Salaries in civil engineering are dictated by supply and demand and our comparatively poor position relative to other professions is largely due to oversupply of graduates into a mature market.
However, another factor is the question of location.
Firms of accountants and lawyers tend to operate in physical proximity to their clients, which means they have developed strong and reasonably autonomous operations in regional centres. Many civil engineering firms, by contrast, cling to the South Eastern 'head office' mentality.
This results in them carrying high overheads which in a competitive marketplace reduce the amount these companies can afford to spend on salaries. Furthermore, because of higher costs of living in the South East, the salaries that these companies can afford to pay are 'worth' less.
By contrast, regional locations attract lower overheads, are often more attractive as places to live, can afford to meet salary expectations and offer a higher standard of living for a given salary level. In the long run, therefore, firms which choose regional locations are more competitive, in terms both of staff retention and the cost expectations of clients, than those which cling to an old style 'head office' culture.
Clearly, firms which service their regionally based clients in proximity and locate head office 'overhead' activities such as senior management and support services in lower cost locations will in the long run have a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Those starting their careers in the profession may find that such firms are the most attractive Relocating to a city like Leeds has its attractions.
Frank Westcott (M), Sycamore House, Wetton, Nr Ashbourne, Derbyshire DE6 2AF