Australia produces about 9500 engineering graduates a year but for the first time in a long time salaries are falling.
Engineer salaries fell last year for the first time in 10 years, prompting the profession’s largest lobby group to call for government planning to smooth out infrastructure cycles and prevent a damaging pattern of spikes and troughs in remuneration in the sector.
The average base salaries and salary packages of professional engineers in 2012 fell by 3 per cent from 2011, according to the Engineers Australia Salary and Benefits Survey 2012. The decline in the average base salary to $100,644 from $104,156 – following a 9 per cent increase a year earlier – and the decline in the average salary package to $113,421 from $117,030, marked the first decreases since the survey began in 2003.
“Suddenly employers are saying: ‘We can’t keep putting up salaries by 9 per cent when the work’s not there’,” Engineers Australia chief executive Stephen Durkin said on Wednesday. “We need some long-term planning. We need to make sure we don’t have a situation where we’re seeing major fluctuations in terms of infrastructure going up and down and up and down.”
Big construction work in Queensland alone is likely to halve over the next five years, and signs of slowing private sector investment are prompting the industry to call for more public spending to even out the pace of infrastructure development. In January, Consult Australia, the body which represents consulting engineering firms, said investment in Australia cities’ infrastructure was a critical inclusion in this year’s federal government budget.
The biggest falls in engineer remuneration last year came in the public sector, where both base salaries and packages fell 7 per cent. In the private sector, base salaries fell 1.9 per cent and overall packages 1.7 per cent.
Source: Engineers Australia
In both the public and private sectors, losses were concentrated at the more senior levels, among engineering grades 4 and 5. The average base salary for a Grade 4 engineer fell to $119,241 from $124,696, while the salary package slipped to $133,860 from $139,995. At Grade 5, the base salary fell to $149,162 from $157,551, while the average package declined to $170,096 from $177,515.
Salaries in the first three grades, covering professionals with up to 10 years’ experience, were largely in line with the previous year, although there was a slight decline at Grade 1 – to $63,268 from $64,423 in base salary and to $70,985 from $72,693 in package.
Steady infrastructure planning, needed to put in train projects that would accommodate Australia’s predicted growing population as far out as 2050, was also vital to maintain a healthy constant growth in the number of home-grown engineers, Durkin said.
Australia produces about 9500 engineering graduates a year and has relied on imports of skilled workers to meet demand in recent years that has been as high as 22000, but this has to change, Durkin said.
“Despite the fact that we’ve seen a decline in engineer salaries, we do need to ultimately have more engineers in Australia.”
Infrastructure planning by governments and authorities of all political hues was characterised by a focus on short-term political objectives like building roads in marginal electorates, he said.
“We don’t see any part of the government system – this is not a party political comment – looking at that from the point of view of those long-term planning needs,” Durkin said.