DN Staff

July 3, 2000

6 Min Read
We're in the money

The results of Design News' annual salary survey are in, and the mean annual base salary for American engineers is $61,540.

That pay level falls somewhere between that of a TV news weatherman and an air traffic controller. And it is nearly identical to last year's survey average of $61,550.

But don't think the engineers are slipping or standing still-on the average, they earned a 5.1% raise last year. That means engineers are doing much better than they were in 1995, when our survey pegged the average salary at $52,060, and the average raise at just 3.5%.

Of course, the really big money in 1999 was in the stock market, where the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose more than 25%. But the consumer price index rose a meager 2.2% last year, so engineers' raises were higher than inflation-a great way to feel rich.

Enough with the averages: where's the big money? One of the best ways to get a big pay-hike, apparently, is to leave your company. Those who switched jobs within the past year earned an 8.7% raise, while those who stayed put got just 4.7%. Nevertheless, only 11% of the respondents say they have changed jobs within the past year.

In fact, job loyalty seems to be on the rise-the mean time that engineers have worked for their present employer is 7.4 years, according to the Design News survey. That's up from an average 6.5 years that engineers had spent in their present jobs in 1995.

In terms of absolute dollars, engineers who live in the Pacific or Mountain regions earn the highest salaries, followed by New England and the Atlantic seaboard. Bringing up the rear is the central part of the U.S., with average engineering salaries lagging as far as 20% behind the west.

That's not much different from 1995, when the highest salaries were in the Pacific region, followed by mid-Atlantic, New England, Rocky Mountains, South East, Great Lakes, South West, Upper Midwest, and South Central (we carved the country into slightly different regions in past surveys).

Ranked by product line, the best-paid engineers are those working in computers, followed by the telecommunications, aerospace, defense systems, and medical industries. Traditional powerhouses like automotive and electronics are further behind in this Design News survey, alongside consumer products, appliances, industrial controls, and construction equipment.

That's a large step up for computers, which ranked only 4th in 1995. But the rest of the top-paying industries are largely the same: defense, aerospace, telecommunications, business machines, medical, electronics, automotive, and seven more.

Another way to make more bucks is to get more education. Those with engineering Ph.D.s earn the most, followed by those with MBAs, masters in engineering, advanced degrees in non-engineering fields, then bachelors degrees.

Experience is also a surefire salary booster. The average salary is $71,000 for those with more than 20 years experience, dropping steadily to $39,500 for greenhorns with less than two years in the business.

And at any level of experience in the engineering industry, those with supervisory or budget responsibilities earn significantly more than those without.

And as usual, the larger companies pay more. The average range is from $66,800 for companies with one thousand employees to $55,900 for companies with fewer than 100.

Money isn't everything. So if engineers were just interested in money, they would all move to California and job-hop between computer companies. But the numbers say this trend isn't happening. So what's keeping engineers happy?

The survey says the three most popular answers are: the challenge and creativity of designing (regardless of product type), the diversity and variety of working on different products, and the flexibility and freedom of the job. Money finishes close to the bottom of the list.

And what makes engineers unhappy? Their top frustrations are: paperwork and administration, politics and bureaucracy, and stress and overtime.

And when engineers rank the most exciting industries to work in, they don't choose the highest-paying. They predictably name aerospace first, but then chose low-paying industries such as automotive and electronics. And they choose the most lucrative job opportunities as least appealing, including medical, telecommunications, defense, and computers.

Who answered our survey? Nearly a third of the respondents work in the aerospace (17%) or automotive (15%) industries. Consumer products, medical, and electronics employ most of the rest.

The most common engineering degree for respondents is a bachelors (57%), then masters (19%), and then a two-year technical degree. Only 2% have doctorates. And more than a third of the respondents have been working as engineers for at least 20 years. The remainder is spread evenly between 2 and 20 years.

So design engineers continue to make progress on the salary front. And as in the past, they achieve something that many Americans would envy-they enjoy going to work every day.

Boss makes the big bucks





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