Money Train Doesn't Curb Job Worries

2005 Salary and State-of-Mind Survey Reveals Pay for Machine Control Professionals Is on the Rise, Hands-On Experience Is on the Decline and Jobs Are in Jeopardy From Outsourcing

By Rick Pedraza

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August 2005, cover imageThe results of our 2005 Salary and State-of-Mind Survey show that salaries of machine design professionals have held steady for the third year in a row and are now nearly 10% higher than they were before the economic slowdown that occurred in the manufacturing sector after 9/11.

After a modest downturn last year, the reported average salary this year is $72,906, up 2.5% from last year, and slightly above the survey’s highest level of $72,441 from 2003.

While salaries overall remained consistent, skepticism over skills erosion and outsourcing occurring throughout the manufacturing industries has created an uncomfortable level of uncertainty and pessimism among industry veterans. Most seasoned engineers still are trying to deal with the downsizing that occurred after the last industry recession.

A Fitful Future
“I am close to retirement, so hopefully I’m safe,” was the hope of a mechanical engineer in his early 60s who works for an air and gas compressor manufacturing company in North Carolina. “One of my sons already dropped out of engineering for a more secure job in sales forecast analysis,” he said. “My other son is an engineer and has been downsized by three major companies so far and is on notice that his current company also is considering downsizing.”

Although the economic recovery has been slower than expected (see National Association of Manufacturers Survey), results of a recent survey by the National Association of Manufacturers shows that the vast majority of manufacturing executives (92%) still remain optimistic about the growth of their own businesses. In addition, nearly half polled plan to increase their headcounts over the next six months, and 90% report being on pace to meet or exceed their sales targets.

There’s some evidence of this in the survey. “We were laying off 12 months ago, but started hiring again this past February,” said Eric Lund, a mechanical engineer at Michigan-based Burr Oak Tool and Gauge.

Guilty of Profiling
As our typical machine control professional, you are, based on our data, a Caucasian male between the ages of 46 and 55. You live in the U.S. (at least for now) and work in a large state like California or Texas, or Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan or Illinois. You’re married; you have kids; and you earned as Bachelor’s degree in electrical or mechanical engineering.

You’ve been working in engineering and machine design a while now--many of you well into your second decade. You put in a full 40-hours of work each week, often times more, mostly performing engineering and system integration services. You’ve been with several companies during your career--as many as three or four – but you’ve been at your current job for about ten years.

“I like where I am right now,” said one respondent who has many years in the industry. “My only compensation is salary, but it is a good salary. I entered control system design from the process control side, not the electrical side. I figure someone has to know how the processes work.”

Longer in the Tooth
For the first time in this survey’s five year history, the average age of the respondent climbed into the 46-55 year-old bracket (31.9%). In fact, there now are more of you in the 55-and-older group (19%) than in the 26-35 year-old group (15.6%). Does this speak to a growing infusion of fresh, new engineers. Probably not. It’s more likely that the pool at top of age scale is disappearing, simply making the other age groups represent a bigger percentage of a diminishing total. Gender is still overwhelmingly male at 95%, and 92% of the males surveyed are Caucasian, followed by Hispanic (3.5%), Asian (2.7%) and African American (0.7%).

Electrical engineering led the way (35.4%) as the degree most of you pursued, followed by mechanical engineering (just over 20%). Only 5.3% come from an industrial engineering background, and just 3.2% from math or physics. The rest, and there are a lot of you (32.3%), consist of degrees in chemical engineering, industrial/mechanical design, computer science, or business. Some even come from backgrounds in geology, animal science and journalism. Dad must’ve known somebody at the plant.

While only one in 10 of you carry a P.E., most everyone (nearly 80%) belongs to at least one professional engineering society, with ISA, ASME and IEEE leading the way.

And Now for Some Bad News
We know surveys can be highly subjective, but when asked a series of questions to gauge overall job satisfaction, a majority responded that they were mostly satisfied in their positions (64.2%). Others sought more challenging work, or didn’t feel appreciated enough.

Job Satisfaction/Angst
Almost half of all respondents said challenging work is what gives them the most job satisfaction, followed by being appreciated for a job well-done (17.1%). Salaries and benefits was of primary importance to just 16.2%, indicating most are comfortable with those aspects of their jobs. Opportunity for advancement polled low, at 8.2% and job security as a primary influence on job satisfaction only registered with 11.6%.

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