Structural Engineering is a codified, standard-driven, mature industry. In a mature industry, the fees are frequently tight, competitive, and capped. Quality of work can suffer, as firms try to make profit at the margins, and employee salaries are frequently relatively low.

But what if that mature industry requires a high level of specialization, licensing, and skill? Then a perverse reality often sets in: A ten, or five, or one percent of people make a large amount of money while working new, junior, or unlicensed and lesser experienced people as hard as they can while not causing them to burn out. At least not right away. Training? That’s no longer the norm. Instead what we see are strategies where employers look to hire ready-trained engineers. The story is “No thanks; come to us with 3 to 5 years of experience, and here’s your $75,000.00 salary with some modest benefits.”

Many forms of engineering require innovation, insight, and problem solving beyond the norm.  Structural Engineering requires experience, respect, and patience.  Not always in that order.  You need humility as well, and much more than most driven, insightful, and hard working people can deliver on an as-needed basis, without prompting, and without hesitation.  Sadly hubris is all too common, and collapses are sometimes the tragic result.

Our work is hard.  No one is perfect.  We work hard at each problem, and work together to ensure our humanity doesn’t cause us to trip into infamy.  Often, we are efficient, and unrelenting.  Long hours happen, and stressful dead of the night self-doubt isn’t at all unknown.  But we struggle on; we read, debate, participate, learn, grow, teach, and support one another.  Many times almost all of that happens online now.  It shouldn’t.  No engineer should ever be the only person who looked at a system, a detail, a calculation, or any aspect of a design to which the unsuspecting public will be exposed.  Second Set of Eyes is not just the ethical way to ensure we minimize errors, it is the only defensible approach to any profession.  Carrying out a design for the very first time?  That needs to be clearly, simply, and routinely subject to training:  See one, Assist one, Do one.  To do otherwise is to deny staff training.  Part of the problem is that all of this takes time and effort…

Remember the top few? Right; well, those are the people who leverage the junior staff. So then we see larger, older, mature industry firms endlessly spinning off (unintentionally, but by and large by design) smaller, new, numerous competitors.  Those new firms then further dilute the pool of talent, further multiplying the clients’ options, often undercutting their old employer, and again creating another round of leveraging and junior sweat shops.

I have been told by former employees that they were openly told not to take a job with another firm unless they understood they were joining a sweat shop. Nice.

So: What’s reasonable? Well, here’s what we think is reasonable, and our detailed explanation of why.

If you look at the standard rates as recommended by many, many Canadian jurisdictions, apply the recommended standard value of 42% being dedicated to pay, training, and retention, and then look to achieve reasonable efficiencies (here we expect 70% minimum billable ratio, with an absolute minimum of 70% throughput, or net on the hours), we get the following:

Junior Intern (new grad to 18 months): $52,500
Intermediate Intern (18 to 36 months): $72,500
Senior Intern (36 months to licensing): $87,500

At these levels, we are constantly training. To go up a level, a candidate must earn an invitation and sit both a board and an exam. Generally speaking, hard working and talented (read: competent and ambitious) engineers move up through the ranks at the estimated timelines above.

Professional Levels:
Assistant Engineer: $96,500 (non-partner track)
Staff Engineer: $107,250 (partner track)
Lead Engineer: $125,500 (junior partner)
Senior Engineer: $157,500

That’s it. That what the math says. It is very, very simple math. If you’re reading this because you’re an engineer, I would happily walk you through the math. If you’re reading this and thinking we sound like a good place to work, feel free to get in touch. We would sit you through an informal interview, a formal board, and an exam. Your pay would be commensurate with your skills and abilities. If you are the right candidate, you can quickly be invited into ownership.  That’s what we are referring to above by partner track.

We believe in engineering. We believe in the profession. We may just believe you have a place here with us. If not, or if you aren’t interested, at least you know a scale of what you may be worth where you are now.  How’s that pay looking?

Update:  It’s official: We’re hiring.  Have a look over here.