Put a spanner in your works

An Engineering Council survey shows most engineers to be happy with their lot. Philip Schofield looks at the nuts and bolts

Contrary to popular perceptions, engineers enjoy their work and are well paid and secure. Engineering also offers an excellent route into top management. It is easy to understand why more than 68 per cent of engineers would recommend engineering as a career for a young man, and 62 per cent would do so for a young woman.

The evidence comes from the Engineering Council's recently published '1997 Survey of Professional Engineers and Technicians'. More than 10,000 engineers registered with the council were questioned for the survey, carried out every two or three years for the council by the independent Electoral Reform Ballot Services, the research arm of the Electoral Reform Society.

The survey showed that in the last financial year, chartered engineers earned an average of pounds 40,131 including bonus and overtime payments. Earnings had grown by 12.6 per cent in the previous two years. The retail price index rose by 4.7 per cent in the same period, so real earnings growth was 7.9 per cent.

However, this average hides wide variations. One in 10 earns pounds 23,500 or less, while one in 10 earns pounds 60,000 or more. Introducing the survey, Mike Heath, the Director General of the Engineering Council, said that the average salaries quoted were "likely to be on the conservative side, as the very highest earners tend not to return survey questionnaires". However, he added that 23 chartered engineers in the survey claimed annual earnings of pounds 250,000 or more.

Incorporated engineers and engineering technicians also saw real growth in earnings. The average earnings of incorporated engineers has reached pounds 29,918, real growth of 7 per cent over two years, while engineering technicians earn pounds 26,311, real growth of 13.7 per cent, or four times the rate of inflation.

In addition, 41 per cent of chartered engineers have either a company car for their sole use or money in lieu. Fewer incorporated engineers or technicians have a company car - 32 and 27 per cent respectively. Other fringe benefits are very similar for all three groups. All enjoy an average of 26 days annual leave in addition to bank holidays, while 82 per cent belong to a company pension scheme and 16 per cent to non-contributory schemes.

Only 1.4 per cent of all engineers were unemployed, compared with 2.3 per cent two years ago. This is an exceptionally low jobless level.

The main type of work for chartered engineers is senior management (28 per cent), with 5 per cent of survey respondents being chairmen, chief executives or managing directors. The next most important areas are consultancy and project management, at 14 per cent each.

A significant proportion of incorporated engineers also work in senior management (23 per cent) and in project management (14 per cent). The main field of work for engineering technicians is maintenance and repair (24 per cent) although considerable numbers - 17 per cent - are in senior management.

Almost a quarter (23 per cent) of chartered engineers are members of a trade union, while 42 per cent of incorporated engineers and 39 per cent of technicians are union members.

The survey explored the main reasons why engineers had taken up their careers. Just over half cited the desire to be creative and enjoying problem solving, and well over a quarter said it was because they were good at maths and sciences. There was little difference between the ages, although young people were slightly more likely to have taken up engineering to be creative and solve problems, while older engineers were more likely to have done so due to the influence of family or friends. Graduates and postgraduates were more likely to have taken up engineering due to being good at maths and sciences. However, the desire to be creative and solve problems remained the most common denominator.

The level of satisfaction among engineers with their careers to date was also examined in the survey. Most - 85 per cent - expressed satisfaction with their initial training, and about four in ten of these said they were very satisfied.

More than six in ten are also satisfied with their training in new techniques, and just over two-thirds are pleased with the technical opportunities they had received. As might be expected, chartered engineers are more likely to be satisfied with the technical opportunities given them (70 per cent) than incorporated engineers (62 per cent) or technicians (56 per cent).

Just under six in ten expressed satisfaction with their career development to date, with the highest level of satisfaction (62 per cent) being among the chartered engineers and the lowest (50 per cent) among the engineering technicians. Those in the 35-44 age group are marginally the least satisfied.

Finally, almost two-thirds of the engineers in the survey (63 per cent) claimed to be at least fairly satisfied with the salary and conditions they have received to date. Chartered and incorporated engineers are slightly more likely to be very satisfied than engineering technicians.

Perhaps the most convincing proof of engineers' overall satisfaction with their lot is their willingness to recommend a career in the profession to young men and women. About two-thirds of both chartered and incorporated engineers and almost three-quarters of engineering technicians commend their work to youngsters looking at career options.

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