Design News readers had another strong year in 2000, earning salaries that outpaced inflation, and learning skills that allowed them to switch jobs in search of more design freedom and technical challenge.
Our readers' mean (average) annual base salary was $64,490, and the mean annual raise was 5.4%, according to Design News' annual career survey.
That's significantly up from last year's numbers—$61,540 and 5.1%. And it's up over the long run, too—the 1995 levels were $52,060 and 3.5%. Keep in mind that we collected these numbers from a survey published in our Jan. 8, 2001 issue, so they were not affected by the recent stock market flop. Also, the percentages may not relate exactly to these salary numbers, since both are averages, and because the survey questions were phrased as ranges.
Most importantly, the recent survey compares well to our national economy over the same period. The Consumer Price Index (CPI), an indicator of inflation, rose just 3.7% over that time (January '00 to January '01), so engineers' 5.4% raises gave them plenty of spending money.
But enough talk about averages; how do you grow your own paycheck?
Variables that can affect engineers' salaries include: what part of the country they work in, how long they've been engineers, and what type of products they make. But statistically, the ones that really count are career length and education. Coming in a distant third is product line, then company size, geographic location, and finally degree of management responsibility.
Job hopping. Sure, unemployment is on the rise, climbing every month
since September 2000. But its mark of 4.5% in April, 2001 is still several points below the decade average. Despite stock market jitters, we still work in a job-seeker's market. And many engineers (10%) took advantage of this climate to switch companies last year. Our survey said the average time engineers had spent with their current employer was 7.5 years. Over a ten-year span, only 46% had stayed with a single company.
What motivates engineers to change jobs? The survey says it's not money—salaries were lowest for those who had switched companies most often. Instead, most job-hoppers were in search of fulfilling jobs.
"I was looking to get into a design position, instead of product manufacturing," says Allen Meek, who makes off-road construction equipment in Oklahoma City, OK. He left W.H. Stewart Co. for CMI Corp., where he now designs concrete road pavers.
In Pocahontas, AR, Jason Summers also changed jobs in order to move from production to design. But he made the switch without leaving his company, Waterloo Industries. Today, he makes consumer products for tool storage, such as boxes and cabinets for Craftsman, Snap-On, and John Deere. Waterloo supported his move, Summers says, since they'd rather grow engineers within the company than lose them to competitors.
Yet another motivation for job-hopping is pure survival. In Aurora, CO, Jeffrey Flinn changed companies twice in the past year, when one shut down his division and the other went out of business. Flinn, who today works in automation for Mikron Corp., teams with the sales force to customize small-part assembly equipment for applications in medical, automotive, electronic, and more. "I'm rarely challenged with the same problem twice," he says.
Who answered the survey? The great majority had a bachelor's degree in engineering (59%), made aerospace (15%) or automotive (16%) products, had been an engineer for an average of nearly 15 years, had supervisory or budget responsibilities (50%), lived in the East North Central part of the country (33%), and worked in a company of 763 people.
Here's some additional data on our annual salary survey.