One of the most interesting aspects of operating an engineering staffing firm is the firsthand opportunity to witness trends in engineer salaries for the most common and popular engineering disciplines.
Job-seekers and employers constantly seek to keep pace with the ever-changing engineering salary landscape, to ensure they position themselves to maximize their investment, no matter what side of the interview desk they’re on.
In this article, we explore what engineering job seekers can anticipate earning and what engineering employers can anticipate paying in 2017. We base trends on our deep experience of working with small to mid-size engineering firms and divisions that employ up to 500 employees in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
The five key engineering disciplines we examine include Mechanical Engineers, Chemical Engineers, Electrical Engineers, Quality Engineers, and Manufacturing Engineers. Generally and within each discipline, we explore some of the key factors and nuances that can affect salary and benefits. Company factors such as size, location, and industry type, and employee factors such as education, experience, and industry can all affect compensation.
The information we present – from work-trend observations to salary-trend approximations – is based on our unique perspective and experience in working with hundreds of engineering employee candidates and small to mid-size employers throughout Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island each year.
General Projections for 2017 Engineer Salaries
Based on our firm’s historic data as well as the emerging trends we’re seeing, we anticipate that these three general factors will affect engineer salaries in the greater Boston area – as well as all of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire – in 2017:
1) Company Location
Historically in Massachusetts, the majority of engineering career opportunities were located within the radius of Route 128 around Boston. However, as the cost of living and doing business has steadily increased, we’ve seen opportunities spread throughout Massachusetts, outside the radius of Route 495, and to the adjoining states of New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
Many of the highest paying engineering opportunities remain in the Boston/Cambridge area – often with 10-20% salary premiums depending on the industry, job title, and responsibilities – but employee candidates must consider the higher cost of living and lifestyle adjustments inherent in urban employment.
Engineer salaries in Massachusetts are typically toward the lower end of the scale in the western half of the state, as well as the northeast corner and south coast. Salary alone, however, often doesn’t tell the full story. Many progressive small to mid-size engineering firms are augmenting lower salaries with benefit packages of great value, as outlined in the “total compensation” section below.
2) Company Size
Salaries can vary greatly with company size, with some of the largest firms offering the highest starting salaries. A tradeoff of working for a larger firm is that salaries can plateau quickly, and engineers may not gain valuable opportunities to experience the diverse range of responsibilities that smaller firms typically offer. A tradeoff of working for a smaller firm is that there may be fewer opportunities for progression or promotion up the corporate ladder; however, there may still be tremendous opportunities for skills development.
3) Total Compensation Can be More Important than Straight Salary
To a much greater extent in today’s modern landscape of employee expectations and competitive company offerings, the concept of ‘total compensation’ has become a more important factor than straight salary level for many candidates. Company-paid benefit packages vary greatly between employers, with some packages equating to high monetary value. Forward-thinking small to mid-size companies are successfully attracting candidates by combining lower salaries with richer benefit packages, including company-paid medical/dental, additional vacation/PTO allowances, 401k match, tuition reimbursement, gym memberships, paternity leave, and more. The extent to which salary-enhancing benefits matter in a candidate’s career search varies widely from person to person.
Mechanical Engineer Salary Trends
Entry-level salaries for mechanical engineers have remained relatively flat for the past 10 years, typically in the range of $50 to $55K.
Factors that can boost entry-level salaries for mechanical engineers above this range include relevant cooperative (‘co-op’) education, graduate-level projects, a combined BS/MS degree, and course-study or degree augmentation of other engineering fields such as electrical, to gain electro-mechanical experience.
