Salaries And Satisfaction Inch Up, Exceeding Expectations
The surveys have been returned and the data collated for this year’s look at engineering salaries and attitudes. And judging by one key finding, average salary, engineers are doing well. Last year they earned an average salary of $89,200. That figure rose a respectable 5% this year to $93,000, far outpacing the 1.3% raise expected by respondents for this year.
Engineers are also more content these days, with a higher percentage saying they felt fairly compensated for their work. Last year, only 67% said their pay was fair. This favorable view regarding pay likely affected how engineers looked at their jobs overall. Job satisfaction, for example rose, going from 90% satisfied in 2013, with only 18% extremely satisfied, to 97% satisfied this year and 50% extremely satisfied.
High On The Profession
This somewhat rosy year in terms of salary seems to have colored engineers’ opinion on their profession. Last year, a third of the respondents said they had considered leaving the engineering profession; this year that was down to about a fifth. And an overwhelming 93% say they would recommend engineering as a profession to a young person, a slight rise over last year’s 90%.
Comments from engineers who would tell youngsters to go into engineering include:
• “Engineering is an exciting, ever-changing field with limitless opportunities to solve problems and make positive impacts on industry and society. The world will always need engineers, and an engineered-trained mind is a practical tool in many aspects of life.”
• “If you like technology and problems solving, it’s a great profession.”
• “It offers rock-solid employment security, good pay, and a highly satisfying career.”
Those who would not recommend engineering to young adults have a much different view:
• “I would recommend getting an engineering degree because of the fundamentals teaches, but I would not advise making it a career. There are too many levels of bureaucracy to get through to get things done and too many decisions are made by outside forces. Instead, I would urge them to get a job that offers more direct control of the decisions being made.”
• “Historically, engineers have worked long hours under very stressful conditions for pay that is not much more than that of a lot of blue-collar workers. And since salaried personnel don’t receive additional compensation for working more than 40 hours per week, engineers earn much less blue-collar works on an hourly basis.”
• “The level of respect the profession once enjoyed from employers and society is no longer there. Engineers are viewed as just extremely high overhead.”
The Keys To Higher Pay
Slicing the survey data in search of the attributes and habits of those earning the highest salaries uncovers some expected and unexpected findings. For example, earnings track well against education level. Those working as engineers with only high school diploma or less take home an average of $70,800. Every educational addition adds to the paycheck, even if it’s only attending college but not earning a degree. It tops out with PhDs in engineering earning $105,000 annually.
One indicator that doesn’t quiet correlate as you might think it should is “years spent in engineering.” Our survey indicates that those with 30 to 34 years of engineering under their belts pull in the most, an average of $100,000. Meanwhile, those with the most years of experience, 40 or more, rake in almost 10% less, $91,800.
The number of hours an engineer works every week also has an odd correlation to earnings. Engineers who earned the most put in 51 to 55 hours weekly at the office to take home $103,100. The workaholics, the ones spending the most hours in the office each week, 60 or more, make less, $95,400. Interestingly enough, almost half of those living in the office for 60 or more hours work for smaller companies with revenues of less than $5 million. Overall, when it comes to hours, most engineers (68%) put in 36 to 50 hours at their desks and earn an average of $90,400.
Company size appears to be a good indicator of pay, with larger companies paying more, except for a small blip at the top. Engineers working at companies with $5 billion to almost $10 billion in revenues earn the most, an average of $113,100. The largest firms, those with revenues over $10 billon, pay their engineers a bit less, an average of $111,000.
Another job characteristic that seems to have an anomaly at the top is job title. Engineers who have managed to make it to the top as Owner, CEO, president, partner, or executive manage make $93,900, a 10% drop. The lowest-paying title in our survey turns out to be software engineering manager, a position that pays $60,000 per year. Strangely enough, those with a software engineering title earn more, $66,700.
