Did your engineering salary go up or down?

While base salaries dipped slightly, nonsalary compensation increased dramatically in this year’s salary survey

By Amara Rozgus, Editor-in-Chief and Amanda Pelliccione, Research Director November 30, 2021
Courtesy: Consulting-Specifying Engineer

The seventh annual Consulting-Specifying Engineer salary survey of mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection and lighting engineers shows that the average base annual salary in 2020 was $109,093, a slight decrease from the 2019 average of $111,729. Average nonsalary compensation was $20,893 in 2020, a 46% increase from the 2019 nonsalary compensation of $14,255.  

Courtesy: Consulting-Specifying Engineer

Half of all respondents said they worked at a consulting engineering firm, 13% work for an architectural engineering firm and 12% indicated they were either an in-house engineer for government agency, public utility company or industrial/commercial institutional firm. Only 8% indicated they worked for a design/build, construction/contracting firm. These numbers are based on the anonymous responses of professionals from a variety of engineering disciplines and at different levels in their professional career. 

Of these respondents, 89% are male, a slight dip from 91% last year. From the 2020 study results, 25% of respondents are 50 to 59 years old, 23% are 60 to 69 years old, 21% are 30 to 39 years old and 17% are 40 to 49 years old. This distribution creates an almost-normal bell curve with negative kurtosis.  

Younger staff, defined by the U.S. Department of Labor as 40 or younger, equate to 27% — about the same as last year’s survey respondents, which reported 29% in this age group. On the flip side, at the right end of the bell curve, 30% are 60 or older, a slight increase from 28% in the last reporting period.  

See Figure 1 for the comparison of age groups over the past several years. 

Figure 1: The age of survey respondents continues to remain on the older side; most respondents are older than 40. The average age of this year’s respondents is 51, a slight uptick from 50 years old last year. Courtesy: Consulting-Specifying Engineer

Challenges varied this year. At the top of the list was poor communication between consultants, architect, etc. at 56%. Next were:  

  • Not enough people working on a project (45%). 
  • Codes and standards (43%). 
  • Lack of training (41%). 

The good news is that total compensation has grown for the majority of respondents. As shown in Figure 2, compensation increased 1% to 4% for 40% of respondents, 5% to 9% for 13% of respondents and 10% or more for 9% of respondents. About a quarter (27%) saw no change in their compensation.  

When comparing compensation, the numbers changed again this year. Mechanical engineers brought in $133,211 in 2020, an increase from 2019 where they earned $118,987. Those who primarily specify fire protection/life safety systems earned $131,809 in 2020; this number has fluctuated from $153,836 in 2019 and $116,992 in the 2018 calendar year. Those who specify electrical/power systems made an average of $126,037 in 2020, an increase from $119,961 in 2019. Lighting system designers came in last, earning an average of $91,698, also a change from $125,676 in 2019 and closer to $93,818 in 2018. See the compensation tables for a more detailed breakdown.  

The average respondent has 25 years of experience, the exact amount reported in the last study. See Figure 3 for the number of years respondents have worked in their respective specialties.  

Figure 2: Most respondents to the study saw their total compensation increase 1% to 4%, as has been typical in previous years. Courtesy: Consulting-Specifying Engineer

COVID-19 impacts 

According to the survey, 10% of respondents are looking to change jobs in the next year and 20% aren’t sure, meaning about two-thirds of employees are not looking for a new position. Because this study was conducted well into the COVID-19 pandemic, reluctance to change to a new company is likely due to the wildly fluctuating job market and due to the rosy outlook for many engineering firms.  

During the pandemic, many things did not change: 

  • No effect on salary: 77%. 
  • No effect on workload: 59%. 
  • No remote work option: 25%. 

Several pandemic-related things changed for survey respondents between the last study and data collected this year: 

  • Required use of new online or virtual tools: 49% (an increase from 42%). 
  • Moved some work to remote work (working at home): 46% (an increase from 40%). 
  • Stopped travel completely: 32% (a decrease from 39%). 
  • Moved all work to remote work (working at home): 29% (a decrease from 37%). 
  • Changed company’s hiring practices: 17%. 
  • Seeking new clients and revenue options: 15%. 

 At the time of the study, 33% of respondents felt their firm was ahead of the competition, and 43% thought they were just pulling ahead — a big jump from 34%.  

 As seen in past studies, the vast majority of respondents are either very satisfied (39%) or satisfied (52%) with their jobs.  

Figure 3: The average number of years in the industry is 25, according to respondents from this year’s research study. Last year, it was also 25 years of experience. Courtesy: Consulting-Specifying Engineer

 Survey methodology 

A survey was emailed to Consulting-Specifying Engineer audience members and information was collected in August and September 2021. A total of 294 qualified responses were returned, with a margin of error of +/-5.7% at a 95% confidence level. Participants frequently had the option to select more than one response, thus totals do not always equal 100%.