Design Engineering

DE Canadian Engineering Salary Survey ’08

By Mike McLeod   

General Research salary survey

Canadian engineers are working harder, but are their salaries keeping pace?

Chris Cassidy, the mechanical design leader for Windsor, Ont.-based Valiant Machine & Tool Inc., started out as a toolmaker with Valiant 20 years ago. Since then, he has steadily moved his way up through the international automation company’s ranks to become its lead machine designer. Today, he and his crew design conveyor systems, testing equipment and robotic handling tools largely for tier one and tier two automotive manufacturers.

Like many in his industry, Cassidy has seen what was a steady stream of work become more sporadic as the automotive sector in Ontario has faced increasing downward pressure. Consequently, he says his job has changed markedly in the past five years.

“There is less time to actually do it because our customers are requiring faster turnarounds,” Cassidy says. “We used to get six months to a year of lead time on a job, and now it is condensed down to eight to 12 weeks. The cost factor is also crucial, which requires us to work more efficiently and hit that number one design the first time, and not struggle through multiple concepts.”


A National Trend
According to the results of Design Engineering’s 2008 Salary Survey, in which more than 400 eligible respondents shared salary and demographic data, Cassidy shares many characteristics with his fellow Canadian engineers. First and foremost, the typical survey participant is male, between 35 and 55 years old and has been a mechanical or manufacturing engineer for 20 years or more. He most likely has a university degree, works for a small company (100 employees or less) and—depending on location, education and years of experience—earns somewhere between $70,000 and $80,000 a year as a base salary.

Like last year, most participants in this year’s survey (63 percent) work in Ontario, followed by Quebec and the Atlantic provinces (16 percent) and Western Canada (19 percent). In addition, most participants (60 percent) described themselves as either mechanical or manufacturing engineers in nearly equal numbers.

Overall, participants across all job titles, disciplines and locations reported a national average salary of $75,355. That number is up from $71,855 reported last year and more in line with last year’s tally of degree-ed engineers.

In addition, this year’s national average tracked almost exactly with the average salary reported by Ontario-based participants who posted an average salary of $75,223. Eastern Canada—including Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador—came in slightly lower at $72,762. Western Canada, possibly reflecting the region’s oil boom and higher costs of living, posted the highest average salaries at $77,438.

Salary by Title
While the survey’s regional averages were fairly uniform, salaries by title varied widely. At the top of the heap, company owners and corporate executives, who made up 12 percent of the total respondents this year, reported an average salary of $105,000. The C-level executives were followed by those describing themselves as directors of engineering or engineering managers (11 percent) who posted an average salary of $84,205.

At the mid-tier, project leaders/managers (9 percent), manufacturing engineers (8 percent) and R&D engineers (5 percent) each reported similar average salaries, ranging from $73,226 to $70,188. Those who identified themselves as design engineers came in with a lower average salary of $65,898, approximately $10,000 off the national average of those surveyed. Rounding out the low end of the scale, at $59,051 and $50,000 respectively, engineering technologists and CAD technicians marked the lowest salaries reported.

Salary by Education
As expected, education heavily influenced a participant’s average salary. For example, respondents with a high school/college or trades diploma reported salaries below the national average at $72,048, while those with a bachelor’s degree in engineering scored higher than that national average at $77,468.

Interestingly, those holding a master’s degree or PhD in engineering reported an average salary significantly higher than either of the former groups. While representing a smaller sample (a combined 11 percent), post-graduates posted an average salary of approximately $85,600.

Potentially the most important statistic for those in the engineering profession is the fact that participants holding a licensed designation (P.Eng. or ing.) make significantly more than their non-licensed colleagues. Designation holders’ average salary came in at $85,865 while those without came in at $72,568, for a more than $13,000 per year difference.

The one troubling statistic to emerge from the survey is that although engineers are working harder and taking on more responsibilities than they have in the past, their salaries may not be keeping pace. In this year’s results, a higher percentage of respondents reported receiving smaller pay increases than they did in 2007. In total, 43 percent of those surveyed said their salaries had increased by less than 2 percent in the last 12 months, compared to 37 percent last year. This means that the annual raises of more engineers now trail the national inflation rate, which reached 3.5 percent in recent months and a full point higher in some provinces such as British Columbia and Alberta. The survey also showed declines in the number of participants whose salaries are keeping pace with inflation, as only 30 percent said they received a raise of 2 percent to 4 percent this year as opposed to the 38 percent in this range last year.

Employment Attitudes
Possibly the most interesting results of the survey had little to do with income. Instead, they came from questions concerning respondents’ work environment and job satisfaction. Overwhelmingly, those surveyed reported high job satisfaction, with 90 percent answering that they were either somewhat or very satisfied in their current position. Mirroring that result, 88 percent of respondents said they felt their jobs were either very or somewhat secure.

And, based on the findings of the survey, it isn’t necessarily money fostering that well being. For example, Canadian engineers savor the intellectual rigor of their positions above all else and co-worker relationships as much as they do their salaries. When asked which factors contribute most to their job satisfaction, 60 percent of those surveyed said technical challenge was the most important. Next came responsibility at 52 percent, salary/compensation at 51 percent and relationships with co-workers at 50 percent. At the other end of the scale, vacation time (29 percent), autonomy (27 percent) and opportunity for advancement (23 percent) contributed relatively less to their overall job satisfaction.

Stressed Out
Even though engineers feel satisfied and secure, the majority of respondents also said their jobs were stressful. A total of 85 percent listed their work as either very (19 percent) or somewhat (66 percent) stressful.

Of the factors contributing to work-related stress, those surveyed put workload (56 percent) at the top of their lists. That answer was followed in popularity by lack of resources (37 percent) and manager/supervisor (25 percent). Less prevalent, long hours (19 percent), workplace conditions (16 percent) and lack of job stability (14 percent) ranked fairly low, while only 13 percent listed co-workers as a source of stress.

When asked what had changed about their jobs in the past three years, 41 percent of respondents said their deadlines were shorter while 35 percent said that they felt more emphasis has been placed on productivity. At the same time, 36 percent reported spending more time on non-engineering related tasks and 19 percent said that their companies were spending less on R&D/product development than before.

On one final note, survey participants had the opportunity to write in their own observations. Many comments were specific to the individual, but a few themes did emerge. Some of the commentators pointed out that they are now spending more time coping with government regulations and safety compliance, while others said managing global supplier issues was a new responsibility.

The most common write-in response, however, suggests that Canadian engineers are having to go against their natures in response to the economic pressures facing North American manufacturers. As one participant put it, “Customers don’t seem to care about quality anymore; its all about the cost!”


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