Research

Salaries remain flat, other compensation increases

Are your salary, bonuses and benefits on par with others in the industry? Review the latest data to learn where you rank among your peers
By Amara Rozgus, Editor-in-Chief, and Amanda Pelliccione, Director of Research, Consulting-Specifying Engineer, Downers Grove, Illinois November 25, 2019
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

The fifth annual Consulting-Specifying Engineer salary survey of mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection and lighting engineers shows that the average base annual salary in 2018 was $104,349 and the average nonsalary compensation was $16,358The average base salary was nearly flat compared with the previous report and nonsalary compensation was up approximately $3,000 over 2017 numbers, or an increase of 20.5%.  

About half (53%) of all respondents said they worked at a consulting engineering firm and 20% indicated they worked for an architectural engineering firmThese 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 respondents91% are maledown from last year’s 92% and a drop from 2016 results of 94%From the 2018 study results, the largest age groups are 55 to 64 years old (24%), 35 to 44 years old (22%) and 65 years or older (21%).In the previous study, the largest age groups responding were 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 30%, a dramatic increase from 21% of survey respondents in last year’s studyOn the flip side, assuming people retire at 65, 21% of respondents are 65 years old or olderup from 18% 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 technical expertise departs. See Figure 1 for the comparison of age groups over the past three 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 48, remaining flat from last year’s data. Courtesy: Consulting-Specifying Engineer

Many respondents seem to be content in their current positions; 88% indicated they have the same job title as they held last year and the year before. And half (48%) have worked for their current employer for 10 years or longerdown slightly from the previous report.  

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 46% of respondents, 5% to 9% for 18% of respondents and 10% or more for 14% of respondents.  

When comparing compensationthe numbers shifted yet again this year. Those who primarily specify electrical/power systems had the highest salaries in 2018, earning an average of $126,554 ($115,939 last study). The other core systems specified include mechanical systems, earning an average of $119,686 ($119,456 last study); fire/life safety, with total compensation averaging $116,992 (a drop from first place with $125,589 last study)and lighting, earning an average of $93,818 ($100,015 last study). See the compensation tables for a more detailed breakdown.  

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

Employee satisfaction 

According to the survey, 11% of respondents are looking to change jobs in the next year and 17% aren’t sure, meaning close to onethird of employees could be moving to a new position. About one-third (32%of respondents have been working at their company less than five years, with 20% at the same company for five to nine years, an increase over the last study’s 15%See Figure 3 for the number of years respondents have worked in their respective industries. 

Evening out with previous years51% of respondents have a mentoring program at their firm (over the past three reports, it was 53%36% and 51%, respectively). To help junior staff members obtain the guidance they need, 70% of respondents personally mentor junior staff. This is good because 59% of respondents felt that recent college graduates (Generation Z) 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 30% have an official training program in place at their company.  

Also, job satisfaction among respondents remains high for another year: 50% are satisfied and 40% are very satisfied. For this year’s study, that’s 90% of happy employees (that total number was 93% and 95% in the past two studiesa slight dip).  

Some of this workplace satisfaction may be directly related to the fact that their company is doing a good job overall. One-third (33%) of respondents feel their company is ahead of the competition and 36% feel their firm is just pulling ahead. To keep individuals and their firms competitive72% of respondents feel they’re doing more work than they did three years ago.  

To enhance employee retention, companies offer these five items most frequently: 

  • Vacation, sick leave, PTO, etc.: 81%. 
  • Health insurance benefits (at any level)78%. 
  • Flexible work schedule63%. 
  • Casual dress code60%. 
  • Life insurance57%. 

The task of developing new business is spread across the board. According to respondents, the roles have shifted slightly in the previous yearprincipals now complete the most at 56% (51% last study)the CEO/president comes in second at 44% (47% last study); and a business development manager handles 40% of the workload (42% last study) 

Figure 3: The average number of years in the industry is 23, according to respondents from this year’s research study. Last year, it was 24 years of experience, showing that numbers are starting to flatline. Courtesy: Consulting-Specifying Engineer

Survey methodology 

A survey was emailed to Consulting-Specifying Engineer audience members and information was collected in August and September 2018. A total of 314 qualified responses were returned, with a margin of error of +/-5.5% 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, Editor-in-Chief, and Amanda Pelliccione, Director of Research, Consulting-Specifying Engineer, Downers Grove, Illinois