Hourly vs. Salaried Engineering

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Zazoo, Jul 15, 2012.

  1. Zazoo

    Thread Starter Member

    Jul 27, 2011
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    I'm hoping someone who has a lot of engineering work experience can help me out here.

    I've just finished up my undergraduate degree this year (BSEE) and I've been seeking employment.
    After an interview with a local company I received an offer (Maine, USA) for an hourly PLC engineering position.

    The position is entry-level and pays $22.00/hr for a base pay of $45,760/year (@ 40 hours). The hiring manager seemed to sense that I was confused about the yearly pay and noted that the base pay is below the median for entry-level computer/electrical engineering in my area (55k-60k based on web searches and speaking with others in my graduating class who have found work in the Maine area.) He clarified that although this is the case, most of their employees work a 45-50+ hour work week. This brings the yearly pay up to the median when factoring in overtime pay (time-and-a-half). He also commented that salaried engineers can easy work 50+ hours and so when caluclating the equivalent hourly rate they likely make less than $22.00/hr.

    I understand his logic, but is it true - or is he just trying to low-ball me? I have other interviews upcoming but most are out of state so they aren't until after I would need to make a decision on this position.
    Is $22.00/hr a good starting pay for an entry-level PLC engineer? The cost of living in my area is slightly above the national average and the engineering job market here is also somewhat limited.

    Thank you,
    Zazoo
     
  2. PatM

    Active Member

    Dec 31, 2010
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    When I retired about 10 years ago the engineers I worked with were all salaried and expected to work 50+ hours a week with no overtime.
    Not working after 40 hours was not a option for them.
    Not sure what is best now, but I would rather have a hourly job than none at all.
    You could always look for something else in the future after you have more experience.
     
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  3. Papabravo

    Expert

    Feb 24, 2006
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    Buying into the bullpuckey about the necessity of working overtime in exchange for a salary is hazardous to your health and well being. It is a con job perpetrated by slick corporate type on impressionable young graduates. Don't fall for it. In fact don't walk, but run away from it. Get out the Homey Sock and scream at the top of your lungs "Homey don't play that".
     
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  4. loosewire

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 25, 2008
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    It is easy to assume this is a perfect world,engineers are a big part of what happens.

    When some thing happens in house or with vendors product,an engineer is in the

    loop. Things happen 24 hours aday and must be promtly taken care of by the advice

    of an engineer or preplanned solution they have in place,that is called planning.

    A department that most companies have with a engineer in charge. So what I am

    saying, a engineer is always going to be on call. Things don't happen at preplanned

    time. So if you are going be a successful engineer,you will have to apply yourself.

    That means a active part of what ever you choose,trouble will find you,that why you

    are an engineer. The more experience you get,the more you will want to be found.

    You will be compensated,you will be a productive engineer.Good luck to you,the

    money will come your way,plus much more, satisfaction. Loosewire
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2012
  5. K7GUH

    Member

    Jan 28, 2011
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    Many employers try to circumvent the federal fair labor practices laws by classifying some positions as "salaried" rather than "hourly". They assume that in so doing they insulate themselves from all possible claims to pay for overtime above and beyond 40 hours per week. In many cases they get away with it because employees are reluctant to challenge the practice. That doesn't make it right, it just makes it 'so'. I won't elaborate here, because any discussion is likely to become very political, and unless I misunderstand completely, this is not an appropriate forum for that discussion.
     
  6. JoeJester

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 26, 2005
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    I don't know if it would become political, but I can see where it might. You could cite some sources to read so the prospective engineers know what their rights are under the federal fair labor practices law that you mentioned. That would take the "politics" out of the discussion ... well, I'm hoping they don't want to argue the nuances of each law in the cites.

    Then the prospective engineer can decide on what they wish to do.
     
  7. loosewire

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 25, 2008
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    You guys are not getting the post or the direction of a free thinking engineer

    that has a chance to create something. It not about the company or government

    denying anything. A positive thinking engineer will do great things, without the help

    of the government and end up with his own company. Assume nothing will break

    down tonite and your perfect world go's on,the engineer on a soft cushion of

    your protection will take care of the break down of a sewage spill and you won't

    complain of the smell,you willl be happy knee deep in your street. That happen alot

    to some people,some are lucky to have a engineer and drawings quickly on hand.
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2012
  8. strantor

    AAC Fanatic!

    Oct 3, 2010
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    I sure hope not. I make 22/hr and I get paid for overtime (usually about 20hrs/week). I'm a maintenance (PLC) technician with no college experience. I'd hate to think I'm about to go to college for 4 years just to get out and make LESS (figuring yearly raises I would have been getting) than if I stayed.
     
  9. justtrying

    Active Member

    Mar 9, 2011
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    Keep in mind that you get paid for experience, not your education. I've been out of school since end of may now and can't even get an interview...
     
  10. strantor

    AAC Fanatic!

    Oct 3, 2010
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    Is technician experience transferable to an engineering position? I hope so, because that would really be a kick in the Johnson to get out of school and make less, as described. I was hoping I would graduate and get a job making ~70K (I make around 65K now, with the O/T), and be making 6 figures within 5 years.
     
