Year after year, engineers are ranked among the highest-paid professionals in the U.S., both in terms of starting and mid-career salary.
In honor of National Engineers Week (Feb. 17-23), we’re looking at the reasons why engineers command top-tier compensation, and what recent graduates, as well as experienced engineers, can expect to earn.
Engineering Degree Realities
Good news for those about to graduate with engineering degrees: your education is going to pay off more than most other majors, despite the fact that the cost of college tuition continues to rise faster than many families can keep up with. Multiple sources report that careers in engineering pay well above the national average and become increasingly lucrative as experience builds over time.
According to a 2018 report from consulting firm Korn Ferry Hay Group, the average salary for recent college grads is $50,390, which is a meager 2.8% increase from 2017’s average salary of $49,000. Meanwhile, student debt continues to soar – according to Student Loan Hero, a student debt management and consulting agency, 69% of the Class of 2018 graduated with student loans that averaged out to $29,800.
However, according to PayScale, entry-level engineering positions for recent grads yield an average starting salary of $69,000, depending on engineering type and location. In fact, out of their top 10 top paying degrees, half of them are engineering degrees.
Mid-Career Engineer Salaries
The long-term earning potential for engineers is among the strongest in the U.S. job market, with several types of engineering being among some of the top paying professions across the country. Topping the list is petroleum engineering, which, according to PayScale, has the potential to reach a mid-career salary high of $244,000.
Ranked by median salary according to the United States Department of Labor (USDL), the top-paying engineering fields are:
|Electrical and Electronics Engineering||$97,970|
|Mining and Geological Engineering||$94,240|
|Health and Safety Engineering||$88,510|
Why Do Engineers Make So Much?
Their high earnings are commensurate with the role’s required technical skills, which are extremely high in demand. Furthermore, many industries are becoming more technical in nature, which also drives up the need for engineers with both unique technical skills and soft skills.
Although the national unemployment rate is at an all-time low, many industrial employers report being unable to fill a high number of open engineering positions. Known as the skills gap, hiring managers and CEOs attribute this disparity to a lack of qualified candidates. Engineers are well paid to aid in recruitment and to recognize their unique skill set in the industry.
The Impact of Continuing Education on Salary
Once they're out of school and working, one of the biggest challenges engineers face is keeping up with the fast-paced evolution of technology and industry.
To maintain relevancy and sharpen their competitive edge, many engineers spend a portion of their careers expanding their knowledge and skillsets through continued training and education, including college courses, seminars, and conferences.
While even just a bachelor’s degree in engineering is a worthwhile investment, higher degrees carry greater earning power. For example, according to PayScale, the median salary for a mid-level mechanical engineer with a master’s degree is $97,000, with an average salary of $93,000, and a range of $75,000 to $127,000.
There are also a wide variety of certifications and licenses that engineers can obtain, such as a Professional Engineer license, which yields a median salary of $96,000.
In the Architecture and Engineering section of their Occupational Outlook Handbook, the USDL predicts that engineering jobs will increase by 7% between 2016 and 2026, meaning that not only is the engineering field a massively lucrative one, it’s also teeming with opportunity.
This article was originally written by Christian Bonawandt and updated by Kristin Manganello.
Image Credit: Pand P Studio / Shutterstock.com