"I work for the best company in the world. We are well taken care of and as a result we strive to make our company and client successful," says one respondent of Chemical Processing's 2014 Salary and Job Satisfaction Survey. This is the "golden job" everyone strives to find. And while not all respondents shared the same sentiment towards their jobs, many noted they were happy or at least content with their salaries and their work. And they have good reason to be. Over the past five years, we've seen salaries reach their highest level, plummet during the recession and then slowly but surely edge back up. This year the average salary for a chemical engineer jumped to $107,187 (from $104,884 last year), the highest it's been since 2009, when respondents reported earning an average $107,804 (Table 1).
Salaries might be up, but bonuses and raises remain relatively flat. The average raise, 4.26%, sits just below last year's 4.27%. The average bonus fell slightly as well — $6,440 compared to $6,483 in 2013. (Calculations exclude responses from those appearing to be unemployed, retired or working part-time.)
"I feel that I am adequately compensated for my current role — especially considering the current economic environment. However, there is no bonus program for rewarding employees that contribute to the success of the company," says one survey participant.
The number of respondents receiving salary increases within the last 12 months also stalled. Since 2011, that number typically climbed 2% year over year; however, this year, 59% of respondents cited a salary increase versus 60% in 2013 (Figure 1).
One survey taker cautioned that as medical premiums rise, salaries become skewed and might not fairly represent actual take-home pay. In fact, respondents gripe more about the lack of or decreasing benefits more than they do about any issues with their salary. Some even worry about the impact decreasing benefits might have on new hires.
"Benefits are great for me, not so much for those younger. Really hate to see the decline of benefits for younger folk (pension disappearing)," comments one.
"Benefits are good, but slowly changing. Unfortunately the newest and future employees' pension benefits will be lacking compared to the past," notes another.
Others had the opposite reaction — voicing concern over the wages new hires receive compared to more experienced staff.
"I am pleased [with] what I make — right up until they hire new, significantly less experienced employees into the same position with the same title suggesting similar pay. Then I come to the belief that I am under-paid compared to my compatriots," says one survey participant.
"[Pay and benefits are] very competitive, however for those with 25-plus years experience more thought should be put into equitable pay as it relates to new hires," suggests another.
"The compensation is good but naturally can always be better. It always gripes me to see new grads receiving almost as much compensation with so little experience. Our raises only seem to keep us slightly ahead of the entry levels. The only way we can obtain substantial increases in compensation is to switch employers," complains one respondent.
Concerns about job security remain unchanged from the previous year with more than half (55%) noting they aren't concerned (Figure 2). Nearly 46% of survey participants report a slight chance of being laid off or fired in the next two years, down from almost 50% last year (Figure 3). Participants confident they won't lose their jobs at all rose 4% to 23%. However, nearly 8% note it's likely or very likely they could lose their job, compared to just 6% voicing this concern in 2013.
Despite any anxiety over job security, staffing levels show improvement. While almost half of respondents (45%) say staffing levels haven't changed in 12 months (up just 1% from 2013), nearly 30% note staffing levels are somewhat larger — a 2% rise over last year's results. Downsizing also decreased — only 21% report smaller staffing levels compared to nearly 24% in 2013.
Similar to last year's results, most respondents say they're happy with their job. Just under half (49%) report they're either extremely satisfied or happy in their role. Nearly as many, 41%, just call themselves content. Only 10% report being unsatisfied with their work (Figure 4).
"Compensation and benefits have been handed out using an eyedropper over the last three years. Add to this the downsizing that has reduced this site from 1,300 employees to about 500 in that same time and it is hard to be happy," lamented one survey taker.
What do readers like most about what they do? Just as in previous years, the challenge and stimulation of the job topped the charts (71%) (Figure 5).
"I accepted my current position, not for the compensation, but for the challenges and non-financial rewards," says one participant.
"If you want to be challenged and have different work every day of the week this is the industry for you," counsels another.
Rounding out the list of what they like best about their job: 54% said salary and benefits, and 48% enjoy working with their colleagues. The work environment (39%) and making products that help people (33%) also contributed to a positive perspective.
"It is a rewarding career because you get to see your projects/improvements from start to finish. It is a sense of accomplishment when your project has been commissioned, is operational and is a success," one survey taker comments.
