Salaries rise for engineers despite higher unemployment

IEEE-USA survey day 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 Institute of Electric and Electronics Engineers-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 increase included making 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 for all computing professionals, 5.4%, 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 explaining the salary increases during a period of higher than normal unemployment for this profession, Ed Kirchner, chairman of the IEEE-USA Employment & Career Services Committee, in an email response to questions to the IEEE, said that "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 & Workforce Policy Committee. But otherwise, "it is business as usual - but with a smaller workforce," he said, in an email response.

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

President 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 a .35% drop. Non-Internet software development is software for systems such as machines, aerospace and individual computers.

According to the survey, 93% of the respondents were not working. Of those not employed, 3.6% are unemployed voluntarily and 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 e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com .

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