  11. mcgyvr

    AAC Fanatic!

    Oct 15, 2009
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    No..you won't.. There are very few engineers making 6 figures.. Mostly old guys working at very large companies who have been in the same field for 30+ years.

    Straight out of college for just about any eng job you're really lucky if you get something in the $70k realm. Most start out $40-50k..maybe 60k

    Don't forget this economy sucks too..

    Experience is the key..College does NOT give you one single drop of that.
     
  12. JoeJester

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 26, 2005
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    Strantor,

    Your experience will count for something ... whether college credits now and higher salary later.

    Any prospective employer would know that. Whether or not that use it could be another question.

    My step-son used his life experiences ... he's been a volunteer fire fighter, paid EMT, and volunteer police officer for a few years prior to obtaining his BS. It accounted for some college credits. He maintains his EMT in two states even though he is a full time paid PD now for the last five years. He was an EMT since he was 18.
     
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  13. Zazoo

    Thread Starter Member

    Jul 27, 2011
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    I would say that if your only motivation to pursue a college degree in engineering is better pay you probably shouldn't go. Not only may you be unhappy with your starting pay but you have to forfeit years of income (full or partial) while in school.

    Some of my classmates came from a technician background. Most went back to the companies they were working for prior to college, but some went to new employers. From speaking with them none have seen any more than 5k above the entry-level median based on their experience. Fresh out of college I fully expect to make less than a technician with years of experience (rightly so). I went back to school because I'm the type of person who needs to know how things work at the fundamental level. I enjoy learning and I'm interested in design.
     
  14. strantor

    AAC Fanatic!

    Oct 3, 2010
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    It's not my only motivator, but it is on the list. My main reason is because I want to design things. I'm tired of fixing things that other people designed and thinking that I could have done a better job.
     
  15. steveb

    Senior Member

    Jul 3, 2008
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    Yes, it makes you a better engineer. This means you are more attractive to an employer (all other things being equal). This is especially true considering the fact that most engineering programs are heavy on theory and weak on practical hands on stuff.

    You should make significantly more for the 40 hour base salary, but a very good experienced technician who gets a good hourly rate, could earn more with overtime. But, that's more hours of work at the job site. I think engineers typically work more than 40 hours per week, but being salaried means more flexibility to do some work at home. I think good engineers enjoy their work (if they have the right job), so this type of work is not anywhere near as stressful as the technician that has to be at the factory troubleshooting and putting out fires.

    Ultimately, I think the engineer's job is significantly different than the technicians job, but still closely related. You understand this because you say you want to design things and not fix them. A good technician should have a bit of an engineer in him, and a good engineer should have a bit of a technician in him. This means that you should perhaps do whichever you like better, since the pay differential may not be enough to compensate for being miserable at work. You seem to be on a path that makes sense for you.

    Also, a proper BS in engineering opens the door to MS, or PhD level which can bring in a little more money, and more enjoyable and challenging work. Unfortunately, none of the salaried positions for BS, MS or PhD level command enough money for the training and expertise required. But, that's life. Personally, I used to make $150K managing a team of engineers. Then I made 6 figures as an independent consultant. Now I'm below $100K doing research. Can I go back to making > 6 figures? Yes. Am I trying to do so? No. Why? because I love what I do, and money ain't everything, and beyond a certain level, it's really nothing useful at all.

    If you do decide to go over to the "dark side" and make money a priority (and there is nothing wrong with that), an engineering degree opens the door to a technical management path. Just be careful that you don't need the extra money to pay for a psychiatrist. Engineers are a pain in the butt to manage!

    I think $70K is doable and maybe $90K with much experience and a history of outstanding work, but I agree with the above comment that this bad economy is making 6 figures difficult for most people to attain. That could change in the future, if the economy gets better, depending on the exact field you are in.
     
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  16. strantor

    AAC Fanatic!

    Oct 3, 2010
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    Bleh... I shutter at the thought of managing people. I don't like being told what to do and I don't like telling others what to do. I can put up with being told what to do, because everybody has to do that, but I'm in no hurry to thrust myself into a position where I'm accountable for other people on top of it. Definitely would not be worth the extra bucks for me.
     
  17. WBahn

    Moderator

    Mar 31, 2012
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    Getting back to salaried versus hourly for an engineering position.

    While your mileage will vary considerably from company to company, I believe it is pretty common practice to expect salaried employees to put in 45 to 50 hours per week. Also, if project needs require it, you are generally expected to put in however many hours are necessary to get the job done, usually with some "compensatory time off" afterwards the seldom comes close to matching the unpaid extra hours and, even if they did, you can seldom take them because the fact that you were putting in lots of extra time on a high-priority project almost certainly means other things were being pushed aside and now need attention.

