The 2012 compensation survey

June 2012 » Features » SPECIAL REPORT
A salary mixed bag across the engineering industry.
Christina M. Zweig
Three ZweigWhite 2012 Salary Survey reports cover engineering firms in three major regions – Northeast & South Atlantic, Central, and Mountain & Pacific.

No generalizations can be made about the salaries of structural engineers this year! While certain positions have seen an increase, others have decreased, and some regional variations are definitely present. Even in situations where base salaries haven't gone up, changing workplace practices and an increase in incentive compensation may be bringing financial benefits to firms and employees alike.

For this article, we are breaking the data up by job title and location in comparing the last five years of salaries. Overall salaries don't show large changes this year when compared to last year. However, significant disparities occur when job title and geography are taken into account.

Compensation methods
According to ZweigWhite's "2012 Principals, Partners & Owners Survey," base salaries for principals are on the rise again after dipping significantly last year. Principals' median base salary dropped to $120,000 in 2011, after climbing from $130,000 in 2009 to $140,000 in 2010. The 2012 report finds that principals' median base has reached a five-year high of $150,000. Though regional and engineering discipline-specific data doesn't follow such an extreme trend, it reflects a growing sense of optimism. According to the survey, 51 percent of principals believe the business environment will be "somewhat better" in 2012, 14 percent believe it will be much better, 25 percent think it will be the same, 6 percent believe it will be somewhat worse, and 1 percent worse.

Still, in 2011, 21 percent of firms implemented pay cuts for principals. The principal pay cut was a median of 20 percent.

A changing workplace is creating financial benefits that aren't always reflected in base-salary increases. ZweigWhite's "2012 Policies, Procedures & Benefits Survey" found that a little less than 50 percent of all firms allow "telecommuting" – as a result, overtime pay was reduced to 31 percent of exempt employees. Savings are evident to not only the company, but for the employee as well. The employee saves money on gas and car maintenance, while the company saves money on time, productivity costs, travel expenses, relocation and, ultimately, turnover, states an April 23 issue of The Zweig Letter, ZweigWhite's weekly management publication.

Pointing to the effects a flexible approach on telecommuting can have on productivity, in the article, Marisa Lynskey, human resources director for Project Time and Cost, Inc., an international team of cost engineers, program managers and forensic consultants in Atlanta, Ga., said PTC has had a telecommuting policy since 1996 and 50 percent of the firm's 230 staff members take advantage.

"We have a good deal of employees who have far commutes or are not near any of our offices. Instead of losing them due to several factors, we can provide this option, giving them the opportunity for work-life flexibility, higher productivity and, in the whole scheme of things, an overall job satisfaction that becomes a win-win for all parties involved," Lynskey said.

Salary by region
The following information was gleaned from ZweigWhite's "2012 Salary Survey of Central Engineering Firms," "2012 Salary Survey of Mountain & Pacific Engineering Firms" and "2012 Salary Survey of Northeast & South Atlantic Engineering Firms."

Central – In the Central region of the United States, the median salary for entry level structural engineers increased slightly from 2011 to 2012. The median salary for project engineers, project managers, and principals saw decreases of 4.5 percent, 5.8 percent and 7.7 percent, respectively. Median salaries for department managers, on the other hand, increased about 4 percent (see Table 1). The median number of years of experience for each of these professions is as follows: entry level: 4 (a two-year increase over the previous year); project engineer: 10; project manager: 15; department manager: 25 (a six-year increase); and principal: 25.

Table 1: Median structural engineer staff annual base salary, Central region
Title

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

Central Region
Entry level

$50,058

$49,869

$50,000

$50,000

$51,000

Project engineer

$67,369

$66,165

$66,560

$69,316

$66,144

Project manager

$81,302

$79,295

$79,900

$85,000

$80,000

Department manager

$99,942

$96,232

$101,000

$96,660

$100,500

Principal

$119,226

$114,726

$123,760

$130,000

$120,000

SOURCE: ZweigWhite

Mountain and Pacific – In the Mountain and Pacific regions of the United States, the median salary for entry level structural engineers increased by 3.7 percent and for project engineers it increased drastically to almost 12 percent, from 2011 to 2012. Median salaries for principals decreased significantly, almost 18 percent. Department managers and project managers saw marginal decreases in median salaries. The median number of years of experience for each of these professions was similar to last year, as follows: entry level: 4; project engineer: 10; project manager: 15; department manager: 25; and principal: 25.

