Salaries fall slightly, job outlook remains high

Job satisfaction is high, and employees are generally positive. Compare your salary and company structure to find out where you stand against others in your field.
By Amara Rozgus November 13, 2018

The fourth annual Consulting-Specifying Engineer salary survey of mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP), fire protection (MEP/FP), and lighting engineers shows that the average base annual salary in 2017 was $104,036 and the average nonsalary compensation was $13,578. The average base salary fell by 2% as compared with the last report. Nonsalary compensation was down a dramatic 24% over 2016 numbers. About half (49%) of all respondents said they worked at a consulting engineering 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, 92% are male, a slight decrease from last year’s 94%. The largest age groups responding include 50 to 59 years old (31%), 60 to 69 years old (24%), and 40 to 49 years old (16%).

Younger staff, defined by the U.S. Department of Labor as 40 or younger, equate to 21% of survey respondents (a minor decrease from 23% last year). On the flip side, assuming people retire at 65, 18% of respondents are 65 years old or older, down from 21% in the last report. This, coupled with the lack of technical and professional development training at engineering firms, should be a concern for several engineering firms as their knowledge base is lost. See Figure 1 for the comparison of age groups over the past 3 years.

Many respondents seem to be content in their current positions; 88% indicated they have the same job title as they held last year. And half (51%) have worked for their current employer for 10 years or longer, which is up slightly from the previous report.

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 40% of respondents, 5% to 9% for 18% of respondents, and 10% or more for 12% of respondents. For the remaining respondents, 24% saw no change in salary; 6% saw a decrease.

When looking at what people specified, the compensation numbers shifted this year. Those who primarily specify fire/life safety systems had the highest salaries in 2017, with total compensation averaging $125,589 (it was $130,526 last year). The other core systems specified include electrical/power, earning an average of $115,939 (in first place at $136,299 last year); mechanical systems, earning an average of $119,456 ($115,519 last year); and lighting, earning an average of $100,015 ($109,771 last year).

Figure 2: Most respondents to the study saw their total compensation increase 1% to 4%.

Job satisfaction

According to the survey, 11% of respondents are looking to change jobs in the next year, and 18% aren’t sure, meaning close to one-third of employees could be moving to a new position. A little more than one-third (34%) of respondents have been working at their company less than 5 years, with 15% at the same company for 5 to 9 years. See Figure 3 for the number of years respondents have worked in their respective industries.

Shifting back to a previous report’s numbers, 53% of respondents have a mentoring program at their firm (it was 36% last year and 51% the previous year). To help junior staff members obtain the guidance they need, 71% of respondents personally mentor junior staff. This is good because 61% of respondents felt that college graduates do not understand products, systems, and their physical requirements or size as they enter the workforce. Also missing from college graduates’ skill sets are communication and project management skills plus an understanding of how to apply the theoretical knowledge learned in school. This is a disconnect from what firms are doing to train newer staff-only 38% have an official training program in place at their company.

Also, job satisfaction among respondents remains high for another year: 46% are very satisfied and 47% are satisfied. For this year’s Salary Survey, that’s a total of 93% of happy employees (that number was 95% in the last study, a slight dip).

Figure 3: The average number of years in the industry is 24, according to respondents from this year’s research study. Last year, it was 29 years of experience, showing that experienced employees are leaving for second careers or retirement.

Some of this workplace satisfaction may be directly related to the fact that their company is doing a good job overall. One-third (35%) of respondents feel their company is ahead of the competition, and 39% feel their firm is just pulling ahead. To keep individuals and their firms competitive, 76% of respondents feel they’re doing more work than they did 3 years ago.

The task of developing new business is spread across the board. According to respondents, the roles have shifted slightly in the previous year: principals now complete the most at 51% (45% last year); the CEO/president comes in second at 47% (slightly down from 49% last year); and a business development manager handles 42% of the workload (up from 33% for the last report).

Survey methodology

A survey was emailed to Consulting-Specifying Engineer audience members, and information was collected in August and September 2018. A total of 351 qualified responses were returned, with a margin of error of +/-5.2% at a 95% confidence level. Participants frequently had the option to select more than one response, thus totals do not always equal 100%.


Amara Rozgus
Author Bio: Amara is the Editor-in-Chief/Content Strategy Leader for Consulting-Specifying Engineer.