees and the increases passed on directly to the engineers.

    Until this happens, I will have to go on cycling to work each morning following the bus with an advert recruiting drivers, with the advert noting a salary in excess of mine.

    PS - Anthony, I doubt very much there are any doctors, lawyers or accountants looking over at our salaries enviously.

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  • "Personally I was quite amazed at the level of (anonymous) venom and sheer disgruntlement that is on display."

    Sir,

    If you read the comments passed on your articles closely, you will find that the only commentators wo do identify themselves are students, the retired, company directors or self-employed consultants.

    From the experience of a colleague, even making the most blandly agreeable statement could find you before HR for reflecting badly on the company. To expect any engineer to identify themselves could be setting them up for professional suicide. Particularly in the current economic climate, where any excuse for disciplinary action and subsequent dismissal seems justified. Have you not seen the litany of disclaimers passing for signatures on industry emails these days?

    THAT is the state this industry finds itself in. Tired of being under appreciated and scared of what tomorrow may bring (see Aecom, Atkins Water, etc., etc.).

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  • Still blinded by optimism I am currently taking a year out from the industry studying an MSc in engineering to accompany my MEng in the hope that I'll find a better paid, more rewarding job at the end of it. Having read all of the above, I probably shouldn't hold my breath, and instead should consider spending my time dating well paid bankers as they clearly have the right idea.

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  • Anthony,

    Firstly thank you for recognising the growing level of disillusionment in the industry.

    That said, I have to disagree with the sentiments expressed above;
    "behind this new young talent stands a raft of committed employers. They understand that investing in talent is critical"

    Actually, in my experience (and that of peers in other companies) employers have no commitment to graduates - they have been the first ones out the door. The lucky few who remain have been told that there is no training budget for their personal development due to the 'tough times'. Coupled with the ongoing pay freezes, perhaps I should vote with my feet - but where am I supposed to run to!?

    Most young professionals who still have a job are too scared to demand a pay rise for fear of being next under the axe. Given that there is a surplus of engineers currently out of work and frantically seeking new employment (and good luck to all of them) this is further serving to lower salaries as people will accept lower rates simply to get a job - and who can blame them!?

    Finally, asking engineers to seek inspiration from bankers is quite frankly insulting. Perhaps if we all run massively over budget on all our jobs then the government will step in and bail us out - then we can all look forward to 5-figure bonuses as a reward?
    No, didnt think so.

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  • out of touch and out of reality I'm afraid. I have worked for 4 major players in the industry, only the latest put any effort into my professional development. Vote with your feet and test the market? The market is deflated if not dead. I'm a chartered engineer currently being paid the same as a graduates straight out of college but where can I go as an alternative? The fact is that there is no incentive to have technical expertise in this industry because the only was to a decent salary is in manangement, therefore everyone rushes up the management chain within firstly aquiring the technical knowledge and skills are getting lost. I'm afraid the industry is slowly killing itself.

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