ENGINEERING does not have the sexiest of images, to say the least, but the steadily increasing pay for new graduates over recent years is seen as a way to lure new blood into the profession.
Mr Chong Kee Sen, deputy president of the Institution of Engineers, Singapore (IES), said salaries have risen between 12 and 16 per cent over the past five years.
"Starting salaries for engineers are relatively reasonable when compared with some sectors. However, there is still room for higher salary, especially for mid-level engineers," he noted.
The hikes seem to have stalled last year, according to a recent graduate employment survey.
The average monthly pay of engineering graduates from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) ranged from $2,952 to $3,494 last year, while those from the National University of Singapore (NUS) earned $2,823 to $3,592. The figures are based on surveys by the universities of those who graduated and started work last year.
Aerospace engineering graduates were NTU's biggest earners in 2013, as they were the year before. They were among the few who had an increase, with median pay rising to $3,500 a month last year from $3,300 in 2012.
They were also among the overall top earners, placed after doctors and dentists from the National University of Singapore (NUS).
At NUS, among the engineering graduates, those in computer engineering, and industrial and systems engineering, were the top earners. Both commanded a median pay of $3,200 last year compared with $3,100 in 2012.
Information engineering and media graduates from NTU also fared well, earning a median pay of $3,150 in 2013, compared with $3,000 the previous year.
There are moves to put pay on a firmer footing. The IES is in the process of certifying chartered engineers to recognise the professional competencies they have earned through training and experience. The aim is to raise the standard and profile of engineers. In Britain, chartered engineers can be paid as much as 40 per cent more.
Mr Chong said: "Once we charter engineers, there will be an additional benchmark for peer-reviewed competence, which could become a guide for employers on engagement and compensation for our engineers."
Mr Pang Yee Ean, chief executive of Surbana International Consultants, has always been a passionate advocate of engineering and understands the need to attract more people.
"We pay fresh graduates above the median range and provide career development and progression paths," he said.
"The engineering profession in Singapore is misunderstood by young professionals. Many associate it with hard hats and hot sweaty environments... There is a lot more to it than meets the eye."
Surbana employs 350 engineers across a wide range of disciplines, including coastal, mechanical and electrical.
A spokesman for the NUS Faculty of Engineering noted that most engineering graduates in 2013 are employed in jobs related to their field.
The demand for engineering graduates is strong in industries such as marine and offshore engineering, pharmaceutical, manufacturing and electronics, according to NUS. Their analytical skills also make engineering graduates attractive to the banking sector.
A spokesman for engineering consultancy Meinhardt said: "There is still a hiring demand for engineers and with that naturally comes a rise in the average income of salaries. In line with market sentiment, Meinhardt's remuneration packages for candidates have seen an increase over the past few years as well."
While engineering is a largely respected occupation, Meinhardt says that "the unfortunate reality is that the engineering sector will never be able to match the salaries offered by banking and finance". But that does not mean their skills are not applied. Mr Chong said: "Banks also require engineers who understand industry and technology to evaluate and lend to the industry wisely."
Recent engineering graduates The Straits Time spoke to felt their salaries were rather attractive, showing that demand for engineers is still strong.
Meinhardt structural engineer Xiao Siyu, 26, said fresh graduates applying to consultant firms can expect $2,900 to $3,200. "The pay I am drawing is comparable with that of my peers in the same field and in others.
He added that the salary range can still be adjusted to compete with other industries in order to attract more engineering graduates to become professional engineers.
Besides salaries, industry efforts, such as the BCA-Industry Built Environment Undergraduate Scholarship, help pull in graduates. Mr Xiao took up the scholarship, offered by the Building and Construction Authority and industry players, in his third year of civil engineering studies at NTU, which helped him secure his job at Meinhardt.
The salary alone should never be the only reason for pursuing a career, and the engineers cited one common factor - a love of solving technical problems.
Surbana mechanical and electrical engineer Steve Sim, 25, said: "Among the consultancy services we provide, a lot of it deals with the manpower crunch. For example, we provide automation solutions for our clients." The NUS graduate aims to be a professional engineer in a few years.
He received several offers for engineering jobs when he graduated and believes his career progression will move along quickly.
While engineering graduates may be lured by more pay at multinational corporations that "generally do offer more attractive benefits and salaries", do not forget small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Mr Chong said: "SMEs provide more flexibility for job rotation and work scope expansion within a shorter period of time. Engineers working in SMEs could enjoy faster promotion and could even become partners in the company."