Communicating With Your Boss Is Important

While money is the obvious concern when conducting a salary survey, one far more subtle theme has remained prevalent throughout the past decade of economic upturns and downturns: Engineers want open and honest communications with their employers. And for the most part, the readers we interviewed in conjunction with the 2008 EE—Evaluation Engineering Salary Survey agreed, saying job security and satisfaction come from being informed about the health of the company.

But before delving deeper into the job security/satisfaction issue, let's get a profile of the more than 1,600 people who responded to the survey. The median age of respondents was 50, and the overall median salary was $81,000, slightly down from $84,000 in 2007.

Regionally, salary survey participants working in the Pacific sector of the nation were compensated the highest with $97,000 as a median salary. The Mountain region ranked second at $85,000, followed by the Northeast at $80,000, the Southeast at $78,000, and the Central region with a $76,000 median salary (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Median Salary by Geographic Region

The survey participants represented 10 segments of the electronics industry ranging from field service to design/development engineering. The people involved in corporate or general management received the highest median salary of $99,000; second were workers in R&D/scientific at $94,000. Placing third were component and evaluation engineers with a median wage of $91,000 (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Median Salary by Job Function

Job Security and Satisfaction

Now let's look more carefully into the roles of job security and satisfaction. According to the survey results, 38% of those who participated feel very secure in their present job. A total of 52% said they are somewhat secure, and only 10% felt they were not secure. However, 65% of the respondents indicated they did not feel more secure in their job this year compared to last year. A total of 35% said they did feel more secure.

“I think job security is more important than salary,” said Mark Bunds, an HMI and software engineer for IDM Group in Houston. He said if his employer, a company that builds large land-based oil and gas drilling rigs, keeps him up-to-date about the company's financial status, he can plan accordingly for the future. His job duties also include evaluating electronic solutions for power, operator, and logic controls.

“It is much more painful to suddenly discover that you have been downsized,” Mr. Bunds said. “To have job security, I need open communications with management. For me, being secure doesn't necessarily mean that I must feel like my current employment will never end, but more that it won't end without warning.”

Jim Haas, a senior design engineer for Micro-Med in Louisville, KY, agreed that job security is more important than salary. “To have a feeling of job security, I think it is important for the company to communicate well with its employees,” he said. “This doesn't just include financial status but also the company's future outlook and growth plans.” Micro-Med primarily develops products for the eye-care industry, such as digital imaging.

“Salary is not more important than job security,” said Kevin Mobley, a hardware lab manager and engineering technician for Extreme Networks in Santa Clara, CA. “To have job security, the company needs to provide a product roadmap to the employees of what they will be working on,” he said. Extreme Networks designs and manufactures gigabit Ethernet switches.

Does job and career satisfaction carry the same importance as job security? You be the judge. Of those responding to the survey, 32% said they were very satisfied with their current job, 55% were satisfied, and 13% were not satisfied. About their overall career, 34% indicated they were very satisfied, 56% were satisfied, and 11% were not.

“Salary is really secondary,” said Mr. Bunds. “I find that job satisfaction comes with successfully addressing challenges that arise with the projects I work on as well as having opportunities to advance by learning and expanding into new areas,” he said.

Salary is connected to job satisfaction for Mr. Mobley, but it is not the primary reason, he said. Good management of the company and managers that provide support are factors that create a satisfying work environment, the hardware lab manager explained.

“Salary is indirectly related to my job satisfaction,” said Mr. Haas. “I have high satisfaction from working on exciting and difficult projects and using my talents to create innovative solutions. As an employee, I need to feel valued for those solutions, and typically salary is one of the best ways to show it.”

“I do not see where salary is directly connected to job satisfaction,” said John Sink, a senior electronic engineer at QSC Audio Products in Costa Mesa, CA. A very high salary for a job with stress does not help in balancing your life.”

QSC Audio Products supplies sound systems used in theater, concert venues, sports complexes, and places of worship. Mr. Sink researches new power electronic ideas and designs, tests, and evaluates new products. His latest work may lead to additional patents. He views the design staff of his company as the “best group I have ever been with.

“I see work/life balance as important,” Mr. Sink continued. “A job is to get enough money to have a life. A job is not your life.”

Top Career Issues

The EE Salary Survey asked respondents to choose three of eight career issues that were most important to them. The selection included continuing education, job security, outsourcing, pension, professional ethics, salary, technical obsolescence, and work/life balance. The top picks were salary (67%), work/life balance (63%), and job security (62%).

