Statistics released by the Australian Taxation Office show mining engineers and engineering managers are some of the country’s highest paid professionals.
According to the data, mining engineers earn about $184,507 per year, while engineering managers can expect roughly $159,940 in taxable income.
Unsurprisingly, surgeons, anaesthetists and internal medicine specialists are still the top earners, making, on average, more than $300,000 per year.
For comparison, the average Australian income is $63,085.
What is an engineering manager?
Demand for engineering managers is on the rise, with Seek predicting a 12.8 per cent growth in engineering manager roles over the next five years.
As it says on the tin, engineering managers are engineers who take on management responsibilities. They’re most common in all engineering disciplines and need to work closely with other professionals, such as architects.
Engineering managers may be the first point of contact for a new project, meaning they often need to be able to interpret plans and drawings, and provide advice to clients about engineering strategies.
“A great engineering manager has developed business acumen and understands the goals of the business.This includes managing budget and financial aspects, as well as responsibility and accountability,” Northrop Grumman Australia’s Director of Engineering Dr Derek Reinhardt FIEAust CPEng EngExec told create.
“Another essential element is a good understanding of project management, earned value management and the interactions between engineering, project management and project performance.”
Reinhardt suggested gaining a Chartered qualification to become an engineering manager.
“The minimum qualifications for my role are a recognised four-year engineering degree, CPEng [chartership] and relevant state engineering registration,” Reinhardt said.
Of course, a large part of being an engineering manager also involves leading a team of engineers.
“One of my main responsibilities is to offer career guidance and make sure everyone has a balanced workload while keeping focused on goals and outcomes of a project,” Aurecon Mechanical Practice Lead Danni Roberts MIEAust CPEng told create.
“I also make sure my team continually develops their skills, particularly around digital skills, technical ability and finding efficient means to deliver designs.”
The best engineering managers provide direction for their team, Roberts said, while still being approachable.
“Part of the role is conveying business decisions to my team, so a level of transparency is important to ensure the messaging is clear and consistent,” she said.
Most engineering managers have engineering qualifications, but Roberts said a good engineering manager takes on additional training in leadership skills.
“You should have skills around providing feedback to others and being comfortable with having the tough conversations,” she said.
“It’s very important to get feedback or training around your own personal strengths as a leader so you can develop these further.”
Reinhardt agreed with Roberts and suggested seeking out experiences in a variety of areas.
“Don’t be afraid to do roles that are outside your core technical specialisation to develop your experience,” he said.
“Some of the roles I’ve learned the most from are those which didn’t appeal on face value, but turned out to be defining roles in my experience.”
Decision making is also a big part of the role, so you need to get comfortable making hard choices, and be prepared to sometimes make the wrong one.
“Don’t be afraid of failure, but do take responsibility for it, learn from it and learn to not do it too often,” Reinhardt said.
The state of engineering
It should be noted that the ATO figures were pulled from the 2019-20 financial year, meaning they don’t account for the impact COVID-19 has had on the profession.
According to the 2021-22 Hays Salary Guide engineering salaries have seen little movement over the past 12 months.
However, 48 per cent of engineering employers surveyed said they plan to increase salaries by three per cent next review. And an increased demand for civil and structural engineers could see a slight bump for those disciplines across most of Australia.
Michael Berger, Director of engineering recruitment agency Talent Blueprint, believes Hay’s prediction is conservative.
“I would predict a 10 to 15 per cent salary increase for opportunities close to major cities and for regional opportunities,” Berger said. “Fly-in fly-out in the resources industry would be closer to 20 per cent or more.”
Employers will need to offer more competitive salaries for engineering professionals, as almost three-quarters of the engineers in the Hays survey said they were looking for new job opportunities. Uncompetitive salaries, a lack of career progression and a dearth of new challenges were the leading reasons for wanting to change.
For those who are seeking a change, Berger is confident there are a lot of opportunities out there.
“Engineering recruitment has exploded over the last 12 months. A combination of infrastructure stimulus programs by the government and private investment into housing, commercial building and mining has driven the pipeline of work,” he said.
“When you combine this workload with a talent pool that is not growing due to a stop in skilled migrants arriving and the uncertainty over domestic border closures, the result is a feeding frenzy on talent.”