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The career path for engineers

Structural problems and economic conditions are holding the profession back

Carreiras aDaniel BuenoFrom 2000 to 2010, the number of job offers in the field of engineering rose, and salaries were up as well. The study entitled Career paths in engineering for young Brazilians in the formal market from 2000 to 2010, performed by the Innovation and Competitiveness Observatory (OIC) of the Institute of Advanced Studies (IEA) at the University of São Paulo (USP), analyzed the market for these professionals. In the study, 9,041 recent engineering graduates up to 25 years old were studied in the Annual Social Information Report, prepared by the Ministry of Labor and Employment. All companies are required to complete this annual report. Informal professionals, such as service providers or legal entities, were not included in the study, another purpose of which is to provide guidance to students who leave the university as soon as they graduate and to master’s degree and doctoral students. The period studied was between 2003 and 2012, when salaries and engineering positions increased. This situation was not the same as the period used for comparison (between 1995 and 2002).

The study showed that entry-level wages for young engineers in 2003 were 24% higher than in 1995, taking inflation for the period into account. “In the 1990s, the field of engineering did not pay well. Engineers either climbed to the position of manager or director or they felt it best to leave the field,” says economist Bruno César Araújo, who was in charge of the study at the OIC. Araújo is a PhD candidate in production engineering from the Polytechnic School/USP, and Mário Sérgio Salerno is his advisor there. For Salerno, engineering is highly sensitive to the investment cycle in the economy. “For that reason, what will happen in the next few years is uncertain. In times of crisis, there is a decline in the attractiveness of the profession.”

The professionals with the highest salaries during the period were engineer-managers in engineering as well as production managers and managers in other fields, such as human resources (HR) managers. The average salary was about R$13,500 per month. The study divides the category into nine types. At the top, with 2,477 professionals, is the typical engineer, with duties that directly involve engineering. This type, plus typical engineers in transition (1,799 professionals), amounted to 50% of the total. The transition engineers have moved or are moving to other categories, such as managers, yet they remain in their main line of work. Typical engineers, on the average, spent more time in their jobs: 70 months. Next were the engineers that served in management positions in the sector itself, and they stayed there for 50 months. The state of São Paulo had the most jobs, with 20% of the total, followed by the states of Rio de Janeiro (11%) and Minas Gerais (8%). A third of the total number began working in companies with more than 250 employees. The most common major was civil construction (18.4%), followed by electrical engineering (14.8%) and then mechanical engineering (11.6%).

The study shows a scenario in which Brazil’s economic performance may adversely affect the profession, although this is not the only determining factor. “The fact is that Brazil has very few engineers per capita, and we are in last place in this category out of the 35 countries in the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development),” says Carlos Américo Pacheco, Director of the Brazilian Center for Research in Energy and Materials (CNPEM) in Campinas, São Paulo State, and former president of the Technological Institute of Aeronautics (ITA). For Pacheco, the demand for these professionals has less to do with current economic conditions. “The market responds quickly, but society, as recent history shows, adjusts over time and engineers are very versatile. They are able to serve in various capacities, mainly as managers and directors,” Pacheco says.