Surviving the storm

Feb. 21, 2002
In today's uncertain economy, our annual salary survey reveals engineers’ salaries rising though job security wavers.

Once again, the MACHINE DESIGN salary survey finds engineering salaries up. Forty-three percent of the respondents have salaries in the $50,000 to $69,999 range. The median annual income is $61,330, and the average annual base salary is $63,592, compared with last year's average of $62,881. Like last year, our survey finds most engineers satisfied with their careers, but more engineers report a shaken sense of job security because of the economic downturn. The slip-sliding economy has affected pay day as well. Forty-eight percent of engineers earn 1 to 5% more than last year, but 16% say their salaries are the same, up 6% from last year's survey. And 6%, 2% more than last survey, say they've taken a hit in income. Most engineers surveyed say they feel somewhat secure in their jobs. Twenty-four percent, 8% less than last year, consider their jobs very secure, and 5% more than last year say they aren't secure at all. When asked what makes them nervous, most engineers answered with two words – the economy.

Most respondents answered the survey after the attack on America, and many expressed concern about job security as a result. As one engineer says, "I would have said my job was very secure until Sept. 11." In previous surveys, job security has ranked high as a reason for job satisfaction. But this year's survey results tell a different story, as less than 3% of respondents chose security as a reason for being content.

Most engineers are somewhat satisfied with their careers. They enjoy the changing technology and challenging work assignments, but most of all they like the work environment and their colleagues.

Sources of contention range from inadequate compensation to lack of direction from management. But by far the biggest source of irritation is a lack of respect and recognition from management, as well as society as a whole. One engineer went so far as to say, "Engineering is the most underappreciated job in the world." And the economy once again became a source of problems, as several respondents complain of excessive workloads caused by recent layoffs.

Profile of a respondent
The typical respondent to our salary survey is a 30 to 39-year-old, non-Hispanic Caucasian male with a bachelors degree in mechanical engineering.

Gender bender
According to our survey results, there is a small gender gap in the engineering world. Males make slightly more than females in terms of starting salaries, and the difference continues to grow with years of experience. Our figures show that females with less than three years on job make $2,250 less than their male counterparts. Women engineers with more than 20 years earn $7,000 less than men with a similar amount of experience.

The divide between men and women in the engineering world may reach beyond paychecks. When asked whether she would recommend engineering as a career, one female engineer replied with a no. "As a female, I still find too much boys-club mentality that limits what we can achieve," she says.

To engineer or not to engineer
Even with its headaches and frustrations, an overwhelming 85% of those polled would recommend engineering to youngsters. Here's why. The skills needed for the career are applicable in the real world ... Get to work with cutting-edge technology ... Ability to make a positive difference in the world ... An engineer learns to see, understand, and manipulate the world on all scales from atomic to galactic ... Engineers have the unique distinction of being responsible for building things and making the world better through those things ... One of the most important occupations in this society, although it goes mostly unnoticed

Sources of satisfaction
1. Work environment and colleagues
2. Changing technology
3. Challenging work assignments
4. Compensation
5. Potential for advancement
6. Job security

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