For most engineers who are employed in 2015, the profession remains a fine way to make a living.
According to the IEEE-USA Salary & Benefits Survey Report - 2015 Edition, conducted this past April among U.S. IEEE members, salaries are continuing to rise. For members working full time in their primary area of technical competency (PATC), median pre-tax income in 2014 was $133,000, up from $129,000 in 2013. After deducting such earnings as overtime and profit sharing, pre-tax income was $130,000, up from $124,700 in 2013. Adjusted for inflation, real income was $126,953—also a significant increase. (The survey reflects respondents’ employment and income status as of 1 January 2015—or more precisely, at the end of 2014.)
The bad news, however, is that women’s incomes continue to considerably trail men’s. Even when experience is factored in, female engineers earn median incomes $13,635 less than their male counterparts. In addition, Hispanics and African Americans report median incomes roughly $9,000 and $15,000, respectively, below the overall median.
While other engineering salary reports are available, the IEEE-USA survey is possibly the most highly regarded because of its longevity (this year marks the 28th such survey) and the huge volume of responses. The study has been conducted most years since 1972. In 2015, 10,215 U.S. IEEE members participated in the online survey— including 9,044 employed full time in their PATC, the most relevant group from both employer and employee perspectives. Practically all (96.6%) were employed full time.
The Salary & Benefits Survey is wide-ranging; it includes differences in each respondent’s income, technology sector, level of responsibility, age, education, gender, ethnic background, geographic location and a great deal more. Specific questions are included for the roughly 10% of U.S. IEEE members who are academics. Members who indicate half or more of their earned income comes from fee-based consulting are not included, as they are queried for the 2015 IEEE-USA Consultants Fee Survey.
According to the 2015 Survey, the typical respondent is—consistent with last year’s report—a male in his mid-40s, with an advanced degree, and about 20 years of professional experience. He is at the fifth or sixth of nine possible levels of professional responsibility; and he supervises a handful of others, both professionals and support staff.
2015 Major Results
Engineers in the general PATC of Communications Technology (Broadcast Technology, Communications, Consumer Electronics and Vehicular Technology) continue to enjoy the highest median earnings—$150,000, according to the 2015 Survey. The lowest median income in a broad PATC category is for those in Energy and Power Engineering—at $116,175. Other especially lucrative subspecialties include Information Theory, Solid-State Electronics, Lasers and Electro-Optics, and engineering management—all at median salaries of $150,000, or more, a year. The only subspecialties this year with median annual salaries less than $100,000 were Education and the Social Implications of Technology.
Sector of employment remains significant in determining an engineer’s income, according to the survey. Private industry still pays the most—with medians of $143,500 at defense-related companies, and $137,500 at other than defense- or utility-related companies. On average, employees earning the least work for utilities ($114,050), educational institutions ($106,400), and state or local governments ($101,011). The largest firms, those with more than 500 employees, tend to pay the best— $11,000 per year more than the overall median.
In a trend extending back to 2009, U.S. IEEE members tend to work for large organizations: 27.9% are employed by enterprises with more than 10,000 U.S. employees, and another 37.3% work for establishments with 501 to 10,000 employees. Private, non-defense companies employ more than half (53.5%) of members in the workforce. When defense-related firms are included, the private industry share rises to nearly two-thirds of the members in the workforce (64.1%).
Not surprising, management jobs still yield the highest median primary income, with a salary advantage of just less than $35,000 for those in general management. Technical managers, and those in marketing and sales, also do well. The lowest median wages are in education, teaching and training; operations, construction and maintenance; manufacturing and production; and engineering support.
Areas of Concern
Constituting only 7.8% of all members working full time in their PATCs, women continue to trail men in median primary income by $13,635. However, this amount is down almost $3,000 compared to last year’s income gap.
The salary disparity also continues between Caucasians and African-Americans—$15,482. Here, too, there’s a glimmer of improvement, as the number here is $2,000 less than in the 2014 Report. Hispanics who participated in the 2015 Survey reported median incomes about $9,000 less than Caucasians—40% less than the $15,000 variance in last year’s survey. The report opines that the engineering profession continues to slowly grow more racially and ethnically diverse; however, 77.6% of 2015 respondents are Caucasian—only 15 points fewer than in the inaugural 1972 survey.
Members in Academe
Because the nature of employment in higher education is so different from industry and other types of organizations, specific survey questions help to profile this small but vital group of U.S. members. In the latest report, one in ten respondents (10.1%) indicated their primary employer is a degree-granting institution. Of these respondents, 51.4% are on a nine- to 10-month contract and 34.5% have an 11- or 12-month contract. The largest portion of this group (31.2%) is full professors earning a median salary of $149,000. About one in five (21.4%) are associate professors earning a median salary of $105,000. More than two out of five (45.4%) are tenured, with 11% more on a tenure track. Tenure is important. The median annual salary for tenured academics is $130,000, while those on a tenure track report median annual salaries of $90,000. The median salary for those not on a tenure track is $80,000.
Where an engineer lives and works continues to significantly affect earnings. The 2015 study reports median incomes according to both the six U.S. IEEE regions and the nine U.S. Census Bureau divisions. In terms of IEEE regions, those in Region 6 (West) fare substantially better than those in Region 4 (Central) or Region 3 (Southeast), with gaps of more than $24,000 in median primary income. Census divisions tell a similar story, with those in the Pacific states faring more than $33,000 a year better than those in East South Central (Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama), East North Central (Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio), or West North Central (North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri) states. However, the report points out that the cost of living in the West is substantially higher than elsewhere.
The top states for 2015 median income are California, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey and Texas ($135,000 or more, each). The bottom states are Arkansas, Kansas, North Dakota, Nebraska, Indiana and Ohio (less than $110,000).
Benefits and Job Satisfaction
U.S. IEEE members who work full time are offered a broad array of benefits, although some shifts have taken place in the three main benefits categories: pension and retirement; health and insurance; and miscellaneous, which includes support for professional association dues and conferences.
In the 2001 survey, more than half (55%) of fulltime workers were offered “defined benefit” (pension) retirement plans—promising employees a certain amount, if they meet the plan terms—such as a minimum number of years of service. Keeping with the societal trend, that percentage dropped to 32.3% in 2015. “Defined contribution” plans, in which the employee, employer, or both pay a fixed amount into an interest-bearing account—with future benefits dependent on investment earnings—remained flat at 89.6% in the latest survey.
22.5% of employers offer profit sharing plans, down from about 38% more than a decade ago. Stock option offers have diminished from 49% in 2001 to 24.3% in 2015. Employee stock ownership plan offerings (ESOPs) ae similarly down.
Virtually all fulltime workers are offered extensive health benefits, with more than nine in ten offered basic health insurance, major medical and dental insurance, both for themselves and their dependents. Almost 90% are offered prescription drug coverage, as well as coverage for eyeglasses, lenses and exams.
More than four out of five fulltime workers are offered flexible working hours, and 55.2% are offered professional association membership fees. However, the percentage offered paid attendance at professional conferences has dropped about ten points this past decade to 68.3%.
The IEEE-USA Salary & Benefits Survey Report - 2015 Edition is available at: http://shop.ieeeusa.org/usashop/product/careers/162095. The member price is $125; non-members, $225.
Helen Horwitz is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. She was with IEEE from 1991 through 2011, the first nine as Staff Director, IEEE Corporate Communications.