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Time for ICE to act on pay

Comment Salaries

THERE ARE few professionals who would exchange today's workplace meritocracy for the time-serving, hide-bound past.

But among those few are many civil engineers.

The reforms of the last three decades have resulted in positive changes for most professions - greater opportunities and greater rewards foremost among them. In the civil engineering world, however, something has gone wrong. The same process of deregulation, globalisation and restructuring has taken place, but the end result has been that civil engineering services are less valued than in the past.

To stay in business, most civil engineering firms have had to compete on price.

Clients began to view civil engineers largely in terms of cost rather than value. This in turn affected the mindset of employers who aimed to increase pitiful margins by minimising that cost.

The result is that the UK civil engineering profession enters the 21st century with three quarters of its number dissatisfied with the salaries they receive (NCE 2 March).

It is the number one problem facing the profession and it is time the Institution took it seriously.

President George Fleming has made a positive start with his call for civil engineering graduates to be paid a minimum of £18,000 (NCE 22 June). In a letter published in this week's issue, vice president Adrian Long wonders if a significant increase in professional fees would even be noticed by clients since they account for a relatively tiny percentage of overall costs.

The Institution must turn its concern into action. Over the last few years the ICE has had an improving record in facing up to the issues which affect its future and that of its members.

From tackling devolution to this week's deal with the American Society of Civil Engineers and from the Telford Challenge to the controversial reform of the qualification process, Great George Street has hummed with activity. Now is the time for its greatest challenge.

Let us see the same sort of concerted, comprehensive and pragmatic approach to the issue of pay that David Cawthra took on the Future Framework Presidential Commission.

Doing this will require the ICE to overcome its squeamishness about addressing the level of rewards that members receive.

If it believes ICE-backed qualifications add value to an employer's business then it must campaign to see qualified staff properly rewarded.

The ICE cannot act like a trade union, but at present its silence on this matter makes it appear a de facto employers' organisation. A rational explanation of what salaries civil engineers should expect to receive and how employers might run their businesses in a way which would enable them to pay up is the ICE's proper role. The employers do not have to take the ICE's advice - but they will probably end up losing their best staff (and perhaps clients) if they do not.

NCE believes that the ICE can and should make a difference to the level of job satisfaction - salaries included - of all civil engineers.

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