Are Engineers Compensated Enough for Their Work?

The third chapter of our Salary and Career Survey dives into the financial compensation of engineers across the country.
Author: Carlos Gonzalez | Publication date: November 1, 2018 | Machine Design
© 2018 Informa USA, Inc., All Rights Reserved

Our 2018 Salary and Career Survey asked more than 1,400 of our readers about their compensation. Engineering is one of those professions that will stand the test time—regardless of how much of the process becomes automated, engineers will still be needed. Our readers are spread out among the entire country, from Silicon Valley to Midtown Manhattan. This chapter will focus not only on their compensation, but what they think the future holds in store for the engineering profession.

The Average Engineer and Their Compensation

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.

The average engineer, according to our survey, is a full-time employee who works 41 to 45 hours a week and earns $101,859 annually. If they receive a bonus, the average is $5,567; if they have any stock options with their company, the average is $6,268. The most common job title is design/project engineer (24%), followed by senior/chief/managing engineer (12%). For a design/project engineer, the average salary was close to $91,000. For a senior engineer or engineering manager, the average salary was around $116,000. According to our report, 64% of engineers expect an increase in their salary, while 27% expect their salary to decrease.

Compensation by Location

If we look at a map of the U.S., the region with the highest salaries is the West Coast, coming in at $120,513. Isolating this area, you will find that the majority of engineers work in either the control systems/robotics space, in research and development, or in the medical products industry. The region with the second-highest salaries is the Northeast, including states like Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine. The engineers in this region work primarily within the same space as the West Coast, with the added sectors of machine tooling and automation.

In third was the South, along with states like Texas and Oklahoma., which have a higher diversity of industry. While research and development still ranks first, other sectors like maintenance, automotive, machine tooling, components and subassemblies, and control systems are closer to the top of the list.

Compensation by Experience

For the most part, engineers earn more as they gain more experience. Here is a list of the salary by years of experience:

  • ≤ 4 years earn $66,145 average
  • 5 to 14 years earn $86,084 average
  • 15 to 24 years earn $105,220 average
  • 25 to 34 years earn $113,441 average
  • ≥ 35 years earn 108,429 averages

The only disparity here is that engineers with more than 35 years of experience earn less than the group before them. There could be several reasons for this, one of which is that many engineers at this stage of their careers are consultants, and thus not earning full-time salaries. Another reason is that as the standard of pay for engineers rises, either due to inflation or the market, young engineers earn a higher starting salary and then top out by the time they reach the 20 to 25-year mark. Engineers with 35 or more years of experience may have plateaued for their salary range.

Overall, the average salary per age group is higher than the average engineering salary for the country. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for engineers is $79,180, as of 2017.

Compensation by Industry

The top three industries that earn the most salary are power design at $131,333; aerospace and marine at $124,314; and drilling and mining equipment at $121,500. Engineers in the power design field are mainly design engineers who work on products used for utility services, electrical equipment, manufacturing, and control systems. The majority have a Master’s degree with an average of 25 years of experience.

The aerospace industry has a nice balance of senior engineers and design engineers at 20% and 26%, respectively. The average number of years of experience is 27, the balance between engineers with a bachelor’s and a master’s is more balance at 32% and 43% respectively.

The engineers in the drilling and mining equipment industry are younger than our average 45-year-old engineer, with the majority split between the ages of 35 to 39 and 45 to 49 (both at 22%). Again, the responses showed a split in education level, with 33% having a Bachelor’s and 44% having a Master’s degree. At 42%, the majority are design engineers working on products that are used in off-highway equipment, metal production, and machinery manufacturing.

Compensation by Education

One common question we’re asked is if whether engineers need anything more than a Bachelor’s to succeed in engineering. According to our numbers, while you can a make a very good income with a Bachelor’s degree, it doesn’t hurt to have a higher degree. Engineers with just a Bachelor’s degree make $99,210 average. This is only $2,649 under our average salary. However, engineers with a Bachelor’s degree and graduate studies earn more than our reported average salary. Those with some graduate studies earn $105,295 and those with a Master’s degree earn $117,579. Clearly, for those on the fence about going back to school, it pays off to study more.

Are Engineers Getting Paid Their Worth?

At the end of day, engineers are feeling the pinch when it comes to salary and benefits. Many engineers are complaining that they are being asked by their companies to shoulder more of their healthcare costs. When we asked our engineers if compensation policies have changed at their job, the number one complaint was the growing cost of healthcare. According to one respondent, “It is well known that healthcare costs are increasing in the United States due to a rapidly aging population. Every year, employees are asked to shoulder more of the costs and the treatments and medication options have dwindled somehow.”

Another trend is the lack of new personnel for vacant positions. Many engineers expressed that while their pay has increased, so has their responsibility, and the two are not in line with one another. As another engineer stated, “While they do offer compensation for a job well done, the company has also allowed certain positions to remain vacant after retirements or people being let go. The expectation is for the rest of us to add that work to our already overloaded positions. This happens on a regular basis and many of us feel that we have been set up for failure.”

Many engineers have stated that their raises have been tied to job performance, which is often hard to measure. With the aforementioned shift of labor, job performance is really measuring the responsibilities of two workloads—not just one. This makes it harder for engineers to prove that they are making an impact at their jobs.

View the original article and related content on Machine Design

Register to receive updates

Absolute MDrive

Lexium MDrive rotary and linear integrated motor products - now with multi-turn absolute encoder in the same compact footprint.

Custom Products

When it comes to your form, fit and function requirements, don’t settle. Get precisely what you need working with us. We know motion.

> Learn more

Reach Us

Contact us with any questions about how we can help you with your motion application or for assistance with your SEM products.

> Contact Us

Need information?

Browse our resource section and find the most useful tools and documents for all our products.

> Browse