Home Engineers in Society Why Nigeria’s engineers are underpaid by Isqil Najim

Why Nigeria’s engineers are underpaid by Isqil Najim

There have been discontents within the engineering community over wages disparity compared to other professionals. The younger generation of Engineers are especially more vociferous and often cited the lifestyles of management and medical personnel and legal professionals to back their claims.

The argument is often that since the engineers spent more years in schools (and additional mandatory postgraduate training years) under rigorous environment before they become professionals, they should be automatically rewarded in financial remuneration when employed. From civil services to consulting, construction and telecom et al: the story is the same.

Engineers feel less appreciated by the system they are serving. The only section that appear to be faring better are the oil and gas, telecom and perhaps the aviation which place high premium on remuneration in order to retain talents.
What are the factors that contributed into this situation? Surely, it is hard to blame one single factor or pile all the blame the doorstep of one single person or body. There are cumulative elements which conspired together to push the engineers in Nigerian into this state. Below are some of the reasons.

In today’s Nigeria, there is oversupply of engineering personnel into an unavailable and shrinking labour market. The universities and polytechnics combined have been producing graduates who are mostly competing for dwindling jobs. To make matter worse, the system is not actively promoting engineering entrepreneurship. At least not supporting it in the way it deserves (I will write separately on this topic later).

Due to this imbalance between demand and supply forces, many engineering employers “over-employed” staff into their companies in a bid to absorb some of the graduates, and hence take delight in fixing their staff salary below the expected standard to balance book. Knowing full well that there are thousands waiting in the wing who are ready to accept lower salary for the same job the employers hold the ace.

It is disturbing to note that Nigerian Engineering industry is actually shrinking compared to its capability and the opportunities abounding in the land. With massively inadequate infrastructures, acute power supply as well as high demand for technology products and services, one expects that Nigerian engineers should be among the most fortunate as these problems should open up opportunities for them to create jobs as they deploy their skills into tackling society’s problems, thereby empowering themselves and the rest of the population. Alas the opposite is what obtained. Our engineering capabilities are grossly under utilised.

As the economy bit harder, you read of construction firms shutting down or recording financial losses. You see manufacturing firms downsizing and then you see some engineers going into financial sector to work as marketers, tellers etc. Most of the Small and Medium engineering companies are barely surviving. One of the effects of this hence, is low wages for those personnel who are lucky to be still operating in those companies.

Ironically, our general consumption pattern continues to rise. This is supposed to bring in demand for engineering and manufacturing products. However, this gap is merrily filled by our obsession for foreign goods. It is so unthinkably absurd to an extent that Nigerians burns the woods and import toothpicks! This is a self inflicted problem that gradually, transforms the country into a consuming nation. A dumping ground of all sort of foreign goods. Unbeknown to many, increasing consumption of foreign goods is a direct empowerment of foreign workers and companies at the expense of the similar products in the country.

The few operating industries are increasingly subject to stiff competition with foreign made products which are generally cheaper. Suffice to say that our penchant for consumption of foreign made goods and patronizing of foreign services conspired with our poor infrastructures, to reduce many of our productive engineering activities. The bulk of engineering activities are restricted to services, consulting, power, manufacturing, maintenance and repairs, most of which can equally be handled by well trained technicians. The employers, therefore, have no qualm in employing technicians to handle some of these jobs at lower salaries. And where engineers are called upon, it always a “take it or leave” attitude except for the areas that requires high technical proficiency.

Due to high rate of unemployment in the country and a few industrial concerns to absorb the surplus engineers, many engineering personnel, especially desperate younger ones, have been known to shortchange themselves and devalue their professional services in a bit to outsmart their colleagues (and competitors) to secure the available job. They reason that once they get the experience or a “better place”. They will exit the company. Some even rationalise that “half bread is better than none”; while some think when they secure the job the employer would see their values and increase the salary.
Sometimes the latter category was right. Most employers don’t want to gamble on young engineers by signing big employment contract with them only to find out they are not worth it. Smart companies however recognise the indispensable staff and tie them down to the job by improving the employee’s remuneration after passing the probation period. This is not obtainable in every company and there is no way in knowing unless the employer hinted so in advance. Evidently, it is a gamble.

In the long run, the repeatedly sustained culture of undervaluing professional services soon becomes the “normal”. Some firms would even want to reduce it further if they observe that there are other engineers who can take less or the company is not achieving its financial targets.

It is a known fact that a couple of engineers in entrepreneurship underpay their engineering staff while overpaying non engineering staff working on engineering projects. Whatever would make, for instance, an accountant to earn more than an engineer working on the same site for an engineering company, no matter his qualifications, is a baffling professional judgment.

If we undervalued ourselves we cannot expect outsiders to fare better. There is nothing more injurious to a child than for his own father to publicly label him as “unworthy” and back it up with action by treating him in front of neighbours in unworthy manners. . Such a father would lose moral respect if he tells outsiders to respect his child. It cannot work that way. Charity has to begin from home. When Engineering entrepreneurs start placing high values on their engineering staff, other non engineering entrepreneurs including government would take note and follow their footstep one way or the other.

