New President of the Hungarian Chamber of Engineers: "It is not OK that timber prices should double or triple in a few months"

English2021. júl. 29.János Devecsai

So far, the majority of engineers have not been hit hard by the crisis, but I expect that due to the specific nature of their work, also engineers will have to face the effects of the crisis later, Ernő Wagner, the newly elected president of the Hungarian Chamber of Engineers told növekedé

How much do engineers earn in general? 

The chamber does not collect data on engineers’ earnings; however, we are seeing that the salary of a junior maintenance engineer working in production starts from 360,000 forints gross and goes up to a maximum of 550,000, while an electronics engineer working in research and development may get a starting salary of up to 750,000. 

Professionals with more than 10 years of experience already earn over 1 million forints per month on average in almost all fields. Quality assurance and project engineers earn the most, with a maximum of up to 2 million,

but typically above 1.4 million forints per month, while testers, mechanical developers and maintenance engineers are paid around 1.1 million.

The average income of engineers working in design with 10 years of experience is over 650,000 forints gross. However, the earnings of these professionals greatly depend on whether they work as a freelancer or as an employee. 

What is your opinion about the Hungarian engineer training? 

I think it is of a high standard, although I would encourage universities to introduce more dual training programs, even if it would mean that the length of the training courses will be extended.

For example, my own company currently employs five students who are also doing a dual training course, and, after the initial difficulties, now we are very satisfied with them, and at the same time they generally achieve similar or better results at school than the others. 

We must also remember that this form of training can also provide opportunities for talented young people who would not otherwise be able to study because they do not have the financial resources.

How typical is it for engineers graduating in Hungary to go abroad to work? 

As I am still very new in my position as president I don’t have extensive information yet, but according to the young engineers working for my company nearly 30 percent of their peers have already left the country. One of our dual program students would also like to build a career abroad after graduating.

How does the current crisis affect engineers? 

So far, the majority of engineers have not been hit hard by the crisis, but I expect that due to the specific nature of their work, even engineers will have to face the effects of the crisis later.

The related sectors have been relatively stable in recent years; the inevitably high national expenditure and the increase in public debt, however, will later have a detrimental effect, resulting in investment projects being cancelled. 

However, this effect may be mitigated by the start of the new economic cycle of the EU, which, in the construction industry, for example, can mean an annual output of up to 5,000 billion forints.

New President of the Hungarian Chamber of Engineers Ernő Wagner

What is the proportion of men and women among engineers? 

A significant majority of the members of the Hungarian Chamber of Engineers are men: 88 percent are men and 12 percent are women. This ratio has remained virtually unchanged for years, but it would be desirable if it changed substantially in favour of women.

Which are the leading companies and sectors employing the most engineers in Hungary?

The construction and mechanical engineering industries are at the forefront. As for the specific companies, we have to mention Audi Hungaria, Mercedes and some well-known large construction companies. 

How popular is the engineering profession in Hungary? Has there been a change in the last 5, 10 or 20 years? 

If we look at our members, we can see that the generation of young and middle-aged engineers has strengthened over the past decade. In 2013, most of our members were still between the ages of 55 and 65, 

but by now there has been a significant change: the peak in the age structure centres between the ages of 43 and 47. 

Personally, I see this as an extremely favourable trend.

In your view, what is the impact of the rise in construction prices on the building industry, and what are your expectations for the upcoming months? 

In general, construction prices are roughly 50 percent made up of material costs and 50 percent of labour costs. Labour costs have been rising steadily since 2017 and I believe this is a reasonable trend.

It is reasonable because it was an impossible situation that the minimum hourly construction charge-out rate, which is set annually on the recommendation of the Construction Sector Committee, should be only a fourth or a fifth of, for example, that of a car service station. It is true that the proportion of unskilled workers in the construction industry is higher, but even so such a big difference is not justified. 

The approved hourly charge-out rate in the sector is currently 4,165 forints.

If you let me use a commonplace to explain the situation: we mustn’t be surprised by the amount of criticism of the industry if we remember the quote from Ferenc Puskás: “Little money, little football…”. However, the situation is different as far as building material prices are concerned. In addition to the fact that the sector has been hit by fire, water and a pandemic, - the BASF plant burned down and the Suez Canal was blocked -, we must also face the fact that speculation has started to gain ground. 

It is not right, for example, that timber prices should double or triple in a matter of a few months. No real economic process of any kind can sufficiently justify that. 

I can hardly wait for the outcome of the intervention by the government.

I’m afraid that there will only be a partial reorganization and building material manufacturers will continue to pocket considerable extra profits. In addition, only half of the building materials used in Hungary qualify as domestic products, so their impact on GDP is only moderate.

As the new president of the Hungarian Chamber of Engineers, what goals did you set for yourself?

Most of all, to create a more lovable chamber. More lovable to the members, and more lovable to society. There is a lot to do in relation to this. In recent years, it has become a basic need for people to achieve sustainable development, and also to ensure that the environmental condition of our world does not deteriorate any further. 

In this respect, it is engineers who can offer the most to the world. That is why it is our basic duty as engineers to represent the concept of ​​sustainability, and even more so to implement it in our work.

Our Environment Protection Section will play a significant role in this, but I could also mention the Support Structure Section.

It is a well-known fact that cement and concrete have one of the biggest ecological footprints at the moment; and yet, we are not working on the rational use of this material, but are forced to adopt an EU standard that, to put it simply, requires us to use almost the same concrete in the lowlands as on the seacoast. 

And that doesn't do any good. Let me remind you that in the middle of the 20th century, after the war, the entire country was built up of B100, B140 and B200 concrete. And today, when we are demolishing these structures, we realize how difficult a task it can be.

We have support structure designers who are able to quit these dogmas. 

Even though I have now highlighted only a few areas of engineering, in fact all of our regional chambers and professional sections have a role to play in promoting a more environmentally conscious approach to engineering and work.

How has the number of chamber members changed in recent years? 

In the former regional chamber, where I was president, the number of members increased by 10 percent during the last term. We already have over 20,000 members in the whole country, so today the chamber has 5 percent more members than four years ago. 

In addition, there are another 18,000 professionals in our records.