Salary Survey: Taking the pulse of the industry

In this presidential election year, we’re getting plenty of conflicting information from numerous political polls. Even with the great care taken by professional pollsters, it’s still not possible to assume that a small difference pro or con actually has statistical significance. Such uncertainty usually is assigned to the 2% to 3% margin of error that typically exists.

Ee201608 Salary Survey Table1
Table 1. Average salary and changes

The average engineering salaries for the last three years, derived from reader responses to the annual EE-Evaluation Engineering salary survey, are shown in Table 1. Essentially, the average engineering salary has remained flat from year to year with changes less than ±2%—well within the margin of error. One respondent said, “I have not had any salary increase in more than 10 years,” seeming to confirm the data. At the other extreme, another said, “… this last year has been the best in eight years for salary increases.” Of the responses received, this view definitely was in the minority. About three-quarters of the respondents indicated that they had received either no raise or a small one in the previous year, with only 22% getting an increase greater than 4%.

To better understand the survey data, the cumulative dollar-percentage for each of the last three years was plotted against a range of salaries. The results showed that the percentage of total respondent pay falling within either the lower or higher $50,000-band of salaries was virtually the same for all three years. What variation in average salary there has been occurred because of differences in the salaries from about $90,000 to $150,000. This means that conclusions drawn from the survey data have not been skewed by responses from a large number of highly paid managers one year or from many less-well-paid technicians another year.

While salaries haven’t altered much, this year’s survey responses confirm trends seen in earlier years. For example, no doubt we’ve all read about a company’s desire for 20-year-old new employees who also have 15 years of relevant experience. One older respondent recounted, “I was sitting in an interview, when the interviewer said: ‘I’m sorry, but we’re looking for someone with current knowledge of the state-of-the-art engineering technology, someone who’s recently graduated from college.’” In spite of having taught engineering courses at the university level, the respondent did not get the job and concluded that the company actually was saying that, “… we don’t want to hire someone with years of experience because we’d have to pay them more.”

As shown in Table 2, salary clearly increases with years of experience. In the table, the percentage columns represent the respondents within each category. A similar relationship between salary and the number of years spent with one employer can be shown, although as happened in 2014, salaries can level off or drop slightly for respondents who work a long time at the same company.Ee201608 Salary Survey Table2

Table 2. Salary vs. years of experience in the industry

Location, education, and apps

Job responsibility and technical skills as well as your location may be as important as experience in determining salary. Similar to past years and shown in Figure 1, the Pacific states paid the highest salaries. The ranking of the remaining regions changed somewhat this year with the Northeast, Mountain, Central, and Southeast areas following in that order.

Ee201608 Salary Survey Map Figure1
Figure 1. Average salary vs. location

Again this year, design engineers were the largest group when ranked by job function (Figure 2). Compared to 2015, the average salary for design engineers in 2016 increased by almost 2%, making them also the highest paid group. The average salaries for corporate managers and production test each dropped by more than 20%, moving these two categories down two positions in the overall ranking. In contrast, field service salaries increased by 17%.

Ee201608 Salary Survey Figure2
Figure 2. Average salary vs. job function

Most companies require a bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite for a technical position. But, higher degrees and bachelor degrees in disciplines other than electronics also are prevalent in the industries EE-Evaluation Engineering reaches. Figure 3 shows the trend over the last three years including one very successful high school graduate.

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Figure 3. Highest education level

Regardless of your initial degree, being successful within a fast-moving technically oriented industry requires continuing education just to keep up. For the last three years, trade publications and associated websites have been the favorite sources of information for at least 40% of the respondents. The next most popular sources were webcasts/online events sponsored by a company or professional organization and in-person training sessions presented by a vendor. And, for both this year and last year, about 11% of the respondents have indicated attending online classes at a university.

Being familiar with the latest technology and using it to an advantage in your job also are indications that a worker is coping well with change. Figure 4 shows the general increase in mobile device use—in particular, the growth in iPads and iPhones while Blackberry popularity continues to decline.

Ee201608 Salary Survey Figure4
Figure 4. Work-related use of mobile devices

The type of industry in which a respondent is employed also affects salary, as shown in Figure 5. This year, the three largest pieces of the pie—military/aerospace, automotive/transportation, and power/energy segments—are similar in size to last year.

Ee201608 Salary Survey Figure5
Figure 5. Average salary vs. industry segment

Benefits and security

For all three years, respondents have given equal importance to salary and work/life balance, although from year to year there has been a clear trend to value both less (Figure 6). In their place, factors such as professional ethics and outsourcing have been given more attention in 2016 compared to education and pensions in 2015. Interestingly, concern about job security has leveled off to about 50% from a higher 57% 2014 number.

Ee201608 Salary Survey Figure6
Figure 6. Ranking of career issue importance

Job security and satisfaction have not been overwhelming issues in any of the three years. At least 80% of respondents feel very or somewhat confident and satisfied with typically less than 5% feeling very insecure or dissatisfied. But security and satisfaction don’t mean complacency, and it’s doubtful that many respondents have remained unaware of the continuing reduction in their benefits. The percentage of respondents being offered healthcare; 401k or pension plans; and dental, life, and disability insurance has reduced in each of the last three years as shown in Figure 7.

Ee201608 Salary Survey Figure7
Figure 7. Benefit availability

Another indicator of employee attitude is the large increase in respondents working for small companies—13% in 2016 vs. 7% in 2015—and a corresponding drop from 27% to 21% in the number of people working for companies with from 1,001 to 10,000 employees.


Those respondents who chose to comment very often cited financial aspects related to their job. One anonymous person said “… the H1B visa program is killing the job market for talented and experienced engineers.” Another, “… [felt] like every year we do more with fewer people.” And yet another said that his company and a separate company had merged, resulting in many changes and less job security.

However you weight these and the many other factors that have been discussed, engineers do what they do because they like to. Technical challenges fascinate them, so salary isn’t the same kind of motivator as it is for a salesman. Nevertheless, salary is an important contributor to job satisfaction as are the benefits a company offers such as insurance, a pension plan, flextime, and childcare.

Are you a ‘work martyr’?

That, according to Robert J. Samuelson at The Washington Post, is the travel industry’s term for employees who don’t use all their vacation days.

Research by a travel industry initiative called Project: Time Off found that since about 2000, the average days of vacation taken by a full-time American employee has fallen from more than 20 days to 16.2 days in 2015—leaving a total of 658 million vacation days unused.

Samuelson at the Post suggests that people might be forgoing vacation because of the uncertain state of the U.S. labor market. However, he notes, the trend is not reversing as the labor market improves. He also comments on connectivity, which blurs the boundaries between work and the rest of life.

Project: Time Off cites several reasons employees have left vacation time on the table, including fear of returning to a mountain of work (37%) and the belief that no one else can do the job (30%).

Perhaps this paragraph from Samuelson best sums it up: “We Americans have a confused and contradictory relationship with vacation. In theory, we love it; in practice, we often dread it. So much expectation is heaped on a few weeks of free time that disappointment, if not inevitable, is common. Worse, our escape from the job and daily routine fills us with anxiety that, somehow, this interlude will inflict a gruesome revenge once we return to work.”1Rick Nelson


  1. Samuelson, R. J., “Are you a ‘work martyr’?” The Washington Post, June 19, 2016.
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