In the greater scheme of things and for the time being, engineers--especially in North America--have it pretty good, at least according to their replies to the EE Times Annual Salary & Opinion Survey.
Among the findings revealed by the almost 1,600 respondents to this year's questionnaire is that engineers in the United States have median earnings, including benefits, of $108,800, slightly higher than last year's median of $104,300. That compares with European respondents' median of just over $61,000. Japanese engineers reported median earnings of $65,400.
The U.S. engineer's life isn't without its worries. There are deep concerns about job security and the outsourcing of engineering work to lower-cost markets, mainly in Europe and South Asia. But American engineers, with annual compensation nearly 40 percent higher than their closest competitors, have reason to be satisfied. In fact, slightly more than two-thirds (67 percent) of respondents declared themselves content with both career and employer. Only 14 percent expressed the opposite sentiment.
One respondent, Paul Vincent of Cirque Corp., summed up the prevailing sentiment with exceptional eloquence: "I am an engineer. Period," he wrote. "I have always loved the adventure and challenge of creative problem solving, of finding a way to make something work and persuading others to let me do it. . . . Most other careers provide only portions of what I love about engineering."
Among European engineers, 56.8 percent of those answering the questionnaire said their jobs satisfied them, but dissatisfaction was also high, at 27 percent. In Japan, 84.6 percent of engineers responded that they are "satisfied" (26.0 percent) or "somewhat satisfied" (58.6 percent).
The survey samples this year were just under 1,600 in North America, just over 1,900 in Japan, and 164 in Europe.
Salaries up, but not by much
As indicated by the change in total compensation, salary increases across the board in the North American sample were concentrated in the area of 4 percent, which roughly matches the increase in the cost of living. A plurality of respondents, 48.7 percent, got raises between 2 percent and 4 percent. Overall, four of five engineers in both North America and Europe received increases of 6 percent or less. In Europe, more than 65 percent of engineers failed to top 4 percent. Among Japanese respondents, only 37.8 percent reported receiving any increase at all, and 20.2 percent actually sustained pay cuts.
The relative stagnation of salaries for the predominantly U.S. sample in North America reflects a widespread economic anxiety and signals possible trouble. For several years, many engineers in the survey have expressed worry about having to compete with lower-wage engineers overseas, and fear that foreign engineers both in the United States and elsewhere threaten their standard of living--even their livelihood.
The two biggest concerns for American engineers center on foreign competition. The impact of offshore outsourcing was cited as the major concern by 35.4 percent. Combine that with the 16.3 percent who acknowledged their unease about H-1B visa employment levels (special visas for foreign engineers working temporarily in the States), and more than half (51.7 percent) of the respondents are worried about foreign competition.
One engineer, Roger Landon, 61, of DRS Technologies, summarized his frustrations: "We are told we need more H1-B visas because the corporations can't find engineers. [Engineers] are there. CEOs don't want to pay the salaries."
Even more bluntly, Joe Lauinger, 34, an IC design engineer in government service, said, "I think foreign engineers will saturate America's engineer-dependent companies, create their own spin-off companies and connections, saturate the managerial positions . . . and eventually control the industry. Engineer-rich countries will be puppeteers of our industries."
Gender, vacation, stress
The survey also found that electronics engineering remains one of the most male-dominant professions in the world. This year's respondent pool in North America included only 90 women, or 5.7 percent of the total. In Europe, the share was even lower, at 3.1 percent, and in Japan the question was not even asked.
Women today in all types of engineering make up 14 percent of the total, with most in chemical engineering. In comparison, more than 17 percent of partners in law firms are women, and, according to The Boston Globe, more than half of all medical students and 42 percent of hospital interns are women. Among the handful of occupations that underperform engineering in the percentage of female practitioners is truck driving, at 5 percent.
As for vacation time, the survey revealed that a longstanding disparity persists between U.S. and European EEs. Among American poll respondents, 78.3 percent of engineers earned more than three weeks' vacation, but only 53.9 percent took all the time they had earned. In Europe, 95.1 percent of engineers got at least three weeks' vacation, and 78.4 percent used it all.
How well do engineers fare against other professionals?