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Is the Engineering Profession Still a “Good” Job?

Kicking off our yearly Salary and Career Survey will be a highlighted focus on job satisfaction. How happy are engineers in the workplace, what could be better, and is engineering still all that it’s cracked up to be?

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It’s time once again for Machine Design’s annual Salary and Career Survey. This year we are breaking down our report into a five-article series that will hone in on specific aspects of the engineering profession. Up first is job satisfaction and how engineers feel about their profession. We’ll highlight the good, the bad, and the ugly of engineering, and if engineers still think it’s all worth it.

The Engineer Profile

According to the Salary and Career Survey, our readers are predominantly white (83%) and male (95%), with an average age of 50. They are mainly located in the United States; 36% hold a Bachelor’s degree, while 26% have a Master’s. These numbers line up with larger demographics of the U.S. engineering workforce. Data USA reported that in 2016 the average workforce age was 44, with 78% of those surveyed being male and 86% white.

The average engineer, according to our survey, is a full-time employee who works 41 to 45 hours a week and earns $101,860 annually. The most common job title is design/project engineer (24%), followed by senior/chief/lead engineer (12%). The majority work within the research & development field along components and sub-assemblies.


Are Engineers Happy?

The overwhelming majority of our engineering readers are happy. A whopping 87% report that they are satisfied to extremely satisfied with their jobs. One of our engineers expresses this sentiment: “We live in a rapidly changing world of engineering and design. Everything that we see, touch, use has had some form of contact with some engineering career. With this ever-changing world around us, there is an unlimited chance for growth and development and salary increases within our different engineering careers as long as you stay current within your areas of expertise.”

The highest factor of their job satisfaction are the challenges that engineering presents. Our readers claim that the engineering profession keeps them engaged and intellectually challenged in their day-to-day lives. Another reader stated it best: “Engineering poses a constant intellectual challenge. At its best, it is problem solving and striving to make things better.”

Engineers desire to better their world. Out of a scale of 1-10, the opportunity to design products that can benefit society ranked a 7.6. Several of our readers mentioned that benefiting society and helping to change our world for the better are key factors in how happy they are at their job. One of our readers motivates his students to use engineering as a tool to change the world: “[Engineering is] a gratifying way to serve our society in a productive and creative way. I encourage my students to focus on matters of social service and justice.”

The Challenges and New Trends in Hiring

New technology trends are pushing our engineers to stay current. The further development of IoT systems, electromechanics, additive manufacturing (3D printing), and robotics are now finding their way into mainstream engineering manufacturing sites and plants. As a result, engineers are still in high demand—66% of our readers have been contacted by headhunters in the past year. Companies are also hiring new specialists to help manage new emerging tech trends. The top three types of specialists being hired are electromechanics, software, and mechanical design engineers.

While companies are looking for new workers, emerging industries are pushing engineers to rise to the challenge. Engineers still feel challenged in their job, as 57% of them feel that their work forces them to be creative when creating new designs. The major influence on engineers’ jobs today is being current with new and emerging technologies at 45%. Researching new technologies is not far behind at 35%.

What Could be Better?

Answers are on a scale of 1 to 10.

While the majority of readers are happy with their jobs, there are a few who wished things could be better. 13% describe themselves as unsatisfied to extremely unsatisfied with their job. One of the major factors they listed that would enable them to be happy in their job is the recognition they get from others; it could be that companies not doing a good enough job in fostering that sentiment.

61% of our readers reported their current company is not focusing on employee retention, and 43% have considered leaving the engineering profession. The major reasons cited as to why they would leave are to try something different (34%) and to make more money (31%). Other factors influencing their desire to leave the profession are a lack of job development (19%), being burned out (22%), and the urge to pursue other interests (31%).

Some of our readers have credited the fast-changing landscape of engineering as reasons why they are ready to leave. One reader provides insight on how to approach the engineering profession: “There will always be the need for adopting new technology and adapting existing products to changing market. The engineering landscape has changed over the years and specific discipline paths are different. I would encourage anyone considering engineering as a profession to pick a good solid foundation (mechanical, electrical, etc.) and add as many “extras” (software, biotech, business, etc.) as interest and opportunity allow to round out their capabilities and relevance to their target industry.”

Is Engineering Still a Good Gig?

At the end of the day, the million-dollar question is whether or not engineering is still a good career path. Of the engineers surveyed, 92% still recommend engineering as a career path for young students. Many expressed the opinion that a job in engineering provides a solid background in math, science, and logical reasoning that can be applied to several jobs across several different fields, in addition to engineering.

Engineers today have risen to fill in management roles and have moved on from just working behind the design desk. They fill seats in several different jobs, including management, finance, marketing, and public relations. In the words of one of our engineers, “It’s a great foundation to build upon, and I feel like it is a respected degree. One of the key skills an engineer has is problem solving ability, and that will benefit your career whichever way you decide to go.”
Several engineers also noted that the ever-changing market will always provide the need for engineers. As new technology emerges, they will be at the forefront of bringing those advancements to the masses. “The applications of technology are increasing exponentially,” one reader said, “permeating all aspects of our lives, and there are not enough engineers in the market for the job openings that exist. If I were to start my long career in engineering all over again, I’d select engineering in a heartbeat.”

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