Mike Bowman, a test engineer at Mid-South Industries in Gadsden, AL, said the survey results match his choice of most important career issues. “I like to know that management appreciates me and my work by giving me proper compensation,” he said. “I also like to have enough free time to work out and pursue leisure activities. And, I want to know I have a job to go to.”

Mr. Bowman designs and develops test solutions at Mid-South, a company that takes ODM/OEM products from product design to manufacturing and test. Though salary is on his list, he said it is not on the top and does not create happiness for him in the workplace. “The current tools and support from management” along with completing a job successfully bring him satisfaction.

After a long career with the U.S. Air Force as a communications electronics engineering officer and civil engineering officer, Cale Benton Yates has a different perspective on what career issues matter to him. He is concerned the survey results indicate that respondents care more about how much money they make rather than the quality of service they give to their clients.

“I absolutely require a work environment where honor and ethics are really practiced rather than merely given lip service,” he said. “Being professionally competent, such as not allowing my technical knowledge to become obsolete, is a very close second priority. Continuing education follows as my third priority.”

While on active duty, Mr. Yates developed Air Force communications systems, and as a reserve officer, he prepared and maintained squadron civil engineering plans for use during wartime. Retired from the Air Force and living in Independence, MO, he continues to work in the electronics industry.

Paul Levin has always placed ethics high on his list of important career issues. “It amazes me how often workers tell the boss what they want to hear when they know it isn't true,” he said. “That doesn't do anyone any good, especially the company.” Mr. Levin runs his own business called APCL Enterprise in Tampa, FL, and contracts to work with companies on projects such as making and reselling security products.

Education and Longevity

Of the educational levels polled in the survey, the largest group was B.S. in electrical engineering. But not everyone is a B.S.E.E. with a median salary of $85,900. Since education is one solid basis on which you can compare yourself to others in the industry, Figure 3 gives you some insight into today's job market. And, as usually is the case, the more education you have, the bigger your paycheck.

Figure 3. Median Salary by Education

More time in the classroom seems to pay off, but does longevity in the industry have the same return for the dollar? According to the survey, those who worked 25 to 29 years in the field earned a median salary of $91,000, after which there was a modest reduction. But those who worked less than three years made substantially more money than those who had three to five years vested in the industry. For more results on this topic, see Figure 4.

Figure 4. Median Salary by Years in Industry

The largest group participating in the salary survey, 28%, had worked in the electronics industry for 30 or more years, and the second largest, 16%, was employed for 25 to 29 years in the field. A total of 19% of the respondents said they have worked with their current employer for six to nine years, and 18% said 10 to 14 years, ranking as the two biggest groups in that survey category.

A total of 35% of the respondents said they anticipate that the number of engineers at their company will increase in 2008, 15% said they predict a decrease, and the majority, 50%, foresee no change in the number of engineers.

Of those responding to the survey, 76% also indicated that they did not actively look for or accept a new job during the last year, and 69% said they don't plan to actively look for a new job in 2008. Not surprising, 80%, indicated that they do not expect to receive a promotion this year.

Jerry Heep is a staff engineer for RadioShack in Fort Worth, TX. He works in product design and risk management and does forensic analysis on items returned from stores. He also is an expert witness in technical and injury lawsuits. He consults with RadioShack purchasing on product safety concerning electrical energy storage devices and the company's product evaluation department in the testing of consumer products to be sold through RadioShack stores.

“Some years, I have not received a raise,” Mr. Heep said, “but I have kept my job. In trying times, I consider that a raise. I believe engineering outsourcing is hurting the industry,” he continued. “The engineering and creativity need to come back to the United States. Innovation is USA made. The factories overseas are good copiers, but they lack innovation and creativity.”

And despite the rising and falling economic nature of the electronics industry, an overwhelming 80% of the engineers who participated in the salary survey said they would recommend engineering as a career to their children. “I have three children who are 11 months, six years, and 11 years old. I bring them to my work place at times to show them the life of an engineer,” said William Gahagan, a test development engineer at GE Aviation Digital Systems in Grand Rapids, MI. His duties are design and development and engineering support for manufacturing integration.

“I would recommend engineering as a career for my children. Like fathers before me, my children like what I do and aspire to follow,” he said.

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