Making More Money as a Mechanical Engineer

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The median pay for mechanical engineers in 2017 was $85,880 per year, or about $41 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the typical entry-level education required is a bachelor’s degree. There were 288,800 mechanical engineering jobs in the U.S., with a projected job growth rate of 9 percent through 2026, in 2016, the last year the BLS counted.

Not a bad salary or growth prospects, but there are always ways for mechanical engineers to increase their salaries. Most approaches require planning and a significant investment in time, money, and education, as well as excellent communication and sometimes negotiation skills.

Here are a few of the best ways to start boosting your engineering salary.

Earn a Master’s Degree
A master’s degree is increasingly required to advance into higher-paying supervisory and management roles. It sharpens your technical skills and can establish you as an expert in a hot field, such as additive manufacturing and 3-D printing. “Becoming a technical expert in a particular industry or product will command a higher salary than being a generalist engineer,” says Tom Goettl, vice president and principal recruiter for Konik PrimeStaff, a leading engineering recruiting company based in Edina, MN.

Earn an MBA
If you are interested in management opportunities, a Master of Business Administration degree might be the best approach. An MBA is ideal for mechanical engineers with an aptitude for business management. 
“The skills that come with an MBA enable engineers to be promoted into business oversight roles,” Goettl says.

“They will learn, for example, how to tie profit and loss statements from the entire company into an engineering department and how every department’s performance affects the company bottom line.”

He does caution that management is not always a good fit for engineers.

“Many great engineers move into management roles only to learn afterwards that they dislike holding others accountable, or coaching and leading teams,” he says. “You don’t want to spend the rest of your career in a role you’re not passionate about simply because the pay is a bit higher.”

Become a PE
Professional engineers (PE) tend to move into higher-paying supervisory and management jobs than non-PEs because only PEs can sign and seal engineering drawings or serve as a fully qualified expert witnesses. Obtaining a PE license shows you are serious about your profession and are part of an elite group of engineers. Also, an increasing number of government agencies, educational institutions, and private-sector clients prefer to only work with licensed professional engineers.

Internal Development Opportunities
Does your company have upcoming special projects such as a system conversion, or need someone to travel for a customer visit? Volunteering for these projects will be remembered in your next merit review.
 
“Employees who are viewed as helping out wherever needed will be looked at for future promotions and salary increases,” Goettl says. “These projects will also stretch your technical abilities such as coding, Excel, and project management.  In the event of a company layoff, you’ll either be irreplaceable at your current company, or much more attractive to another. Your proven ability to help out wherever needed will be taken into consideration in your next salary discussion.”

Change Your Engineering Industry
According to the BLS, the median annual wages in 2017 for mechanical engineers in the top industries were $98,530 for scientific research and development services; $91,440 for computer and electronic product manufacturing; $89,180 for architectural, engineering, and related services; $86,670 for transportation equipment manufacturing; $77,400 for machinery manufacturing. A simple shift from machinery manufacturing to scientific R&D (such as robotics, medical devices, pharmaceutical), for example, can earn an ME an extra $21,000 per year.

Change Your State
Pay levels from MEs vary widely from state to state. States that have reputations for high-tech fields like aerospace, defense, biotechnology, robotics, IT, and biomedicine have average salaries close to $100,000 (Massachusetts $96,010; Maryland $104,250; Virginia $100,850; California $104,030).

An engineer can get a big salary bump just by moving one state over. An ME in Iowa, for example, earned an average of $74,120 in 2017, one of the lowest salaries in the country. But next door in Illinois the average salary for an ME was $92,040. Earning that extra $18,000 a year over a 30-year time period equates to about $540,000.

Ask for a Raise
Getting more money could be as easy as asking for a raise, especially if you know you are underpaid or have performed especially well. But this, as you can guess, can be a stressful process. According to Huffington Post article How to Ask for a Raise in 2018, key factors are doing salary research for your market, being prepared, and keeping expectations realistic. Most annual raises are between 1 and 5 percent. Also consider asking for a bonus when asking for a raise.

Exactly how much of an increase will these extra efforts have on your base salary? In most cases, mechanical engineers who obtain a Master’s, MBA, or PE can expect a 10 percent to 15 percent increase in their salaries. An engineer with an MBA may also be a strong future candidate for the role of engineering director or vice president of engineering.

“Once you’ve volunteered for special projects and proven you’re a strong asset to the company, merit increases will be higher as well,” Goettl says. “Typical merit increases are 2 to 5 percent and those with stronger reviews will be rewarded on the higher end of that range. Also, keep in mind that next year’s merit increase will be based off your higher salary, so after a few years, the extra initiatives you’ve taken on can really pay off in the long run.”

Mark Crawford is an independent writer.