WORK LIFE BALANCE
"The pay and benefits are excellent; the work life balance is terrible."
Respondents still grumble about the long hours and lack of recognition; 39% note they'd prefer to be better recognized for their work (Figure 6). Nearly 81% work more than 40 hours a week (Figure 7), with 89% saying it's to get work done. Despite the lack of recognition, 19% say they put in the extra hours to advance their career.
When asked what advice they'd give someone looking to join the chemical engineering field, respondents most warned about the long hours.
"Chemical engineering is a satisfying career but not one that is well recognized nor properly rewarded," laments one.
"Make sure you know what you want to do with your career and be willing to put in the time and effort because you will work more than 40 hours per week if you want to advance," advises another.
"Prepare occasionally to sacrifice your work life balance during plant turnaround, equipment breakdown and project commissioning," warns a third.
27% of respondents also list the work environment as unsatisfactory. Salary and benefits, number three on the list last year, dropped to near the bottom of job dissatisfaction complaints, with only 24% listing it among their dislikes.
AGE PLAYS A FACTOR
A greater number of older respondents chimed in this year, with the average age jumping from 48 in past surveys to 51. In fact, 62% are 50 and older — up from 53% last year. Exactly one quarter of all respondents are at, or nearing, retirement age. In contrast, only 4% are under 30.
Age impacts their job situation, griped some, noting their salaries were capped, and their years on the job restricted their ability to find work elsewhere. Here's what a few had to say:
"I have hit the ceiling for promotions and therefore my salary growth is very limited also. The only reason I am staying with the company is medical benefits and defined pension payments for retirement. The workload is becoming overwhelming and the expectations of corporate people who sit at a desk all day are unrealistic."
"[I'm] generally well paid but as you get older you will be less paid in regards to yearly increases. Companies assume you will not change jobs due to age," says another.
"Age is a big factor, and new hires out of college cost less, are more energetic and have little experience but you get two of them to replace one (55 to 70) experienced engineer. Cost, cost and more cost is what most industrial plants are concerned with, not direct knowledge and experience about the process and equipment."
FUTURE OF ENGINEERING
In the U.S., economic growth reports are positive, the housing market is slowly recovering and the lure of cheaper energy due to shale gas is driving more chemical companies to invest. The Wall Street Journal reports that chemical giant BASF plans to invest $4 billion in the U.S. over the next 3 years.
Our January cover story also points to this rebound in the industry (see "U.S. Chemical Industry Gets Into Better Tune"). Another recent survey shows chemical industry executives are optimistic about the future prospects (see "Chemicals CEOs' Optimism Grows" for more details).
As the economy continues to improve and more engineers begin to retire, the future is bright for the next generation of chemical engineers.
"The shale [gas] revolution is the beginning of a U.S. energy boom — take advantage of it, and take charge of your own career direction," one respondent advised potential chemical engineering majors.
As the government and industry promote more students to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers, more engineers will likely join the workforce. And respondents seem aware of this trend, as more than half (60%) shared their thoughts on the industry and offered advice for the next generation.
"Get into process control NOW," suggests one respondent. "Very old aging staff, [with] few young people," he adds.
How the Data Were Gathered
A total of 1,487 people participated in this year's survey.
From January through March, respondents accessed the survey questionnaire via a link listed on www.ChemicalProcessing.com, in e-newsletters and in e-mail blasts sent to subscribers. Additionally, those who follow Chemical Processing on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn were encouraged to take part.
Congratulations to Drawing Winners!
Ten lucky respondents received gift cards to vendors of their choice. The winners, randomly selected via www.random.org are:
David Caillet, engineer, Louisiana DEQ
Jim Callaway, president, PowderTech, LLC
Francesco Cappi, corporate production manager, Mapei
Dan Hannewald, operations engineer, BASF Corp
Danny Haynes, sr. technical coordinator, AkzoNobel
Nancy Krempa, CEO/president, Astral Products
Kevin Kutsch, sr. project engineer, Alliant Energy
Tim Noonkester, development associate, Eastman Chemical
Doug Sanders, production manager, Henkel Corporation
John Stewart, engineering fellow
We appreciate the answers and comments we received from all of this year's survey participants.