Co-op opportunities vary greatly in their range of responsibilities and potential value to an engineer’s job search. An example of a relevant co-op that might appeal to mechanical engineering students was recently found on the Northeastern University website. Here, a sample robotics co-op lists responsibilities that include: Assist engineers in design aspects of various autonomous underwater vehicles, while using design analysis including but not limited to buoyancy, vibration, stress, and pressure; Create concepts for vehicles that meet requirements desired by the customer; Investigate and correct problems in current vehicle designs; Clean up old models and drawings to ensure they are up to date; Clean up bills of materials to ensure that they are up to date and call out the correct parts for ease of manufacturability; Work with machine shops to have new parts created; Convert/create drawings in SolidWorks.” Note: Northeastern lists this as a typical example only; it does not represent a currently available position.
Relevant co-op or graduate-level project experience can boost the entry-level salary of a mechanical engineer to approximately $55K-$60K.
Mechanical Engineer Titles/Roles that Can Influence Salaries:
- Sales Engineers are potentially the highest-paid junior mechanical engineers, with typical entry salaries ranging from $60-70K. Sales isn’t a career path for everyone however, since it’s highly dependent on personality fit, and the salary structure is typically base plus commission, which is not attractive to some engineers.
- Electro-mechanical Engineers are also often paid at the higher end of the pay scale, due to their additional electrical engineering expertise.
- Design Engineers with 5 to 10 years of experience may anticipate earning $70-$90K, with a premium paid for experience with software programs such as SolidWorks or Inventor. To maintain salary gains, design engineers should participate in continuing education and earn certification in SolidWorks or other design programs.
- Analytical/Research Engineers should also become proficient with key design tools, in order to enhance their value to an employer.
- Project-based Engineers (Project Engineers and Project Managers) take on broader roles and responsibilities than strictly-design engineers. For example, project engineers are often involved in estimating, timeline establishment/scheduling, sales support, and more. Engineers with project-level responsibilities are generally paid more, and a mechanical engineer with project-level responsibilities and direct reports can easily earn in the range of $100-$120K.
Highest-paying Industries for Mechanical Engineers
Some of the key industries that compete — and pay the most — for mechanical engineering talent are Robotics, Medical Devices, and Pharmaceuticals (such as equipment selection, validation, and scale-up).
Electrical/Electronics Engineer Salary Forecast
In general, an entry-level electrical engineer can earn an annual salary of $55-$60K, which is slightly more than an entry-level mechanical engineer. Knowledge of electrical design software/coding can increase the salary potential to $65K.
Some of the highest-paid electrical engineers have programming skills, particularly with embedded controls/firmware expertise. Engineers in the field of robotics can earn $75-$85K with 3-5 years’ experience; approximately $100K with 7 years’ experience; and $120K+ for 10 years’ experience.
Electrical Engineer Titles/Roles that Can Influence Salary:
- Principal Engineer is the role that an electrical engineer more often earns with experience, instead of a project manager or staff manager role. However, electrical engineers can increase their salary potential if they develop their management skills and embrace management opportunities.
- Radio Frequency (RF)/Antenna Engineers continue to be in steady demand, with earnings potential of $80-$90K with 5+ years’ experience, and $100K with 8+ years’ experience.
- Acoustics Engineers typically earn salaries at the higher end of the spectrum. Acoustics engineers are often also mechanical engineers.
- Test Engineers, a subset of electrical engineers, are skilled in LABVIEW testing software. Testing is a broad field, with opportunities in equipment development, software development, compliance testing and more. The entry-level salary for a test engineer ranges from $50-$55K and increases to $80-$100K+ based on field-type and experience.
- Program Manager is a progressive role for electrical or mechanical engineers, frequently in the industries of medical devices, consumer products, and defense. These engineers typically earn upwards of $130K, since their roles involve coordinating cross-functional teams and projects.
Future Salary-growth Industries for Electrical Engineers
We anticipate that renewable/alternative energy will provide future salary growth for electrical engineering talent. Many new graduates have a keen interest in this field. The current salary potential is lower than many would like, due to fewer opportunities as this yet-immature industry experiences growing pains and seeks higher profitability; however, we expect higher potential for salary-growth as the industry matures.