Government does not have any special regulation on engineering salary scale. The NSE and COREN have however commenced works on this and have been talking to government over this. Until such time where engineers have minimum Salary scale, they would be subject to the whims of employers, market forces, and civil service rules.


Some Engineers, in their fight for superiority contest sometimes reason that their counterparts in technology are destined for lower paycheck. This internal superiority battle among the specialists can disrupt wages in open labour market when employers found the Technologists are as competent on the same job as the engineers. Naturally, the technologist’s self interest would override any other considerations as he aims to prove himself very capable even if he has to bargain for lower paycheck. The temptation to lower his wage demand compared to his rivals to secure the dream job is always in the making.

Graduates with marginal skill or experience or even zero experience cannot bargain their way into high wages unless they are working for multinational firms with reputation for high wages. Employers that want to make good use of the engineering skills of their employee do not pay employee to learn. They do not pay employee huge wage bills to sit back and acquire experience. They pay for potential benefits the employee would bring to the table. They pay for talents that can be developed to serve the company’s interest. It is therefore not surprising that companies pay less to engineers who they want to train.

What even make this so is the fact that in today’s competitive work environment, workers have freedom to move to new companies. I have a friend who sent his staff abroad for expensive trainings and once the training was over, the young men simply absconded and joined rival firm for higher wage. It is therefore not surprising that many companies, having repeatedly lose the staff they trained to their competitors; decided to underpay to staff that is learning on the job. The staff would earn his raise along the line.

On the other hand, many skilled engineers are dictating their own wages having proven to the employer they are more than capable. The other side of this is poor negotiating skills.

Engineers who work at a company that is not financially sound should not expect to be paid like they are working for Google or Apple. They should be realistic when going into such companies, as companies, especially those in private sector pay according to their financial health and the expected productivity output.

Another is the nature of engineering products itself. Many of the engineering services and products are one time purchase. While some last many years before replacement. We have more looters needing protection of law and more criminals paying to get off the penalty of law. And humans don’t joke with their health. Not even the engineers.

The amount of wages and reward received from some company is only in proportion to their ability to generate residual income. You cannot expect a company to pay you money they don’t earn just because your expertise was acquired over the period of 9 years of training.

I believe there are other reasons why companies pay less and some pay higher. The paycheck for engineering personnel varies from industry to industry. Young Engineers should get themselves informed when making choice of where to work. They should arm themselves with requisite skills needed to command better condition of services.

I am @isqilnajim



  1. It is actually baffling, the state of Engineering in Nigeria.
    The supply of Engrs out-weigh demand because people are being dashed the certificate instead of earning it.
    Economic down-turn forced government to devalue the naira which makes it more difficult to continue importation of inputs. Firms should task and fund their Engrs to develop local production and sourcing of such inputs in the days/times of boom instead of just keeping them to get salaries.
    Nigerians, like all human being, like quality. If government want Nigerians to patronize local products, they should invest into quality development of local goods and services the money being used to fund gingles and adverts on the media. This will bring Engrs out of their shell to tackle the challenge, head-on, instead of just sitting to get salaries as a favour – not a necessity.
    Those who employ Engrs that agree to low pays don’t know the job of an Engr. I had an experience where I was asked my job. I said, “I’m an Engineer”. The man asked, “Engineer as what?” I said, “Mechanical Engineer”. He asked further, “Mech Engr as what?” I got worked up before a senior official asked me to identify myself. She now clarified that I was a senior level Engr. At another ocassion, I referred the person to get clarification and incurred his wrath. Techs and Craftsmen have taken-over our identity and they expected me to say something like carpenter, mechanic, mason, brick-layer, or electrician. Our job, as Engrs, differ from those of these people.
    Senior colleagues see engaging young Engrs as offering them a favour. Don’t be surprised that just been Engrs is enough for them too to know Engineering. That explains why they could afford to under-pay them than other profession.
    Government in its right mind cannot pay for what they don’t know. Engrs should take time and know their profession before asking for commensurate salary. Doctors and Lawyers can respectively tell us they ‘treat sick people’ and ‘establish truth between contending parties’, but same does not apply to most Engrs. If you tell me a Mech Engr should know how to service a car more than a mechanic, I will call that a big lie. Same applies to vulcanizers and welders. These trades require people who had been specifically exposed to them over an extended time, not Engrs who were taught generics.
    There was and still is no dichotomy between HND and Baccalaureates in Engineering. The people assigning Engrs and Tech to the same duties, as well as Engrs accepting such roles, are all acting in ignorance.
    On the quality of graduates; graduates undergo internship throughout the world to get industrial experience, Nigerian Engrs are no exceptions. The only problem is that we are giving them the wrong exposures and experiences. What is a Mechanical Engineer learning at a roadside shed that is necessary in making an Engr which are not found in the University Workshop?
    If an Engr gets hired by a firm, s/he should justify his/her engagement by increasing the employer’s turnover. This will translate to higher pay.


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