Every year as we prepare the salary survey, we look to the previous year’s responses and say a little prayer that average salaries have gone up in the last 12 months. For the most part, they do. This year, however, average salary for respondents to our survey, largely made up of mechanical and electrical engineers, has edged up 3.3%, going from $83,770 in 2010 to $86,615 in 2011.
But that number is simply the average of all responses, including those just starting out, those with 30 years of experience, and even a few retired engineers who are still in it for fun. (We exclude unemployed respondents when we calculate the number). The more-interesting and insightful numbers come from drilling down to compare salaries by years of experience, industry, job titles, and geographical regions.
This year, in addition to analyzing results from the current year, we decided to look at the last six years of salary data to see how salaries have trended over that time span. What we found is good news for engineers generally: No matter which way you analyze the numbers, salaries are trending up, for all job titles and in all industries. It’s the rate of growth that differs, of course, in sometimes surprising ways.
In light of engineering salaries creeping upward, it probably should come as no surprise that only 28% of respondents reported their salaries were the same as last year. Fifty-nine percent reported a 1 to 5% increase and 6% reported a 6 to 10% bump. A total of 4% say their salary dropped in 2011. Sixty-six percent received a bonus, overtime, or special compensation last year which amounted to 1 to 5% of annual base pay for 43% of respondents.
The top three reasons respondents would consider changing jobs are also unsurprising: Most would take another position for more pay (73%), better balance between work and home life (48%), or more vacation time (23%). When asked how employers could improve work-life balance, 46% said working from home would accomplish this goal and 39% said more flexible work hours would help.
It was also interesting to hear respondents’ views on entrepreneurship in the current environment where everyone from the U.S. President on down to the local community college chancellor celebrates new startups. Sixty-five percent of respondents claim to have considered becoming self-employed. But many feel they lack the tools and skills to succeed, or aren’t willing to give up the benefits of a steady paycheck and health care. A handful of respondents had previously been self-employed and went back to the office grind. We had too few of these responses to draw meaningful conclusions about why they threw in the entrepreneurial towel. But typical explanations included because their companies had been bought, they wanted stability, or start-up costs and investments were too high.
Looking to the future, 63% see economic conditions improving this year, but they remain split on whether any economic recovery has taken place. Forty-nine percent say their employer has recovered financially from the recession. Yet 49% say the current economy makes them unsure of their own job’s stability. In response to the economy, 63% have cut back on spending, 56% are updating their resumes, and 26% are actively looking for new jobs.
We looked at average salaries by industry in 2007 and compared the stats to results from 2012, then calculated the growth in average salaries for each industry. In 2007, one of the highest paid industries was medical equipment and supplies manufacturing. At the time, we might have predicted that medical manufacturing was a recessionproof industry, as “everyone gets sick.” While salaries did grow in the industry by 6.8% from 2007 to 2012, this was among the smallest growth rates compared to those of other industries. For example, our numbers show that salaries rose by 15.6% in the machinery manufacturing segment and by a whopping 18.4% in transportation-equipment manufacturing. Also showing outstanding growth between 2007 and 2012 were salaries in electrical equipment, appliance, and component manufacturing, which all grew by 12.3%, and salaries in computer and electronic manufacturing, which grew by 14.4%.
It’s hard to say what factors account for these numbers. Do rising oil prices affect salaries in transportation-equipment manufacturing? And has downsizing and offshoring in the electronic-manufacturing sector left those who still work in those positions more valuable, therefore higher paid? Let us know what you think.
For the last five years, we’ve asked readers how they found their current jobs. The most common answer is consistently, “Tip from a friend or family member,” accounting for 23% of responses in 2012 and 29% of responses in 2008. The lesson here is that it pays to let everyone know what you do for a living and whether you are looking for new opportunities.
Surprisingly, a lot of people still find jobs through newspaper listings. This mode of job search has not fallen off much in the last five years despite newspaper readership itself dwindling. In 2008, 12% of respondents found jobs in newspapers. In 2012, 13% profited from this option. One explanation: It is possible those who chose this answer have not switched jobs recently.
The percentage of engineers finding jobs online has risen over the last five years. In 2008, 10% said they found job openings through online listings or job boards, and that number has grown annually, standing at 13% in 2012. The number of engineers finding listings on company Web sites has grown as well, from 3.6% in 2008 to 4.2% in 2012. In 2011 we added a question to see if anyone found jobs from social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook. In 2011 the response was a big fat zero. In 2012, we received five responses, or 0.6%. Will these numbers rise again in 2013? It’s hard to predict, but as more young people enter the field, and as recruiters increasingly turn to sites such as LinkedIn, responses that currently include “call from a headhunter,” “networking,” and “tip from a friend” will no doubt point job seekers to online listings.
Seventy percent of those who filled out the survey have mechanical-engineering backgrounds. Fourteen percent have electrical/electronic backgrounds and 2% have a materials background.
Ninety-five percent of respondents are male, and 45% live in the North Central region of the U.S., which includes much of the Midwest. We received the most responses from people with design engineer, project engineer, or R&D engineer titles.
Twenty-nine percent of respondents have 20 to 29 years of experience, followed closely by 10 to 19 years (25%), and those with 1 to 9 years of experience account for 21% of responses, which may explain why the overall average salary remained flat compared to years past.