Chemical Engineer Salary Projections
In Massachusetts, the most significant industry for chemical engineers is pharma/biotech. Other key industries include plastics and coatings, food and beverage, and to a lesser extent, the semi-conductor industry.
In general, entry-level chemical engineers can earn an annual salary of $50K ($45K if they begin their career in a research lab). Unlike other engineering disciplines, industry-type does not typically influence the initial salaries we are seeing offered to entry-level chemical engineers in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.
Salary levels for more experienced chemical engineer employee-candidates are generally based on the type and years of experience, with some industries paying slightly higher than others. For example, chemical engineers in the plastics and coatings and food and beverage industries can earn $90K with 10 years’ experience, while chemical engineers in the biotech/pharma industry can earn $100K with 10 years’ experience.
Various career paths are available within pharma/biotech, such as research and development/analysis, downstream processing, and upstream processing.
For experienced chemical engineers, consulting firms typically offer higher salaries. Specific or niche-industry experience can also attract lucrative salary opportunities.
Quality Engineer Salary Predictions
Because most quality engineers move into quality after starting their career in another discipline, many mid-to senior-level quality engineers have not earned Bachelor of Science degrees. Most junior-level quality engineers do, however, with the most common candidates earning BS/ME (Mechanical Engineering) or BS/IE (Industrial Engineering) degrees.
While we don’t see many employers offering opportunities for entry-level quality engineers (directly out of school), there are some signs that this may change. Recently, we have seen a trend toward more internship opportunities available in the quality field. We highly recommend internships for students considering a career in quality engineering, as it can make a candidate more appealing to firms seeking junior quality engineers.
Quality engineer candidates with 3 to 5 years’ experience are in demand, with typical offers in the $55 – $68K range depending on work experience and other factors such as internships.
Quality engineers in the medical device field may see a salary premium of $10K per year over those in commercial/industrial fields. A typical salary for a quality engineer with 5 to 8 years’ experience in the medical device field is $75-$90K, and we anticipate that this industry – as well as other highly regulated ones – will continue to pay a premium for candidates with specific backgrounds and expertise.
Quality Engineer Managers with 10+ years of experience can earn approximately $100K per year.
Other factors that help increase a candidate’s salary potential include earning certifications offered by the American Society for Quality (ASQ) such as Certified Quality Engineer (CQE), Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence (CMQ/OE), and Six Sigma Certification levels (Green, Yellow, and Black-belt).
Manufacturing Engineer Salary Trends
As with quality engineers, many mid-career and senior level manufacturing engineers do not have Bachelor of Science degrees, since traditionally they worked their way up the career ladder into this role.
Today, universities offer Bachelor of Science programs in in Manufacturing Engineering, and some employers seek candidates with a degree in BS/MET (Mechanical Engineering Technology) since the curriculum offers a hands-on approach that’s appealing to many employers. Manufacturing engineer candidates with hands-on manufacturing floor experience and the ability to program machinery are in higher demand. To this end, some BS/ME graduates also earn a minor in manufacturing to enhance their opportunity for success in this field. Plastics engineers and materials engineers are also included in manufacturing engineer category.
Entry-level manufacturing engineers typically start around $55K and by the time they have 7-10 years’ experience they may earn an annual salary of $90-$105K. As their role is involved in the fabrication of product and the improvement of related processes, some manufacturing engineers choose to follow a product engineering or quality path as their career progresses.
The Future Looks Bright
Whether you are an employer seeking engineering talent, or a candidate seeking an engineering career, your future will be bright – IF you thoughtfully consider your needs and wants, do your research, and passionately pursue the best fit for you.
- Employers should be prepared to articulate their engineering career opportunity to potential candidates, including the typical career path, responsibilities, level of involvement, and progression.
- Engineering employee candidates should be prepared to discuss their goals, education and experience, including their growth-progression as it relates to their chosen engineering discipline.