Combining all these “high-pay” indicators results in an engineer with a PhD who has worked as engineer for 30 years in a company with $5 billion to $10 billion in revenues, putting in 51 to 55 hours per week as director of engineering. Unfortunately, statistics being what they are, there was no one in our survey who met all these qualifications.
Another source of compensation are bonuses, and nearly 20% of all respondents claim they will earn a bonus of $10,000 or more this year. When the data was broken down to focus on the engineers who pulled in these five-figure (or more) bonuses, it revealed that most of them held fairly lofty titles such as Owners, CEO, President, chief engineer or director of engineering. But 10% of these “bonus babies” were bench-level design and project engineers. Most had over 25 years as engineers, though the majority (51%) had less than 14 years with their current company. This makes it likely that they are working at the second or third firm in their career or that they started a company and are doing well. The survey also shows that these engineers earned their bonuses based mainly on company or division performance and their own personal performance. The engineers who cashed in big on bonuses also managed to earn an average salary of $121,200. Meanwhile, 27% of them added another $10,000 or more in stock options while 23% earned yet an additional $10,000 or more from other sources.
Young And Old Engineers: The Differences
A new feature in this year’s survey was the addition of the following question: “Do you feel today’s engineering students graduate with enough knowledge and skills?” The replies were practically a statistical dead heat, 50.7% said yes and 49.3% said no. But when the replies are tabulated for just those engineers with less than 10 years of experience, 55% indicated they thought newly hired engineers were well-trained in college. Drilling down even farther, asking only engineers with less than a year of experience working as engineers, the figure climbed higher with 66% saying new hires are qualified. Still, that means a third of new hires in effect say they aren’t up to the task of engineering yet. This is strong evidence that colleges or engineering companies should pick up the pace on educating students and new engineers in real-world design and engineering.
When asked why they thought recent engineering grads had the knowledge and skill to make a living in the profession, comments from engineers with over 10 years of experience included:
• “An engineering education provides a good base, but the nature of engineering work tends to be highly specialized so more knowledge is always needed. It would be impossible to teach everything.”
• “U.S. engineering schools are superior to any others in the world. The current crop of engineering students has the knowledge and skills to begin in my area of expertise, aerospace engineering. But they still need mentoring by experienced engineers to be truly effective.”
Comments from new engineers, those with less than 10 years of experience, included:
• “The current engineer grads get the basic tools to be engineers. They just need to acquire the experience it takes to make good engineering decisions.”
• “The technical abilities are there, but the bigger picture, understanding how businesses actually work, is lacking.”
More senior engineers who feel engineers right out of college are unprepared for the working world said:
• “It’s incredibly variable among grads, but generally the breadth and depth of understanding engineering basics and principles seems to be in decline.”
• “They need more real-world training, especially on documentation. They need to know how to determine factors such as tolerance and material requirements. They can’t determine these things through trial and error. They also need how to work in teams and understand that all details are important, not just the ones they want to deal with.”
Newer engineers who feel recent engineering grads lack the needed skills commented that:
• “Engineering schools focus too much on research activities that bring universities grants and recognition. New engineers do not have the practical skills and problem solving methods companies use day to day to stay in business.”
• “There isn’t enough hands-on work in college. New grads know the theory, but are not ready to work.”
When the survey asked for concerns, “issues that keep you up at night,” it found that despite the age gap, engineers all worry about the same things. The top answers for engineers who have made it past the 10-year mark are: looming deadlines (32% chose this one), product reliability issues (29%), and product quality issues (26%). Those were the same result, and nearly the same percentage of respondents for engineers with less than 10 years’ experience: looming deadlines (30%), product reliability issues (29%), and product quality issues (29%).
There was one major (and predictable) difference between older and younger engineers. While almost 13% of the older engineers worried about age discrimination in the workplace, only 4% of the younger generation did. Their time will come.
Drilling deeper into the data reveals that the engineers most concerned about age discrimination are the 35 to 39 year olds, with approximately 20% “losing sleep” over it. Of those you would think most concerned about age discrimination, engineers with more than 40 years engineering experience, only 10% include it on their list of concerns.