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Poor pay: we only have ourselves to blame


Pay and status have always concerned our profession. So, almost inevitably, we ask ourselves again, why is this and what can be done about it?

The commentaries provided by Antony Oliver and Richard Thompson (NCE 2 March) provide many useful insights: 'poor business management', 'lack of concern for the staff', 'promotion because of technological rather than managerial skills' and an unwillingness to empower people to release their own creativity.

There is great satisfaction to be had from the end product of what we civil engineers do and I am sure that this is what draws people into the profession. But the slow rates of progression and poor salaries undermine even the most enthusiastic.

Is all this the inevitable result of 'market forces' and change in society, or are there deeper problems? I think there are.

For too long, our profession has concentrated on navel-gazing about the structure of its qualification systems and the different levels of seniority it produces. At the same time, the profession has virtually ignored what is going on in the work place.

Very few people (from any profession) succeed in their careers on the strength of professional expertise. The exceptions are perhaps top barristers and surgeons.

Rewards in terms of pay and recognition generally go to those people who produce successful outcomes, who have vision, who can motivate and develop the people they work with. In short the best managers.

In our profession, we keep our bright newcomers churning out routine work as cheap sources of labour - in the name of 'experience'. They are often in their late twenties before they start to advance into the management ranks. At the same time, those from other professions are running their own show in their mid-to-late twenties and are able to afford a much better lifestyle.

Our industry has low profit margins and is unable to compete with opportunities available in fast growing sectors, but we could do a whole lot better. Bodies like the Institution must reconsider what their role should be in shaping a better tomorrow for its members. Senior professionals should encourage greater empowerment much earlier and help people make the progression from 'doers' to 'managers' - if they want to.

We are a creative profession that builds things with lasting value, we are industrious and uphold strong principles in a competitive world. My main regret is that these virtues do not have a greater impact on others and, sadly, I think we have ourselves to blame.

A Lovell (F), The Grange, Tower Street, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 1RH

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