Sorry, Heraclitis, but that’s a matter of opinion. While it’s generally true that everything – and everyone – is constantly changing, things are much the same this year in the engineering world’s largest annual salary survey.
Conducted this past April among IEEE’s U.S. members, the good news in the IEEE-USA Salary & Benefits Survey Report – 2017 Edition is that salaries are continuing to rise, and the profession remains a very good way for most to make a living.
For members working full time in their primary area of technical competency (PATC), median pre-tax income in 2016 was $141,589, up from $138,285 in 2015. After excluding overtime pay, profit sharing and other supplemental earnings, median pre-tax income from all primary sources (salary, commissions, bonuses and net self-employment) was $138,000, up from $135,000 in 2015.
However, the not-so-good news for women and some minority groups is that their challenges have changed very little. Women’s salaries continue to trail men’s, even considering experience levels. Overall, the difference in median primary income between the genders, among those working full time in their PATC, is $16,489. It is down about $2,000, compared to last year’s gap.
The salary gap between Caucasians, and Hispanics and non-Hispanic African-Americans, increased slightly in 2016. Overall, Caucasians earned median incomes roughly $8,500 and $21,500, respectively, below the overall median.
Other engineering salary and benefits reports are available, but the IEEE-USA survey may be the most highly regarded. This year marks the 30th such survey, and it draws the largest volume of responses. IEEE-USA has conducted the study most years, since 1972; and has conducted it online since 2001, drawing substantially large numbers of responses. This year, 9,284 IEEE members participated, including 6,686 employed full time in their PATC – the most relevant group from both employer and employee standpoints.
The survey is comprehensive, including differences in each respondent’s income, technology sector, level of responsibility, age, education, gender, ethnic background, geographic location, employer characteristics, and much more. It contains specific questions for the members who are academics. Members who indicate that at least half of their earned income is from fee-based consulting are not included; instead, they were invited to participate in the IEEE-USA Consultants Fee Survey. That survey is available to members for $29.95; non-members pay $49.95.
2016 Major Results
According to the 2017 Salary and Benefits Survey, the typical respondent is – consistent with last year’s report – a male in his late forties, with an advanced degree, and about 22 years of professional experience. He is in the fifth or sixth of eight possible levels of professional responsibility, and he supervises a small group of other people.
Engineers in the broad PATC of Communications Technology (broadcast technology, communications, consumer electronics and vehicular technology) continue to earn the highest median compensation – $157,456. Those in Energy and Power Engineering remain the lowest paid, ($125,000), closely followed by professionals in Industrial Applications Engineering ($126,000).
Going by median primary income, specific subspecialties that are especially lucrative include: Information Smart Phones or Watches, Solid-State Circuits, Consumer Electronics, Engineering Management and Vehicular Technology – all at more than $160,000 a year. Following a broader societal trend, the gap between those at entry-level, and those at the highest levels of responsibility continues to be very wide. Those working at Level 9 (greater than GS-15), earn nearly three times more in median primary income, than those at entry levels.
As in past surveys, private industry still pays the most, with medians of $148,000 at defense-related companies; and $147,000, at firms other than defense. On average, those earning the least work for utilities ($120,000), educational institutions ($115,000), and state or local government ($110,200).
IEEE’s U.S. members tend to work for large organizations, with 29.3% reporting organizations with more than 10,000 employees in the United States employ them. Another 36.6% work for organizations with 501 to 10,000 employees – the survey found similar results going back to 2009. Private, non-defense companies employ 52.3% of members in the workforce. When defense-related firms are added, the private industry share rises to almost two-thirds – 62.7% – of the workforce. Other sectors that employ large percentages of U.S. IEEE members include utilities (12.4%), educational institutions (111.6%), and the federal government (3.1% defense; 3.0% non-defense).
Women and Some Minorities
Women in the 2017 Survey comprise only 7.6% of all members working full time in their PATCs, and they continue to significantly lag behind men in median primary income – even, as already noted, when experience is a factor. With three to four years of experience, women’s median salary is $79,000, compared to men’s, with $86,593. Over time, the disparities continue to grow, with the greatest difference occurring at 25 to 29 years of experience; women average $134,300, compared with $153,000 for men.
In 2017, the salary differences between Caucasians and African Americans also grew. The latter group earns an average of $21,986 less than the median reported Caucasian salary. Hispanics reported median incomes of $9,000 below the median salary, while Asian and Pacific Islander median incomes were about $2,400 below.
Because the nature of employment with an academic (degree-granting) institution is much different from employment in industry, since 2005, a special section of the survey helps to identify facts and trends about this small, but important, sector of U.S. members. This year, 10.6 percent reported that an academic institution is their main employer. Of this group, 51.4% are on a nine- or 10-month contract; 33.9%, on an 11- or 12-month contract; and 12.4% have some other arrangement.
More than one-third (35.9%) of academic members are full professors. Another 15.3% are associate professors, 14.5% are assistant professors, and 11.1% have a non-teaching research appointment. Less than half (43.2%) of the academic respondents are tenured, but an additional 12.9% are on a tenure track. Most (79.2%) work for institutions that grant doctoral degrees.
Median annual salaries, by academic rank, were: full professor, $165,440; associate professor, $105,000; assistant professor, $92,500; and visiting, adjunct professor/instructor/lecturer, $75,000.
Geographic Salary Differences
Another ongoing topic of interest in the survey is how an engineer’s geographic location affects earnings. The 2017 study reports median incomes based on both the six U.S. IEEE regions and the nine U.S. Census Bureau divisions. As in recent past years, those members in Region 6 (West) fare substantially better than those in Region 4 (Central) or Region 3 (Southeast), with gaps of more than $28,000 in median primary income. Census divisions show a similar pattern, with those in the Pacific (Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon and California) earning some $40,050 a year more than those in the East North Central (Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio).
The report also cautions that living costs in the West are significantly higher than elsewhere, and that readers must interpret geographic analyses carefully, because differences in engineering salaries from one area to another may be the result of variations in each region’s industrial composition.
Employers offer U.S. IEEE members who work full time 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, including support for professional association dues and conferences.
In the 2001 survey, employers offered more than half (55%) of full-time workers “defined benefit” (pension) retirement plans, which promise 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 31.7%, as of 2017. “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 90.5% in the latest survey.
Twenty-two percent of employers offer profit-sharing plans, down from about 38% some 15 years ago. Stock options offers have dropped from 49% in 2001 to 24%.
Employers continue to offer employees virtually all full-time workers extensive health benefits, with more than nine in 10 offered basic health insurance, major medical and dental insurance, both for themselves and for their dependents. About 90% are offered prescription drug coverage, as well as coverage for eyeglasses, lenses and exams.
More than four out of five full-time employees work flexible hours, and 56.4% are offered professional association membership fees. The percentage that are offered paid attendance at professional conferences increased to 71.1% this year – it was 67.8% in last year’s survey. But overall, this benefit has dropped about ten points over the past decade.
Finally, a series of questions asked since 1997 measures members’ general sense of satisfaction with their work. After peaking in the 2001 survey, satisfaction levels took a big step backwards in 2005, but have been increasing steadily in recent years. Still, favorable responses continue to outweigh unfavorable responses. Members are most satisfied with the technical challenges of their jobs. They are least satisfied with advancement opportunities. A small proportion (about one in seven) is dissatisfied with current compensation.
The complete IEEE-USA Salary & Benefits Survey, 2017 Edition, is available to members for $125.00; non-members, $225.00.
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.