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2020 Plant Engineering Salary Survey: Who we are, what we think and what we earn

By Kevin Parker February 17, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on plant engineers according to those who responded to the 2020 Plant Engineering Salary Survey. Courtesy: Plant Engineering

Engineers, managers and technicians who took part in the 2020 Plant Engineering salary survey (see link to survey at bottom of this article) are a set of highly trained workers who, at an average age of 53 years old, take home an average of more than $100,000 a year in annual compensation. They feel secure in their positions, as the U.S. lack of available skilled labor is a big constraint on their employers.

Survey results indicate non-salary compensation, such as an annual bonus, depends on subjective criteria expressed as a personal performance rating, and on the other hand, to company profit.

Other voices

In December 2020 manufacturing employment increased by 38,000, with gains in motor vehicles and parts (+7,000), plastics and rubber products (+7,000), and nonmetallic mineral products (+6,000), according to the U.S. Bureau of labor Statistics (BLS). By contrast, miscellaneous nondurable goods manufacturing lost 11,000 jobs over the month. Despite gains over the past 8 months, employment in manufacturing is 543,000 below its February level.

The BLS says a total of nearly 1.7 million engineers were employed in the U.S. in 2016, at a median annual wage of just more than $91,000 a year. The median wage for all workers is $37,000. An increase in new engineering jobs of nearly 140,000 is projected for the 2016-26 period.

Petroleum engineers are the most highly compensated, with a median wage of more than $128,000. Mechanical and industrial engineers earned a median wage of about $84,000, while the median wage for electrical engineers was around $94,000.

The manufacturing industries employed nearly 600,000 engineers in 2016, the most of any U.S. industry. Engineering technicians — a difficult group to get a sense of — have an average salary of just more than $57,000 and projections of 20,000 new jobs by 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to the same source, the fastest growing manufacturing occupations include for mathematicians, operations research analysts and software developers. This seems to reflect industry investment in Industrial Internet, analytics and machine learning.

Highly trained, highly experienced

Highlights of the respondents’ profiles, telling us who they are, include the following:

  • Respondents to the Plant Engineering salary survey say the work an average of 45 hours a week.
  • Respondents indicated they have been with their employer an average of 15 years, with an average of 26 years in the industry.
  • Nearly three-fourths of respondents say they have some type of training or engineering diploma, ranging anywhere from a bachelor’s degree (37%) master’s degree (25%) trade or technical school (12%) to a doctoral degree (1%). The electrical or electronic engineering discipline was tied with mechanical engineering for the most studied (33%).
  • Respondents have worked for their current employer for an average of 15 years and in the industry for an average of 26 years. They work an average of 45 hours per week.
  • On average, about 120 employees work at the respondent’s facility.

Skills most needed to get ahead today

Shortages of skilled labor are forcing changes in the structure of the manufacturing industries, including increasing use of managed services and outsourcing.

The manufacturing industries are essential and have take the Coronavirus pandemic in stride, while having to deal with increased absenteeism and supply chain delays.

Almost half of all respondents were willing to admit they love their job., while seeing the necessity to earn a living as the primary factor motivating them, followed by thirst for technical challenges.

It is not excessive regulation or government interference that makes Plant Engineering readers’ jobs harder, it’s the lack of available skilled labor and the pace of global capitalism.

Readers reap the benefits of their hard work

Because their skills are highly sought after, the survey participants make, on most accounts, decent money. The figures below speak for themselves.

Click here to view the 2020 Plant Engineering Salary Survey.


Kevin Parker
Author Bio: Senior contributing editor, CFE Media