Ask a group of employees in almost any profession today about work demands and compensation, and from many you are likely to hear, "Overworked and underpaid!" While the results from CE News’ 6th Annual Salary Survey won’t settle any arguments about whether civil engineers deserve better compensation, it does provide some context for the discussion. But for approximately half of those who analyze these results—engineers who receive more than the median salaries, bonuses, and raises reported here—it also provides less reason to complain.
To help you compare how colleagues with similar backgrounds and work situations fare in the civil engineering job market, compensation is broken down in as much detail as the data reasonably allows (see Survey method). The 2004 survey results present civil engineers’ reported salaries, bonuses, and raises by years of experience in the private and public sectors (Table 1) and by position or title (Table 2). In addition, several graphs highlight other differences in compensation between engineers employed in large and small companies, and in the private and public sectors.
A listing of median salaries by state is available on the CE News website at the end of the article. However, there is insufficient data to provide a breakdown of salaries by experience level in each state.
By the numbers
Compared with last year’s survey (May 2003 issue; also available online at the address above), median salaries in the private sector generally increased for experienced engineers, but entry-level salaries (0 to 2 years experience) decreased about 6 percent. Contributing to this decrease is the fact that this year only about two-thirds of respondents with 0 to 2 years of experience said they received a raise during the past 12 months, compared with 85 percent from this group last year. For those who did get a raise, however, the median percentage increase was a healthy 5 percent to 6 percent (Table 1).
Across the board—in all except the 5- to-7 and 8-to-10 year experience brackets in the private sector—fewer survey respondents received raises during the past 12 months than in the previous survey. Although fewer engineers reported raises in their base salary or wage, significantly more private-sector engineers said they received a bonus or commission last year. The reason for this trend could be that engineering firm managers were reluctant to increase salaries in an unstable economy, although it was rebounding in many parts of the country.
Even though they didn’t want to commit to salary increases during uncertain times, firm leaders were able to reward employees with one-time bonuses for their performance and, in many cases, their hard work following downsizing events. Additionally, it could be that many firms experienced a more successful year than expected, and their leaders compensated the civil engineers for their contributions. Finally, this trend could indicate that firms are tending to increase the linkage—at all levels of experience—between company financial performance or project success and total compensation for civil engineering professionals.
Interestingly, civil engineers at smaller organizations, measured in terms of total number of employees, reported greater percentage raises than their counterparts at larger companies (Figure 1). The reported range of raises, indicated by the spread between the first quartile (Q1) and third quartile (Q3) values in Figure 1, also is broader at smaller companies. And if raises are any indication of success, self-employed civil engineers enjoyed a very good year. Unfortunately, there is not enough data to develop a meaningful comparison of compensation at different-sized companies according to years of experience. Ranking the percentage of respondents who received salary increases in terms of employer type, military engineers fare best since all of those respondents who are employed by the military received raises during the past 12 months. Utility employees are second with 89 percent of these engineers reporting raises. At the bottom of the ranking are transportation department (DOT) engineers, of which only 52 percent said they got a raise in the last year.
DOT employees and municipal/county employees also drew the short straw when it comes to bonuses; only 13 percent and 18 percent of these engineers, respectively, said they received bonuses. Within the latter category, 21 percent of city engineers and 11 percent of county engineers responding to the survey reported receiving bonuses (Table 2).
Overall, a significantly lower proportion of public-sector civil engineers than private-sector ones reported receiving bonuses last year. Plus, the bonuses that were distributed to the public employees were significantly smaller than the ones given to their private-sector counterparts (Table 1).
This data, coupled with that showing lower median salaries overall for publicly employed civil engineers, indicates that this group generally earns less income than do privately employed civil engineers. Engineers with up to four years of experience deviate from this rule, however, as this year’s respondents in that experience range earned marginally greater compensation in the public sector. Differences in median total compensation increase with the level of experience (Figure 2). Survey respondents’ median total compensation is defined here as median salary plus median bonus.