    The company I went to work for (and still consult for) after leaving college is run by someone that hated this aspect of the salaried world. So all of the employees of that company (including him) are paid hourly. He tells you up front that the general expectation is that you will average out somewhere around 200 hours a month (about 46hrs/wk). When a submission deadline is coming up, it is not uncommon for people to put in outrageous hours for up to two or three weeks (as in 70 to 100 hours a week), but you get paid for every single one of them. Afterwards, if you want to take time off and your other projects can tolerate it, then you can take as much time off as you want - you just don't get paid for those hours. In general that is true and it gives you great control over your schedule and income. For several years I didn't take a single vacation day, but that didn't mean I didn't take time off; I just went without getting paid and made sure that I got in enough hours otherwise to meet my income needs. You could work just as many hours as you wanted, provided they were productive hours. We had a couple of people that routinely worked 270+ hours a month. By the same token, you were only expected to average at least 30 hours a week in order to justify the benefits. Most of us where hesitent about the hourly arrangement when we started, but everyone turns out loving it (but that is not just because it is hourly instead of salaried, but largely because of how the policies and expectations surrounding it are set).

    Another big thing to consider is benefits. Don't assume that they are roughly the same and therefore you can focus on the annual pay numbers. To give you an example that is at the extreme end of the benefits spectrum is the company I was just talking about. When I started working there we got 10 days of paid time off a year, called VHS pay for Vacation-Holiday-Sick pay. That's right, most companies give you the ten (and sometimes twelve) federal holidays plus about two weeks of vacation plus a week or two of sick time. So this was a significant difference in benefits and I figured that I needed to reduce the nominal annual pay by about 10% to make it comparable to more traditional time-off packages -- and I would explicitly point this out to people I was interviewing and tell them to do something similar with whatever offer we made to them. Now, does that mean that this company was trying to screw the employees? Not at all. It only meant that the owner had a philosophy wherein he wanted to maximize non-taxable benefits over taxable ones. So, the company paid for 100% of your family's insurance premium, including fully funding the HSA contributions to the limit allows by law. The last year I worked for them as an employee, that one benefit alone was worth over $13,000 compared to a very common situation with most employers in which the employer pays 50% of the employee's premium (and nothing for spouse/dependents), which would be a benefit of something around $2,000 a year. Then don't forget retirement. Many companies will match your contributions to a 401(k) or similar plan up to a few percent of your annual pay. If you make $70k and they match the first 3% (a pretty common limit, but it varies usually between 0% and maybe 6%), then that benefit is worth about $2,000 a year (but, of course, you have to contribute $2,000 of your pay, as well. The company I worked for has the policy that it's goal is to contribute the maximum amount allowable by law, cash situation permitting, without the employee contributing a dime. Under current law that limit is 25% of annual earnings and the company has always been between 22% and 25% since that limit was raised from the prior 15% (and they always made the full 15% except two years). So that $70k position usually results in better than $17,000. Most companies will reimburse employees for tuition and sometimes some of the fees if you take any classes that are directly related to your work. The company I worked for was pretty loose on what it considered related to your work, there just had to be a reasonable expectation that your work efforts would benefit as a result of taking the course. They then reimbursed all direct expenses (tuition, books, fees, parking), though they stopped paying for parking when the company moved to a location across the street from the college.

    You also need to ask what, if any, annual bonuses are the norm. At the company I worked for, they varied a lot from $0 to $20k. At other companies they may be a lot more reliable. Also, does the company encourage and pay for travel to conferences (conferences that you want to attend, not that the company wants to send you to)? Some do some don't. The company I worked for was willing to pay for one typical conference a year, but only airfare and conference registration fees. You were on the hook for lodging and meals. But if the company wanted you to go (or if they felt that the conference would be directly beneficial to the company) they would pick up the other costs as well. This was a benefit that very few people, including myself, took advantage of because it wasn't on our radar and the company didn't do anything to push it.
     
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  18. Brownout

    Well-Known Member

    Jan 10, 2012
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    The most I ever made as an engineer was about $80K, or around $40/hr. I don't make anywhere near that now. My salary is not much more than yours, and Ive been doing this for 16 years ( not including my 10 years as a technican )
     
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  19. Zazoo

    Thread Starter Member

    Jul 27, 2011
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    Thank you for the very detailed post. This is exactly the type of been-there-done-that perspective I was looking for.

    I accepted the position earlier this week. Electrical engineering is not a huge industry here in Maine, so there aren't many firms to choose from (with our business climate it's a wonder any company sets up shop here). Of the offers I had, this one seems like the best mix of pay, benefits and perks.

    Zazoo
     
  20. strantor

    AAC Fanatic!

    Oct 3, 2010
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    I have a friend who is a mechanical engineer. He is 24 years old, 2 years out of school, and working his first engineering job. He said that he has the option to sit behind a desk and work a straight 40he week or go out into the field and work long hours away from home. If he stays behind the desk, he makes 80k. If he goes to the field he can make around 200k. He does a mix of both and brings home around 130k. He made this sound fairly normal and said the electrical engineers should make comparable pay but wasn't sure. Is his pay normal for a mechanical engineer? Do mechanical engineers make more than electrical engineers?. He graduated from baylor, which is a good school, could that be the reason he makes so much?
     
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