Engineering wages show slow improvement

Salaries of EE-Evaluation Engineering readers are creeping up, although not by enough to cause irrational exuberance. According to responses to our 2014 salary survey, salaries average $104,914, up from $99,558 last year.1 Said Ed Soronen of Honeywell Aerospace, “2014 has shown modest signs of economic growth and improvement for engineering wages.” In fact, 68% of respondents reported having received a raise within the past year, with 28% indicating that their salary stayed the same. Only 3% experienced a pay cut. And more than half (52%) report having received a bonus over the last year.

Before getting to some serious breakdowns such as salaries by job functions and education, here is some basic information about this year’s survey participants. The average participant was nearly 54 years old and has been working in the industry for approximately 25 years and with his or her current employer for roughly 15 years. 

Length of time working in the industry correlates to salary as shown in Figure 1. Interestingly, staying with one employer doesn’t necessarily lead to steadily increasing wages. On the contrary, Figure 2 demonstrates that sometimes newly hired workers can demand significantly higher compensation than much longer-serving employees. 

Figure 1. Average salary by years in industry
Figure 2. Average salary by years with current employer

And, regardless of where you spend your time, gathering technical and managerial experience takes time, so it’s not surprising that average salary and age are related. At least for age groups 18 to 25, 26 to 35, 36 to 45, and 46 to 55, average salary significantly increased, being $60,000, $82,763, $90,210, and $109,447, respectively. Beyond approximately age 50, average salary gradually declined to $108,172 for the 56 to 65 group and to $101,537 for those 66 and older.

By location, respondents in the Pacific region earned the highest salaries, as was the case last year. This year, respondents from the Mountain states had the second highest salaries, overtaking the Central region for the number 2 spot (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Average salary by region

But of course, base salary and bonuses tell only part of the story and can mask other problems. As one respondent said, although her base salary has remained the same, a rolling layoff during 2012 caused her to spend significant time on unemployment. But as a further indication that the economic situation is looking up, she reported that the rolling layoff was discontinued when the market improved after the first quarter of 2013.

Even rising salaries don’t indicate unalloyed good news. One anonymous respondent was blunt, writing, “A 3% raise is an insult.” As another put it, “Although a token raise occurs every year, it never covers the increase in health insurance.” But despite its out-of-pocket costs that employees must pay, health insurance (99%) remains a benefit that nearly all respondents access through their employers. And significant majorities have access to a 401k or pension plan (93%), dental insurance (90%), life insurance (79%), and disability insurance (77%). Flextime is an option for less than half of the respondents—not significantly changed from last year. Childcare remains a very rare benefit in our industry. 

As for salary by job function (Figure 4), it’s not surprising that respondents involved in corporate management scored highest with average salaries of $122,122. Respondents involved in academic and scientific R&D ranked high as well, as did those involved in design and development engineering. As for job title, engineering manager at $120,122 outscored corporate manager at $118,814.

Figure 4. Average salary by job function

For salary across industry segments (Figure 5), respondents working in the computer, semiconductor, and military/aerospace industries fared best with computers edging out semiconductors, which took first place last year. Jobs in software, wireline/fiber-optic communications, energy, automotive/transportation, and medical industries all paid six-figure average salaries. Contract design and manufacturing offered the lowest average salaries.

Figure 5. Average salary by industry

As was the case last year, respondents about evenly choose salary (68%) and work/life balance (67%) when asked to name important issues related to their jobs. Job security (57%), in third place, remains a concern of more than half, followed by retraining (34%), technical obsolescence (28%), pension (24%), and professional ethics (22%). Only 14% express a fear that their jobs may be outsourced. In fact, the vast majority of respondents report feeling very or somewhat secure in their jobs (Figure 6), with only 3% reporting feeling very insecure. One respondent in the last category attributes his insecurity to 10 layoffs.

Figure 6. Job security

When it comes to education (Figure 7), it’s not surprising that respondents with doctorate degrees report the highest salaries, followed by those with M.S.E.E. degrees. Those holding M.B.A. degrees fared well also, followed by those with masters’ degrees in other subjects and those holding B.S.E.E. or other B.S. degrees, all reporting average salaries in the six digits.

Figure 7. Average salary by education

When queried about learning new subject matter, 37% of respondents said they did not need to acquire additional expertise over the past year—about the same percentage as reported in last year’s survey. Of those who did, compliance topics (both safety and EMI/ESD) were cited most frequently, followed by RF/microwave communications. Signal and power integrity were mentioned as well, as were cloud computing and green engineering (including low-power design and energy efficiency).

New to the survey this year was the Internet of things (IoT), including machine-to-machine communications and machine condition monitoring, which was mentioned by 10% of respondents. And 7% had acquired expertise in medical product design. Also new to the survey this year, fog computing—bringing the cloud close to you—does not yet seem to be on our readers’ radar.

Of those who did gain expertise, 40% made use of trade publications and related websites, 35% utilized webcasts and online events, 28% took advantage of in-person training sessions provided by a vendor, and 17% attended trade shows and related technical sessions. In addition, respondents reported learning from colleagues, taking classes at their own expense, and—quite a popular option—on-the-job training.

As was the case last year, more than half of readers use mobile devices on the job. An Android smartphone is the most popular platform, followed by the iPhone, which took the top spot last year. iPads and Android tablets are finding some on-the-job use, and 7% of readers report still using a BlackBerry. The Surface tablets so far are not gaining traction among respondents.

Despite numerous individual gripes, respondents remain largely happy with their jobs (Figure 8), with 86% very or somewhat satisfied. Only 4% report being very dissatisfied.

Figure 8. Level of job satisfaction

Complaints include the recruitment of outside managers who view staff as interchangeable commodities, a focus on process more than results, and insufficient appreciation for engineers’ efforts. One respondent uses the phrase “predatory administration” to highlight the undervaluing of employees and discrepancies between current policy and a company’s history and traditional ethics. Another says, “We are asked to do more with less. The company spends more time and energy managing work than completing work. Retiring engineers are not being replaced, just outsourced.”

Writes yet another disgruntled respondent, “It is getting worse and worse for engineers and science people in the United States. I’ve been told Chinese can do the same job and will work for less. I can’t advise any young person to go into science.”

But reader Mike Bailey offers a different perspective and comments that the promotion of workforce development and the education of future engineers should be a focus of EE’s next article on salaries and careers. He adds, “Along with others in the community, I am actively supporting this issue.”

A reader who wishes to remain anonymous provides a brief summary of his successful engineering career, offering a nice coda to this year’s survey. “I have worked in various job positions throughout my career with my existing company,” he says, often moving into an open position within the organization that pays better. New positions afford the capability to learn new skills, he says, while maintaining his core expertise in magnetics design. “I feel good working for this company over the last 33 years,” he concludes, “and I feel I am going to retire here within the next 10 or so years.”


Nelson, R., “Work/Life Balance Key to Job Satisfaction,” EE-Evaluation Engineering, August 2013.

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