01 October 2002
Incomes can soar if engineers take charge.
By Gregory Hale
No doubt about it. Times are tough for engineers right now. But for engineers who want to take charge of their careers, it is very apparent that the more education and credentials you have, the more money you will be able to sock away in the bank.
It is a simple fact: When an economy is facing hard times, enrollments at schools and universities rise. The numbers show it may be a profitable decision. The median annual income for someone with a B.S. in engineering is $77,000, while a master's in engineering degree brings a salary of $82,333, according to the "National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) 2002 Income & Salary Survey Report." If you have a master's in engineering and an MBA, you can bring in $95,100.
If you go all the way and earn your doctorate in engineering, expect to earn about $105,500-up $3,743 from a year ago. The difference in salary between a doctorate and a bachelor's degree is 37%.
Richard Hucke, president of Richard W. Hucke Co., an industry recruiting firm based in Raleigh, N.C., couldn't agree more that the more education engineers have, the better chance they have of keeping their job or getting hired. "It is a matter of how far you want to go in your career," he said. "The more credentials you have, the better off you are."
Obviously, Hucke said, that means engineers have to go beyond the training they received in engineering school.
"A technical engineer will be in that job forever and will continue up the ladder until he tops out at around $80,000. But the guy that has an MBA-and can manage others-can jump over the rungs in the ladder. Then the other, more entrepreneurial people that can see business trends and bring in revenue, they can name their price."
One problem William Radin, president of Cincinnati-based industry search firm Radin Associates, sees is that this recession is different than the one that hit in the early '90s.
There is no growth in jobs, he said. "[Workers] right now don't want to risk losing something they know is safe, so they don't leave their current jobs for something new. People are just cocooning."
From the other perspective, some companies are satisfied with mediocre performance, Radin said, because they know what they have. "They don't seem willing to take a risk to get better results."
TIME MEANS MONEY
If you want to earn more, years of experience always helps put more money in your pocket.
An engineer just out of school with less than one year of experience will earn $46,000, while someone with 30 years or more of experience in the books brings home $98,436, according to the NSPE report. The biggest jump in salaries occurs between nine and 10 years of experience. The median salary for an engineer with nine years of experience is $60,700, while an engineer with 10 years of experience makes $75,857.
But on the whole, median salaries for engineers jumped 3.8% this year to $81,964 from $79,000 in 2001, the salary survey showed.
What branch of engineering earns the most? For a petroleum engineer, the median income comes in at $105,900, down from a median last year of $114,616. The second-highest median income is a nuclear engineer coming in at $105,000. Lowest is an agricultural engineer at $69,900.
Hucke said in his practice he sees civil engineers doing quite well. "The feds are still spending a lot of money on infrastructure, and especially with some of the antiterrorism moves, civil engineers are finding jobs." On the downside, though, is the part of Hucke's practice that deals with environmental engineers. He said that area "has totally fallen off."
The level of salaries Hucke said he is placing range from $65,000 up to about $120,000. The more credentials an engineer has, the higher the salary, Hucke said. "A good civil engineer with a P.E. is hard to find."
What Hucke said appears to agree with the NSPE report. Respondents who have a P.E. license and are certified in other areas earn more income. A P.E. with a forensic engineering degree earns a median income of $112,250 vs. $84,000 with just a P.E. And a P.E. with an environmental engineering certificate earns a median income of $92,500.
Breaking down engineering by job functions, it is obvious executives make the most with a median salary of $110,200. However, an engineer with a function of "project management/engineering/operations" makes a median salary of $80,000. A consulting title brings in a salary at $78,500.
If you are an engineer in the coal products industry, your median income comes in at $119,000, followed by the petroleum/natural gas products industry at $101,806. If you work at a private chemical engineering firm, you are the paid the lowest at $63,500.
As an engineer's level of responsibility increases, so too does the salary level. If you supervise 10-49 professionals, your median salary is $98,100, up from last year's $90,307. Similarly, if you supervise three to four professionals, you earn $78,000.
When it comes to salary levels, the old real estate axiom holds true. It's all about location, location, location. If you live in the Middle Atlantic states-New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware-you earn a median salary of $90,500. It comes as no surprise that if you live in the Upper Mountain states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, you earn the lowest wage at $64,000.
While the East Coast is the region that pays the most, San Francisco is the city that leads in pay, with income levels at $113,500, followed by New York at $107,500 and Bergen-Passaic, N.J., at $105,850. The city with the lowest level of pay is Sioux Falls, S.D., at $60,400. Sarasota-Bradenton, Fla., at $64,545 and Toledo, Ohio, and Joplin, Mo., at $65,000 round out the lower end of the spectrum. IT
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