From: Roger Turk <73527.1356(--nospam--at)compuserve.com>
Date: Tue, 4 May 1999 22:50:41 -0400
You ask a very good question. I guess that Structural Engineers are not
smart enough to demand appropriate compensation. You and your friend are not
the only ones to recognize this fact.
A while back, I received a package delivery that came via UPS. The driver
asked what kind of engineer I was and when I replied, "Structural," he said
that he had a Civil Engineering degree. Then he added, "Engineers don't get
paid enough." He was smarter than the rest of us.
Why do Civil and Structural Engineers end up at the bottom of the totem
pole? I guess that it is because most of us are in private practice, while
most electrical, mechanical, aeronautical engineers work for industry.
Industry produces a product, and prices that product at a cost that will
include manufacturing, overhead and a profit. In industry, salaries are
overhead, in civil and structural engineering, time and knowledge are our
product, and each project is sufficiently different that it is difficult to
predict how much time will be spent. And then there is the client who
requests a change just as the project is being completed and can't understand
why you want extra compensation. After all, you agreed to provide the plans
and specifications for his/her project, and nothing has changed in that
How can lawyers bill on an hourly basis and we engineers can't? Because you
are asking the lawyer to protect *your* ass, and that becomes personal, not
just business. All we are doing is providing the client with a set of plans
from which an inanimate object will be constructed that will not, if we did
our job properly, affect the client personally.
Is there an organized effort to rectify this salary situation? I don't think
that there can be an organized effort or it could/would be considered
"restraint of trade." I can't even ask other structural engineers what their
hourly billing rates are, yet any retailer can go into another retailer's
store and see what is being charged for any item. The fee curves
representing average fees that were typical in the pre-1970's are ancient
history now because the Department of Justice, having no more serious crime
to handle, filed anti-trust suits against AIA, ASCE, NSPE and possibly
others. Also removed were prohibitions against bidding, display and other
advertising and fee cutting from codes of ethics.
There are many ways to make money. You have to sell something for 50 cents
that *everyone* wants and costs 1/2 cent to produce. Look at that
millionaire lady who designed that plastic hair thingamajig that sells for
about $3.00 and probably costs 5 cents to manufacture and package. The
building in which I have my office, a six unit strip center, was sold about a
year ago. The buyer paid $243,000 (cash) for the building. If all the units
are rented, she will gross about $50,000 a year --- that's a 20 percent
return on her investment! And her tenants are responsible for maintenance.
(My lease is up August 1st, and I am curious about the lease that she will
I don't know whether I answered your question or not, or even if there is an
answer, but these are my thoughts on the matter.
A. Roger Turk, P.E.(Structural)
Steve Strapac wrote:
. > Some general questions for the group:
. > I was not financially able to practice Structural engineering out of
. > college, the salaries available for the jobs available were 1/2 to 2/3
. > what I make in Construction Management. So I'm not "close" to the field.
. > Of all the fields of engineering, Civil seems to pay the least, and
. > within Civil, Structural engineering seems to pay the least. This fact
. > hit home when I got a call from a friend of mine from school who went on
. > to get a Masters in Structural Eng. at Stanford, a year after finishing
. > grad school, he quit and went to work for Dean Whitter.. as a stock
. > broker (He hasn't even paid off his college loan. He explained that he
. > looked at his mentors, and what they had accomplished, and he realized
. > that in current dollars, he could expect to max out at $70k/year when he
. > retired, in Los Angeles. With all the license requirements, etc., why
. > don't structural engineers earn significantly more?
. > Why do they bill "per job" vs. attorneys (accountants too?) who bill per
. > hour? It seems as if you are all in a race to bid yourselves out of
. > existence!?
. > Is there an organized effort to rectify this?
. > Steve Strapac, P.E.