Table 2: Median structural engineer staff annual base salary, Mountain and Pacific region.
Title

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

Mountain & Pacific Region
Entry level

$53,500

$53,186

$51,771

$53,000

$55,000

Project engineer

$71,732

$70,300

$69,645

$68,238

$76,400

Project manager

$90,845

$85,025

$90,000

$82,600

$80,000

Department manager

$104,649

$98,101

$90,000

$111,000

$100,860

Principal

$122,500

$139,554

$116,000

$128,000

$105,000

SOURCE: ZweigWhite

Northeast and South Atlantic – Structural engineers in the Northeast and South Atlantic regions of the United States saw very small median salary increases at the entry level. The same applies to project engineers and project managers. Department managers saw median salary decreases of 2.7 percent and principals saw median salary decreases of a little more than 9 percent. Like last year, the median number of years of experience for each of these professions is lower than in the other regions, as follows: entry level: 3; project engineer: 9; project manager: 18; department manager: 25; and principal: 25.

Table 3: Median structural engineer staff annual base salary, Northeast and South Atlantic region
Title

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

Northeast & South Atlantic Region
Entry level

$50,808

$51,793

$52,100

$53,322

$53,560

Project engineer

$67,029

$66,301

$68,500

$69,687

$71,500

Project manager

$82,009

$84,009

$90,000

$86,788

$87,256

Department manager

$102,948

$104,703

$110,000

$108,940

$106,000

Principal

$128,969

$125,963

$123,000

$127,185

$115,648

SOURCE: ZweigWhite

Even in situations where base salaries haven't gone up, changing workplace practices and an increase in incentive compensation may be bringing financial benefits to firms and employees alike.

About the surveys
The second edition of ZweigWhite's "Salary Survey of Central Engineering Firms" combines what previously consisted of two reports on salary trends in the North and South Central regions. This report shows base salaries for employees in engineering firms throughout Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. The "Salary Survey of Central Engineering Firms" has been prepared in partnership with eight state chapters of the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC/IL, ACEC/KS, ACEC/MO, ACEC/WI, ACEC/LA, and ACEC/MS). A total of 115 firms completed the questionnaire for the 2012 "Salary Survey of Central Engineering Firms."

The second edition of ZweigWhite's "Salary Survey of Mountain & Pacific Engineering Firms" combines what previously consisted of two reports on salary trends in the Mountain and Pacific regions. This report shows base salaries for employees in engineering firms throughout Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, Hawaii, and Guam. A total of 65 firms completed the questionnaire for this survey.

The third edition of ZweigWhite's "Salary Survey of Northeast & South Atlantic Engineering Firms" combines what previously consisted of two reports on salary trends in the Northeast and South Atlantic regions. This report shows base salaries for employees in engineering firms throughout Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, District of Columbia, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Puerto Rico. The "Salary Survey of Northeast & South Atlantic Engineering Firms" has been prepared in partnership with six state chapters of the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC/CT, ACEC/GA, ACEC/MA, ACEC/NY, ACEC/SC, and the Florida Institute of Consulting Engineers (FICE)). A total of 115 firms completed the questionnaire for this survey.

Survey participants were asked to select the state or region of their firm's office. Participants in firms with multiple offices completed separate questionnaires based on employees' locations, regardless of the firm's headquarters. Therefore, all data in these reports is based on the location of each employee.

It also is important to note that the data provided in this article is broken out into median values. The median is the middlemost value of all the responses, meaning that half the responses are equal to or greater than the median and half are equal to or less than the median. Since the mean can be offset easily by outliers (extremely high or low values), ZweigWhite almost exclusively uses medians when presenting numeric data.

Christina M. Zweig is a contributing editor. She can be contacted at christinaz@zweigwhite.com.


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