How are you doing?

Our first OEM survey probes salary, satisfaction, and security.

By Dave Fusaro, Executive Editor

You: Single or married white male, 44, college degree in electrical engineering, living in Illinois, working an engineering design job, 11 ½ years at your current employer, fairly satisfied, earning $67,692 a year.

Seeking: A challenging job with security, more pay, hopefully fewer hours than the 45 you’ve been putting in. Maybe a bonus plan, too.

It may not be a match made in heaven, but so far this marriage of decent pay and hard work seems to be working out for CONTROL DESIGN readers. Our first salary and job satisfaction survey of industrial OEMs paints a reasonably positive picture. Most respondents are satisfied with their pay, rank challenging work as more important than salary and benefits (39% to 23%), and are content with their jobs (24% are very satisfied and 44.5% are fairly satisfied). Despite the shaky state of the economy, most feel secure in their jobs. In fact, just 41.2% of the survey’s respondents answered yes to the question "Are you concerned about job security?" leaving the majority apparently on solid ground.

"My job is not stressful, I work for fair and nice people, my boss doesn’t pressure me. I’m very happy here," writes a 37-45-year-old Georgia woman. A 46-53-year-old man in engineering and systems integration in Oregon offers: "My job is good because my supervisor lets me set priorities. There is a lot of interesting work in hydropower. I’d guess my salary is less than in private industry, but conditions and security are OK."

However, having been mailed after the first quarter of this year, with its stock market crashes of March 12 and 14 and obvious business slowdown, the survey’s job satisfaction and security answers should be as current as the news of the souring economy and layoffs all around these professionals. We received 341 responses in time for the tabulations and a dozen more after the deadline, some of which were included in verbatim responses in this story.

Splitting respondents among "machine-building industries," the largest category of respondents came from the engineering and systems integration service group: 24.3%. Other categories were spread thinly but evenly, with "materials handling, conveyors, and conveying equipment" leading the pack at 7.9%.

Men outnumbered women 27 to 1. There was almost as big a spread in salaries, with the men averaging $68,650 to $41,667 for the women. Whites comprised 92% of our response base.

Only eight respondents were under 28 years old. The average age was 44 ½.

What It Means to Salary

Among all those college graduates, there were 67 master’s degrees and five doctorates. Come salary time, those degrees really paid off. The relatively flat line of salaries ($53,750 to $59,111) in the four categories without a college degree (high school, technical school, some college, two-year college degree) jumped to $69,598 with a baccalaureate, $79,507 with a master’s degree, and $91,800 with a doctorate.

Even among those with college degrees, the field of study provided a fair amount of income disparity. Two-thirds of the respondents were engineering graduates of one sort or another, with industrial engineers making the most money ($81,643) and mechanical engineers at the low end ($67,603).

An Indiana man, between 46 and 53 years old, performing engineering design at a material handling/conveyor company, "worries about the younger engineers coming on board," who are being paid well. Rising starting salaries also are a concern to an Ohio man in the same age group, working at an industrial process furnace and oven operation, who notes, "Due to business conditions, we have not received any increases in almost three years."

"Our company history is to fire 50-60-year-olds," writes an engineering designer nervously entering that age group at a Pennsylvania mining machinery supplier.

While his concerns are widespread, it seems the new hires in this survey are not kids, even if they are being paid more than longtime employers. Those 27 years old and under are paid just $48,625 on average, but salaries jump to more than $60,000 over age 28.

"My biggest gripes are a low salary and minimal vacation, the result of changing jobs during an industry downturn," writes a 46-53-year-old man in applications engineering at a pumps and pumping equipment supplier in Minnesota. He’s earning somewhere between $51,000 and $55,000. "It's true that most companies will pay to hire you, but not pay you to stay. It's difficult to negotiate more than the standard two weeks of vacation, even if you are an older, more experienced employee."

Despite the usual critical comments, the overwhelming vote was in favor of both job satisfaction and a sense of job security.

Some of this satisfaction is due to good companies. "Even with the slow economy, we still have work to do," writes a 46-53-year-old man in management earning $76,000-$80,000 at a Missouri material handling/conveyor firm. A 37-45-year-old woman in engineering design adds, "My company is doing well despite a slowdown in this industry in this area (machine tools in Indiana) although I have been reduced to three days a week in the past (three years ago)." She earns $36-40K.

"I have an office with walls where I can think. That would be the hardest thing to part with if I changed jobs," says a licensed electrical engineer at an Ohio systems integrator.

And much of this positive attitude is due to self-assurance. "Even though the company is vulnerable, I do not feel concerned because I believe I could go elsewhere and do at least as well," writes a 54-60-year-old man, a licensed professional engineer with a master’s degree, earning $76,000-$80,000 at a Connecticut supplier of electrical wiring devices.

"I have job security because I have product knowledge, plenty of design and product proving experience, and a comparatively low salary," says a 61+-year-old man at an Illinois maker of industrial machinery. With only a two-year college degree, he was earning just $41-45K.

Sometimes even self-improvement doesn’t pay off. "After getting my MBA nothing happened—no raise, no promotion, nothing," writes a Wisconsin professional engineer designing mining machinery controls.

Of course, not everybody’s happy. "My company is in a very competitive environment. Success is in innovation and speed to market, but the competitiveness of this market limits profits. So those who receive higher salaries tend to work themselves out of a job," worries a 46-53-year-old man earning $66,000-$70,000 at Pennsylvania machine tool builder.

"I am not challenged in the least," adds a 28-36-year-old mechanical engineer at an Illinois hydraulic and electric door control firm. "I am concerned that I lose more knowledge from school every day that I don’t use it. I currently use less than 20% of the knowledge I gained in school."

"I work for a family-owned business and unfortunately I cannot see a relationship between performance and compensation," writes a frustrated 37-45-year-old man at Kentucky process equipment and distillation supplier.

"I currently work in a company run by fourth-generation management. He has squandered the company’s money. Raises don’t exist. But we have money for consultants and high-priced VPs," says a 46-53-year-old man at a New Jersey wire and cable machinery company. "My hope is the company will go out of business so I can get unemployment and my sanity back."

Some security depends upon the industry the company serves. "The semiconductor industry is extremely cyclical. You are always waiting for the shoe to fall," writes a 28-36-year-old electrical engineer in Texas. "There may not be any American jobs in the textile industry some day," warns a 37-45-year-old North Carolina man supplying that business.

"The steel industry currently has 19 companies in bankruptcy. This one is not as of yet, but close," writes a 54-60-year-old man working for a material handling/conveyor company but attached to a particular Indiana mill. He’s earning 81-99K. "It is questionable whether any will survive. There are opportunities for strong management to change the culture, work rules, and improve efficiency, but it appears the union culture has permeated the soul of management into an empty shell of denial and acceptance... As it walks into holocaust furnaces...willingly." Pretty poetic.

Sometimes being indispensable is a danger. "I would enjoy my job even more if I could have more time off," laments a 28-36-year-old man at an Indiana system integrator. "My boss has no problem with offering time off, but my customer base is so large [and still uses] old technology that they think I’m the only one who can fix their stuff."

We leave you with two of our favorites.

"Only from the idea is this company secure!" complains a 54-60-year-old male electrical engineer at a Connecticut industrial heating, refrigeration, and air conditioning equipment manufacturer. (133)

And this one from a 46-53-year mechanical engineer at an Indiana oil and gas compressor company: "It is just a job. When this one is gone, there will be another, even if it’s saying, ‘Welcome to Wal-Mart.’ "

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