Also noteworthy is the finding that a smaller proportion of the respondents to the CE News survey who have fewer than 10 years of experience reported working for public employers, compared with those who have more than 10 years of experience (Figure 3). This may reflect the fact that a greater proportion of jobs in the public sector require more experienced civil engineers. Also, tight state and local budgets, as well as increased outsourcing of public works positions and projects to private firms, could account, in part, for this trend. Additionally, there could be a relative decrease during the last decade in public-sector jobs for civil engineers.
Education also appears to make a difference in salary for civil engineers at all levels of experience. In particular, respondents with a master’s degree reported median salaries about 7 percent greater than equally experienced respondents who only have a bachelor’s degree. There was insufficient data to calculate median salaries at each experience level for respondents with Ph.D.’s or a master’s of business administration (MBA). However, data for respondents with more than 11 years of experience is shown below for comparison purposes:
- the 877 respondents with a bachelor’s degree earned a median salary of $79,100;
- the 448 respondents with a master’s degree (but not an MBA) earned a median salary of $81,820;
- the 94 respondents with an MBA (and who also may have a master’s in another discipline and/or a Ph.D.) earned a median salary of $88,730; and
- the 24 respondents who earned a Ph.D. (but not an MBA) earned a median salary of $92,625.
All in a week’s work
Civil engineers in the private sector may enjoy opportunities for greater compensation, but it appears that the old adage holds true—time is money. Almost 80 percent of privatesector engineers responding to the CE News survey said they work more than 40 hours per week, and almost 40 percent work more than 45 hours per week (Figure 4). By comparison, about 60 percent of public-sector engineers reported working more than 40 hours per week, and only 24 percent work, on average, more than 45 hours each week.
Salaried employees comprise about three-fourths of both private- and public-sector engineers responding to the CE News survey, with hourly employees making up the other one-fourth. Nineteen percent of salaried engineers in both sectors reported being eligible for overtime pay. However, 74 percent of salaried, private-sector respondents said they receive no overtime compensation, and 7 percent claim time off as the only overtime compensation option. For salaried, public-sector respondents, 58 percent receive no overtime compensation, and 23 percent reported that additional time off was the only option offered for overtime compensation.
Not surprisingly, hourly employees fare better when it comes to overtime compensation. Only 12 percent of hourly workers in both sectors reported that they receive no compensation for overtime. However, comp time seems to be the more prevalent form of recompense in the public sector. Twenty-six percent of hourly, public-sector engineers reported they only receive time off for overtime compensation, 25 percent receive additional pay, and 37 percent can choose either extra pay or comp time. In the private sector, only 5 percent of respondents who are paid hourly said comp time was the only option for overtime, 69 percent receive extra pay, and 14 percent can choose money or time off.
Don’t forget benefits
So, how do you compare? If you come up short on salary, don’t forget the other side of the compensation coin—benefits. Employer provided insurance policies, retirement plans, stock ownership, tuition reimbursement, and other perquisites are not included in the numbers presented here, and they can be a significant part of an engineer’s total compensation. (Results of the benefits section of the CE News survey will be published in a future issue.)
Additionally, intangibles such as the daily work environment, geographic location, professional challenge, personal recognition, and friendships with coworkers all contribute to job satisfaction. They can’t pay the mortgage or put food on the table, but the intangibles often make the overworked-and-underpaid syndrome more bearable, at least for a while.
Invitations to participate in the CE News 6th Annual Salary Survey were delivered by email to 25,058 CE News subscribers. Participants accessed an online survey using a link in the invitation. There were 2,450 useable responses (9.8 percent response rate), including 1,794 from employees in the private sector and 656 from employees in the public sector. Following are the number of respondents (private/public) included in tabulations for each experience level: 0 to 2 years: 82/18; 3 to 4 years: 174/29; 5 to 7 years: 271/66; 8 to 10 years: 280/54; 11 to 15 years: 262/103; 16 to 20 years: 207/117; 21 to 25 years: 181/100; 26 to 30 years: 156/73; and 31years or more: 181/96.
2004 CE News Salary Survey: Median Salary by State
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