13th Annual CE News Salary Survey

June 2011 » Features » BUSINESS STRATEGIES
Signs of recovery evident in a hard-hit industry
Bob Drake

After at least two years of layoffs, hiring freezes, and cuts in pay and bonuses, respondents to the 13th Annual CE News Salary Survey offered mixed but, under the circumstances, encouraging information regarding compensation in the civil engineering profession. Although many firms continue to endure economic hardship and faced difficult staff compensation choices during the last 12 months, survey respondents reported that median salaries are beginning to rise at most levels of experience and for most job titles, and more civil engineers are receiving raises and bonuses again, compared with a year ago.

Improved conditions also are indicated by results from ZweigWhite’s recently released 2011 Financial Performance Survey of A/E/P and Environmental Consulting Firms. The percentage of firms that reported layoffs during the last year decreased to 57 percent from 70 percent of firms in 2010.

As reported in last year’s salary survey (CE News, June 2010), median salaries at almost all experience levels in both the private and public sectors decreased as much as 15 percent in 2009 and early 2010 compared with the previous year. However, median salaries reported in the current survey from May 2011 are as much as 16 percent greater, but decreases were reported at a few experience levels and titles — generally vice presidents and above.

Table 1: Compensation by years of experience
Experience
Q1
Median Salary1
Q3
Percent Received a Bonus2
Median Bonus
Percent Received a Raise2
Median Raise
Private Sector
0-2 years
Insufficient Data
2-4 years
$47,500
$58,760
$60,116
50%
$1,380
69%
4.0%
4-7 years
$59,000
$63,000
$69,430
57%
$2,850
76%
3.9%
7-10 years
$65,000
$72,000
$79,520
60%
$4,000
71%
4.0%
10-15 years
$66,000
$77,000
$94,000
53%
$3,000
49%
3.3%
15-20 years
$81,750
$98,857
$116,250
67%
$5,000
61%
4.0%
20-25 years
$84,679
$100,000
$114,741
41%
$16,000
44%
3.3%
25-30 years
$77,423
$100,500
$122,872
50%
$5,000
50%
3.0%
30+ years
$86,000
$110,000
$130,000
58%
$6,000
48%
3.0%
Public Sector
0-2 years
Insufficient Data
2-4 years
Insufficient Data
4-7 years
Insufficient Data
7-10 years
$63,500
$72,000
$82,700
23%
$2,500
31%
2.8%
10-15 years
$67,606
$79,205
$86,500
Insufficient Data
50%
2.5%
15-20 years
$78,000
$85,000
$100,000
19%
$1,535
33%
2.0%
20-25 years
$75,288
$92,000
$105,144
29%
$2,500
18%
2.5%
25-30 years
$84,000
$96,000
$105,000
15%
$600
27%
2.8%
30+ years
$84,875
$93,500
$105,750
32%
$2,000
35%
2.8%
1Does not include bonus, if any
2Percent of respondents in each experience level who received a bonus or a raise within the last 12 months

Table 1 lists median salary, bonus, and raise data reported by survey respondents in the private and public sectors in nine experience categories. Additionally, first (Q1) and third (Q3) quartile salaries provide a range within which 50 percent of reported salaries fall. Note that an insufficient number of responses were received to provide meaningful data for civil engineers in the private sector with zero to two years of experience and in the public sector with zero to seven years of experience.

Entry-level civil engineers have faced fewer available positions as well as lower pay. The National Association of Colleges and Employers reported in February that, according to its winter survey, salary offers to civil engineering students graduating in 2011 decreased 7.1 percent compared with one year earlier. The average offer this year was $48,885.

Table 2: Compensation by position/title
Position/Title (% of respondents)
Q1
Median Salary1
Q3
Percent Received a Bonus2
Median Bonus
Percent Received a Raise2
Median Raise
Staff/Design Engineer (13%)
$56,000
$65,000
$78,000
43%
$2,000
55%
3.3%
Senior Design Engineer (12%)
$74,003
$87,500
$99,250
40%
$4,000
62%
3.0%
Project Engineer (15%)
$60,150
$71,740
$90,225
47%
$2,500
52%
3.0%
Project Manager (12%)
$70,000
$83,450
$105,000
53%
$2,625
50%
3.0%
Senior Project Manager (14%)
$83,750
$97,000
$110,208
29%
$3,000
38%
3.0%
Associate (4%)
$75,192
$91,760
$113,750
54%
$4,250
57%
4.0%
Senior Associate (4%)
$97,721
$114,482
$120,338
67%
$3,600
61%
3.0%
Director (5%)
$94,000
$113,000
$126,000
40%
$6,250
32%
3.0%
Principal (5%)
$82,680
$116,000
$133,100
54%
$5,000
58%
2.9%
Vice President (6%)
$97,510
$111,100
$147,625
70%
$30,000
41%
3.8%
President/CEO/Owner (2%)
$70,500
$96,000
$121,500
62%
$10,750
Insufficient Data
City Engineer (2%)
$84,780
$95,000
$103,750
Insufficient Data
County Engineer (1%)
$68,250
$80,000
$95,500
Insufficient Data
Self-employed (5%)
$41,500
$69,000
$99,500
1 Does not include bonus, if any; amount for self-employed engineers is total 2010 income
2Percent of respondents with each title who received a bonus or a raise within the last 12 months

Table 2 lists median salary, bonus, and raise data by position or title. The only respondents reporting lower median salaries this year, compared with last year’s survey, are vice presidents (down 11 percent), presidents/CEOs/owners (down 13 percent), county engineers (down 11 percent), and self-employed civil engineers (down 9 percent). Seventy percent of vice presidents reported receiving a bonus during the last 12 months; their median bonuses also were significantly greater than a year ago. Slightly more firm presidents, CEOs, and owners reported receiving bonuses — 62 percent compared with 56 percent last year — but their median bonus was significantly less.

“We as principals had salary cuts for two years in a row,” said one respondent. “We have now agreed as owners that these reduced levels are the new compensation levels until the economy comes back strong — 12 to 18 months minimum. We are not paying ourselves inflated salaries (e.g., 25 years experience paid around $95,000 to 100,000). We have also reduced all employee salaries/rates accordingly. We do not see them coming back any way soon.”

During the last three years, both private-sector firms and public-sector agencies increasingly have resorted to furloughs (temporary layoffs), pay cuts, salary freezes, and decreased bonuses to navigate the recession (see Figure 1). According to respondents, those actions intensified during the last 12 months compared with similar surveys in 2010 and 2009. Note that although fewer public-sector civil engineers reported pay cuts — 11 percent, compared with 23 percent of private-sector respondents — significantly more public-sector employees said their organizations instituted salary freezes. This has been the most common response in both the public and private sectors, affecting almost two-thirds of private-sector firms and 88 percent of public-sector organizations during the last year, according to respondents.

Nevertheless, a majority of architecture, engineering, and planning firm principals are optimistic that business will pick up this year, according to ZweigWhite’s 2011 Principals, Partners & Owners Survey. Eleven percent of the respondents stated that business will be much better in 2011, and 57 percent said they believe it will be somewhat better.

According to the CE News Salary Survey, 55 percent of private-sector civil engineers received raises during the last year — generally between 3 percent and 4 percent — while 34 percent of public-sector civil engineers said that their salaries increased, generally by 2 percent to 2.8 percent. Last year, 37 percent of private-sector respondents and 43 percent of public-sector respondents reported raises.

Considering the large proportion of respondents who also reported salary freezes during the last year, it is likely that many of the raises were given more recently (first half of 2011) as business improved.

Of course, promotions offer another route to higher pay. The recession made those steps up the ladder less likely, but some recovery is evident in this area as well. In 2009, 16 percent of respondents said that they were promoted during the previous year; 8 percent of respondents reported promotions in last year’s survey; and an improved 11 percent of respondents this year said that they were promoted.

Self-employed civil engineers continue facing difficult markets. Median income for this group declined 9 percent to $69,000, after dropping from $100,000 in the 2009 survey to $76,000 in the 2010 survey. Looking ahead, only 17 percent of self-employed respondents expect decreased income in 2011; 42 percent expect an increase in income; and 29 percent expect their income to remain the same.

After several difficult years for civil engineers, the current survey provides some early signs of recovery. Many jobs in the industry have been lost and may be slow to reappear, but data suggest that salaries for civil engineers have at least stabilized at many private firms and public agencies and have begun growing modestly at others.

Survey method
Invitations to participate in the CE News 13th Annual Salary Survey were e-mailed in early May 2011 to subscribers to Civil Connection (an e-mail newsletter that includes CE News subscribers, as well as others). After removing incomplete data, 489 responses were analyzed — 316 from employees working full time in private-sector firms, 150 from full-time public-sector employees, and 23 from self-employed civil engineers. Specifically, the data presented in this article represents full-time employees who responded positively to the statement, “I primarily engage in the civil engineering profession, which includes design, management, and construction of projects in disciplines such as, but not limited to, transportation engineering, utility engineering, land development, geotechnical engineering, environmental engineering, and/or land surveying.”

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