Doing the best we can

June 2009 » Editor's Comment
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), engineering graduates expect to earn an annual starting salary of approximately $62,000. According to NACE’s salary survey, those expectations match up fairly well with reality: NACE found that salary offers to engineering graduates average more than $58,000.
Shanon Fauerbach, P.E.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), engineering graduates expect to earn an annual starting salary of approximately $62,000. According to NACE’s salary survey, those expectations match up fairly well with reality: NACE found that salary offers to engineering graduates average more than $58,000.

Unfortunately, civil engineering graduates are unlikely to find such fortune. Findings from the 11th annual CE News Salary Survey show considerably lower median salaries for entry level employees, categorized in our survey as having zero to two years of experience. The median salary for this group in the private sector is $48,000. (We had insufficient data to report the median for entry-level employees in the public sector.) Significantly, this median salary is 11 percent lower than what entry-level respondents reported just last year.

As Editor Bob Drake reveals in our survey report (page 18), CE News survey respondents’ salaries did not rise as much as they did in years past and they did not receive their accustomed bonuses; however, there appears to be a shift in workplace practices that might make the compensation shortfalls more palatable.

For instance, compared with 2008 data, 15 percent more respondents said that their employer pays for CEUs/PDHs; 84 percent of respondents reported this fringe benefit for 2009. Similarly, tuition reimbursement (full or partial) rose by 14 percent and is a benefit reported by 72 percent of respondents today. It seems that amidst the economic downturn, employers are investing in their staff by funding continuing education—a decision that will likely have a two-fold advantage: to propel their firm’s technical expertise while also showing staff that they are worth investing in, even if they can’t do so with traditional compensation right now.

Work-life balance is a topic of considerable concern for everyone these days and has been found to be especially influential in attracting and retaining young professionals. Drake reports that CE News survey respondents are working more hours weekly than they were five years ago. Today, 21 percent of respondents report working a 40-hour work week, while 37 percent told us that they work 40 to 45 hours, and 23 percent work 46 to 50 hours. Perhaps to offset these expectations for workers and to improve morale, employers are offering more flexible scheduling options, a fringe benefit that saw a remarkable 25 point gain compared with last year. Seventy-six percent of respondents said their employers provide flexible scheduling. Additionally, 30 percent of respondents said that their employers provide telecommuting options, representing a 17 point gain compared with last year.

As you’ll see in Drake’s report, employers are suffering through the recession by making difficult decisions to layoff staff, freeze salaries, cut bonuses, and require employees to log more hours. If this situation has to be, at least there are "silver linings" for many of those who manage to land their first job in the civil engineering industry, as well as for those who are continuing their career in this noble profession.


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