There has long been an expression in engineering to the effect that if you can’t blind them with science, baffle them with bull****. I’m afraid Stephen Brown’s article ‘Performing better in the Salary Stakes’ (PE August) sounds like a strong contender for the latter category.
Whilst Brown quotes masses of figures that are bound to make parents, teachers etc. think that engineering is a well-paid profession, he does not say where these figures come from. If he did, I have no doubt engineers would question their authenticity. This is not a new problem. Indeed, ever since Noah was a lad, there has been a wide gulf between what salary surveys say that engineers earn and what they actually do.
Many years ago, Dr. Hawley took the unusual step of pre-empting the derision that always followed the publication of the latest salary survey, by having a letter published in PE defending the statistics that would soon become public knowledge. Despite this, none of the wide circle of qualified engineers with whom I was acquainted, up and down the country, believed him. Indeed, their reasoning was subsequently proved to be correct when the figures did come out.
The derivation of the salary levels from raw data has always been a mystery. It is not as though the survey organisers should be accused of cheating. I have never supported that hypothesis. However, I believe that somehow or other what should be a random selection of engineers providing the data, turns out to be a highly selective one. It is how this is done that is the mystery. In other words, I have no doubt that some engineers earn the high salaries that are quoted, but they are very thin on the ground, and need to be chosen for the survey very carefully.
Nevertheless, it is not difficult to understand why these grossly inflated figures continue to be quoted by people like Brown. Their purpose is to attract more young people into engineering. Unfortunately this keeps the balance of supply and demand in the employers’ favour which, in turn, depresses salaries. In my experience, many mature engineers agree with the validity of this argument.
Syd Croft, Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear