How does your salary stack up?

Consulting engineers share information about compensation, accreditation, age, retirement goals, and business development via a national salary survey.

By Amara Rozgus and Amanda Pelliccione, Consulting-Specifying Engineer November 15, 2016

The second annual Consulting-Specifying Engineer salary survey of mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP), fire protection, and lighting engineers shows that the average base annual salary in 2015 was $99,283 and the average non-salary compensation was $14,378. Non-salary compensation was up 13% over 2014 numbers. These numbers are based on the anonymous responses of 374 people from a variety of engineering disciplines and at different levels in their professional career.

Of these respondents, 93% are male. The largest age groups responding include 50 to 54 years old (13%), 55 to 59 years old (13%), and 60 to 64 years old (19%).

Younger staff, defined by the U.S. Department of Labor as 40 or younger, equate to 20% of survey respondents. On the flip side, 45% of respondents are 50 to 64 years old, which should be a concern for several engineering firms as these seasoned engineers move out of the workforce and retire. See Figure 1 for the comparison of age groups between this year and last year.

The good news is that the economy continues to grow, and total compensation has grown for all respondents. As shown in Figure 2, compensation increased 1% to 4% for 52% of respondents, 5% to 9% for 21% of respondents, and 27% or more for 13% of respondents.

Respondents with professional accreditations earn the most. For instance, certified energy managers (CEM) earned $160,278 in total compensation (salary and non-salary) in 2015. Next on the list are commissioning experts (CxA or CxP) at $138,019, followed by fellows in professional organizations, such as ASHRAE and the Society of Fire Protection Engineers. The highest non-salary compensation in 2015 went to CEMs, earning these experts an additional $29,378 on top of their base salary.

The annual survey also records information about the size-based on total revenue-of the firms at which respondents work. Firms with total gross revenue of $10 million to $20 million pay the most, with salary and non-salary compensation equaling $148,096 for individual employees. Next are the slightly smaller firms ($5 million to $10 million), with total compensation at $128,647.

When looking at what people specified, those who primarily specify mechanical systems had the highest salaries in 2015, with total compensation coming to $118,314. The other core systems specified include electrical/power systems (earning $108,818), fire/life safety ($106,049), and lighting ($69,192). See the compensation tables for a more detailed breakdown.

Compensation tables

Job satisfaction

According to the survey, the roller coaster economy has caused 52% of engineers to shift jobs over the past 10 years. A little more than one-third (36%) of respondents have been working at their company less than 5 years, with 16% at the same company 5 to 9 years. Slightly unsettling is the fact that 37% of respondents plan to work fewer than 10 years before they retire. See Figure 3 for the number of years respondents have worked in their respective industries.

Of those who have shifted jobs in the past 10 years, their reasons include to obtain increased wages, additional accreditations and training to keep up with the industry, and additional professional development or business skills. The most popular professional development resources used are conferences/seminars (68%), online webcasts/webinars (66%), and professional organizations (57%), all a slight increase over last year.

In an increase over last year, 51% of respondents have a mentoring program at their firm; 39% have an official training program in place at their company, which is a slight decrease. A full 7 in 10 respondents personally mentor a junior staff member at their firm.

Also, job satisfaction among respondents remains extremely high. Thirty-nine percent are very satisfied and 53% are satisfied, for a total of 92% happy workers (that number was 88% in the last survey).

Some of this workplace satisfaction may be directly related to the fact that their company is doing a good job overall keeping up with technology and the economy. One-third (33%) of respondents feel their company is ahead of the competition, and 36% feel their firm is just pulling ahead.

Business development

The task of developing new business is spread across the board. According to respondents, it’s a mixed bag: Principals carry the bulk of the weight (47%), the CEO/president falls next in line (46%), and a dedicated business development manager also focuses on new business (41%).

The task of developing new clients and projects also is a source of discomfort in the workplace. Several respondents expressed concern about a lack of business acumen, marketing, and project management skills. That said, 69% of respondents’ work come from their firm’s repeat clients.

Survey methodology

A 54-question survey was e-mailed to Consulting-Specifying Engineer audience members, and information was collected Aug. 5 to 22, 2016. A total of 374 qualified responses were returned, with a margin of error of +/-5.1% at a 95% confidence level. Participants frequently had the option to select more than one response, thus totals do not always equal 100%.