Salaries rise for engineers despite higher unemployment

IEEE-USA survey paints a picture of a workforce

Salaries for engineers have been increasing, despite a weak economy and a higher-than-normal rate of unemployment for this group, according to the IEEE-USA.

For all engineers, median income, including salary, commissions, bonuses and net self-employment income, increased from $113,500 in 2009 to $118,000 in 2010, or by 3.96%, according the IEEE-USA's annual salary survey.

For software engineers, the median salary grew from $104,000 in 2009 to $109,000 in 2010, a 4.8% increase. That uptick helped make up some lost ground from 2008, when salaries were at $105,210.

The IEEE-USA's data was based on responses from more than 17,000 IEEE members who responded to an Internet-based survey.

This increase in wages happened despite an increase in unemployment among engineers last year.

The unemployment rate in 2010 for all engineers was 4.5%. For software engineers it was 4.6%, and it was 5.4% for all computing professionals, according to U.S. Labor Department data analyzed by the IEEE-USA. Those figures are about double the normal rate of unemployment for engineers.

In an email response to questions to the IEEE, Ed Kirchner, chairman of the IEEE-USA Employment and Career Services Committee, explained why salaries had increased during a period of higher-than-normal unemployment for this profession by saying, "I can only report what I've observed in my local area (Florida Space Coast). We have had major layoffs at the Kennedy Space Center, but engineers who still have their jobs have generally received normal, i.e. around 3%, annual raises. That is consistent with the data," although most of the engineering work there is defense-related, he added.

"I would suspect that what we are seeing is that employers have all the workers they need," said Ed Perkins, IEEE Region 6 director and former chairman of the IEEE-USA Career and Workforce Policy Committee. But otherwise, "it is business as usual -- but with a smaller workforce," he said, via email.

"This could be the new normal," Perkins said. "We could need new industries or new companies to absorb the unemployed," he said.

President Barack Obama recently called for training an additional 10,000 engineers annually.

Those working in communications technology reported the highest median income, $135,000.

Salaries didn't rise in every engineering category. For non-Internet software development, salaries were at $114,600 in 2010, down 0.35% from 2009. Non-Internet software development is software for systems such as machines, aerospace systems and individual computers.

According to the survey, 93% of the respondents were employed. Of those who weren't working, 3.6% were unemployed involuntary and were assumed to be looking for jobs.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His email address is

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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