Engineers Tell It Like It Is

March 17, 2005
This year's salary survey shows wages on the rise, and mixed feelings towards work and engineering as a career.

Good news: MACHINE DESIGN reader salaries are up. The 2005 Salary Survey of over 900 readers found an average salary of $70,600, up from $68,000 last year. For most respondents, the change in salary was a 1 to 5% increase. And about 59% of them receive a bonus, overtime, or special incentive compensation equal to 1 to 5% of their base pay. Most say their bonus is based on company profit sharing and personal performance.

For survey participants the highest-paying industry is computer and electronic product manufacturing, with an average salary of $81,000. But, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in this industry is projected to decline 12% between 2002 and 2012, mainly because of productivity improvements. The next best-paying industries were electrical equipment, appliance, and component manufacturing, at $75,000, followed by medical equipment and supplies manufacturing at $72,000.

If changing industries to get a pay raise doesn't interest you, think about asking for a promotion. No surprise, the highest-paying job titles were president, CEO, owner, vice president, and vice president of engineering. But next on the scale of compensation were consulting engineers, directors of engineering, engineering managers, and department or section heads.

If a promotion isn't in your future, consider a move across the country. The best paying region is the Pacific coast, with an average salary of $79,000. New England is not far behind, with an average of $76,000.

Average wages by geographical location

Who they are

Ninety-seven percent of MACHINE DESIGN Salary Survey respondents are men, 32% live in the North Central part of the country, and 35% percent have more than 21 years experience in engineering. Ninety percent have some college degree, and 57% have a Bachelors in engineering.

What kind of perks do you get?

Health benefits

Tuition reimbursement65%
401k match79%
Company-paid phone/fax/ cable modem/DSL lines18%
Stock options18%
Stock purchase plan24%
Further education/training52%
Company car or car allowance4%
Health-club membership13%
Sabbatical/extended vacation3%
Certification reimbursement12%
Day care or day-care subsidy2%

What gives you the most job satisfaction as an engineer

1 — Challenging work assignments
2 — Work environment and colleagues
3 — Constantly changing technology
4 — Good compensation
5 — Good job security

What displeases you most about your job

1 — Too much nonengineering work
2 — Uncertainty in job market
3 — Lack of support from management
4 — Poor compensation
5 — No potential for advancement

What causes the most problems at work

1 — Insufficient people resources to get the job done
2 — Time-to-market pressures
3 — Having to compromise design approaches
4 — Insufficient funding for design projects
5 — Other
6 — Finding optimal components for designs

Salaries are up, but why practice engineering?

With all the talk of layoffs and offshore outsourcing, engineers could be excused for having second thoughts about their profession. Sixty-three percent of those surveyed say their companies outsource design or manufacturing. About 35% outsource manufacturing, 20% outsource mechanical design, and 13% outsource CAD.

We asked readers if they would recommend engineering to friends and children, and 68% of them said yes. And when we asked whether engineering was fun, an overwhelming 82% said yes. What makes engineering attractive? Many say they get a kick out of seeing their ideas come to life, and improving the lives of others through technology.

Others say the work is challenging but interesting. Many enjoy the creative aspects. One respondent suggests that engineering can be a stepping stone to other careers: "Whether or not engineering is your lifelong career, getting a few years experience as an engineer makes you valuable to many companies in many different capacities. You have more breadth and experience than most other professionals."

There are, however, naysayers who do not recommend engineering to young people. A common theme is frustration from lack of recognition, both financial and from management. One respondent would not recommend engineering because there is "not enough compensation for what we do. We make new technologies possible and I don't think the general population realizes how much we contribute to their success." Readers are also concerned about offshore manufacturing, and feel as though their skills are wasted while they push papers and play politics.

"Engineering is not seen as value added to organizations," complains one respondent. "More value is placed on short-term financial decisions than long-term product quality. Engineering is seen as a commodity that can be outsourced overseas." Another suggests engineering is "simply too much work for too little reward, especially when so much of the work is there for the goal of making your own job obsolete."

Despite the negatives, many say they can't help but be engineers. "It's not work to me," says one respondent. "I get paid to have fun and be creative," says another. "If engineering is in your blood, nothing else will satisfy." One reader sums it up: "Many people can sit around and talk ideas. Engineers make things happen. People who make things happen will always have a job. Talkers can get in line with the managers."

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