During a discussion today about how to elaborate our key messages a friend of ours who is not an engineer asked: but wasn’t the problem obvious to you before choosing civil engineering?
That got us thinking: why wasn’t it obvious and common knowledge for us that as Civil Engineers we will feel we are unfairly underpaid? Under appreciated for the work we are doing, for the financial and legal risks we take, for the projects we deliver with long hours at (unpaid) overtime. Probably it should have been, let me give just two examples. It was clear that doctors study extremely hard during university years and work long hours as professionals, often night shifts. They have huge responsibility. It was obvious to us that a criminal lawyer would be required to protect the client even if their moral inclination would suggest differently and that can cause distress. Or that they will have tough clientele. So why didn’t we know before choosing professions that most Civil Engineer are unhappy with their career and prestige?
A small number of engineers in my circle noted (mainly people from families with engineering and business backgrounds) that they knew and anticipated this unsatisfying workplace and financial outcome. They prepared for it. Most of us (in my social circle: 95%) however were idealist. We liked the idea of civil engineering, we liked the studies, we liked the technical-intellectual challenges. We liked that what we do is meaningful. That it gets built. We didn’t explore the financial side, if we can support a family eventually. We thought that will take care of itself if we are good at solely engineering.
But back to the original question: we should have known. We should have done our research and appreciate the economics in the industry. We should have thought about that as technical professionals we will be employed for the lowest possible salary simply because there is always someone who would to do the job cheaper out of need. We should have been better informed. Educational institutions, societies and engineering boards don’t give an direct insight (or seminars) about the everyday economics of working as an engineer as an employee or making our own firm as an entrepreneur. This is a difficult topic, it’s not surprising there is lack of communication about it. Whoever wants to organize a workshop or seminar have to make engineers talk about their personal finances, which nobody really eager to do. (Project financing is an easy topic in comparison, any senior engineer cum project manager can talk for hours about it.) Personal finances of a Civil Engineer is in good case admittedly going well and hence confidential (minority of engineers), in bad case embarrassing. Because considerably less compared to our piers in other professions of similar responsibility of project values and assets.
But, there is a small group of engineers who command similar incomes to progressive professions, with similar years of experience. So there is a way, there is a formula that might work. The rest of the community just have to face the problem. Own the mistake we made. Share the information about the issues and finally give some thought to it. It is a problem that need to be solved. That’s what we do for a living as engineers: problem solving.
The bigger questions are: can we solve it on personal level? Or we can improve the industry, the same way we improve people’s lives? Can we make this struggle easier for the next generation of engineers, and through this it is possible to better the construction industry? We seek the answers, the blog to be continued…