Leveling tool on a dark background

2013 Salary Survey: Salaries Aren't Leveling Off

April 2, 2013
Annual salary survey results show slight improvements.

Numerous reports this year indicate a positive outlook for the chemical industry. For instance, chief executive officers of chemical companies worldwide are upbeat, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers' 16th annual Global CEO Survey (see, "Chemical CEOs Convey Optimism,"). Furthermore, economists at the American Chemistry Council point to sustained growth in the U.S. chemical industry (see, "Prospects Brighten for Chemical Industry"). Now, those who responded to Chemical Processing's 2013 Salary and Job Satisfaction Survey seem to echo these findings — salaries, raises and bonuses all continue to rise, further demonstrating prospects are bright.

Average salaries of respondents employed full time (95%) are up slightly to $104,884 from $103,340, showing a continued trend of slim increases each year since 2011 (see Table 1). The average raise stands at 4.27%, an uptick from last year's 4.15%. Bonuses also crept up to $6,483 compared to $6,318 in 2012. (Calculations exclude responses from those appearing to be unemployed, retired or working part-time.) Another positive highlight — the number of respondents noting they've received a salary increase in the past 12 months continues its 2% climb year over year since 2011 (Figure 1). Moreover, this year, more chemical processing professionals say they're not concerned about job security than in past surveys (Figure 2).

Table 1
Despite this upwards trend, survey participants report that chances of being laid off or fired in the next two years remain unchanged from 2012 (Figure 3), with nearly 50% reporting a very slight chance.

While many survey participants say they are satisfied with their current salaries and bonuses, a large number of respondents expressed discontent with the downward trend in benefits, and the higher cost of living and healthcare.

"We are very blessed to be well compensated in our industry. However, inflation is significant and cannot be denied. Our pay is NOT keeping up with the cost of living. Though blessed, we are rapidly losing ground," warns one respondent.
"Benefits are good, but many companies are reducing this for the new hires. I think many benefits will disappear in the future," says another participant.

"My salary is increasing, but the overall compensation (insurance, vacation time, pension, etc.) package has been deflated over the last 10 years relative to increasing consumer costs. If my compensation is like others in this country (as I suspect it is) then 'the working man/woman' is getting poorer as a nation," cautions another.

"Annual increases are just not enough to keep up with cost-of-living changes in this environment. Makes looking at other job opportunities easier when companies offer increases of over 10% to change jobs," notes one respondent.


Survey respondents have a lot to say — more than what we can cover in our print edition. Visit Salary Survey Participants Sound Off to see comments regarding advice for aspiring chemical engineers, the public's opinion of the industry, and more.

Some survey participants suggest that moving up the pay scale means moving on. "Be prepared to change jobs to advance your career. Be willing to relocate," says one.

"The base salary is fair; however, with the cost of living exceeding my salary increases, the only way to get ahead is by switching to companies with a higher base salary," advises another contributor.

Despite these comments, survey numbers indicate most respondents have worked at the same company for more than 15 years (35%). Nearly 39% have been at their current employer for 6 to 15 years, while 26% say they've worked at their company 5 years or less.

While changing jobs may appeal to those seeking a higher salary, they'll have contend with staffing levels that remain relatively static compared to 2012. Nearly half of respondents (44%) say staffing levels haven't changed in 12 months. Only 4% report a significant increase and 28% indicate some rise in staffing.

Regardless, several respondents note the increasing need for qualified engineers.

"I think in general, people think the economy is a lost cause. However, we have over 150 open positions within the company but people aren't willing to move, or aren't willing to do real work. They want a job which they can walk away from at 5pm … and that's just not how life is anymore," comments one contributor.

"Pay/benefits are competitive, but based on industry trends, need to keep pace.  My peers and I get contacted by recruiters frequently, and companies like ours need to account for that. We have had difficulty filling positions because of the competition for qualified candidates. The key aspect missing in my current program is a lack of a retention/bonus program. Stock options about to mature, bonus payouts, or pension impacts all make someone think twice about leaving their current employer," another adds.

Most respondents are content with their jobs. Similar to last year's results, 12% of respondents note they're extremely satisfied with their job. Another 37% say they're happy in their role and 40% rate job satisfaction as "okay." Only 9% report a low level of job satisfaction and 2% say they're extremely unsatisfied (Figure 4).

Just as in previous years, "challenge and stimulation" topped the charts (68%) when survey participants were asked what they like most about their job (Figure 5).

"Working for a smaller company has less perks than a larger company and pay is slightly less, but the challenges and opportunities compensate in other ways that salary alone can not provide," comments one respondent.

In fact, when asked to give advice to someone who is thinking of going into chemical engineering, many noted that a willingness to accept new challenges is crucial. "Be prepared to work hard, tackle continual challenges and never say no to an opportunity to learn more through a transfer, even if it's to a remote location," advises another.

Other keys to happiness on the job: salary and benefits ranked 2nd at 52%, and "colleagues" garnered 43% of the vote. Many respondents also cited the work environment (36%) and making products that help people (30%).

"My salary and benefits are adequate, but I'm really not doing it for the compensation. The long commute and long hours are balanced by an incredible work environment and amazing feeling of accomplishment," concludes one participant.

While most chemical engineers welcome a challenging work environment, many bemoan the lack of recognition, with 39% ranking this as the biggest contributing factor to job discontent (Figure 6).

"Be ready to face the challenges of working in an industry where due recognition is not given to hardworking staff," warns one reader to potential newcomers.

"Make sure this is work you enjoy; the work itself will be a primary source of satisfaction. Management may not understand your work well enough to provide high levels of external recognition," advises another.

Thirty percent of respondents also say the work environment hinders job satisfaction. Other factors include salary and benefits (29%), the hours and workload (28%), and the commute and traveling (24%).

Nearly 83% of survey participants say they work more than 40 hours a week (Figure 7). Of those that work long hours, 88% say it's to get work done. Only 7% say they work overtime to earn extra money.

"The health benefits are up and above the national average, the bonus program was revoked, but the work load and level of work has only increased," notes one participant.

"For the amount of hours worked and the work load, the compensation is not sufficient," another grumbles.

"Salary increases are only about 3% per year while workload continues to grow as head count decreases. Each time someone leaves/retires, their work is divided among two to three individuals and no pay increase comes along. After this happens a couple of times, you end up doing the work that use to be done by two people. Upper management then wonders why the small details are then being missed," points out one survey contributor.

Reflecting the shift to a more global economy, several respondents believe that many new job opportunities will require significant travel on a global scale.

"Be prepared to travel significantly in the future for engineering-related jobs as more and more manufacturing leaves the U.S. There will most likely always be jobs available in engineering, but project locations will be more and more outside of the U.S.," advises one respondent.

"Be prepared to work in a global atmosphere. Companies locate assets where the product demand is growing," echoes another.

One modest change from previous results — instead of an even split among respondents, more chemical engineers (54%) say they aren't too concerned or show no concern at all about public opinion of the industry. The other 46% say they're somewhat or very concerned (Figure 8).

"I have little concern; for my entire career (~20 years) the public has had a poor understanding.  I know the facts of how far the industry has come, its safety and environmental record, and how it is adding sustainability. My knowing is enough for me," notes one participant.

In a poll on, "How will retirement of 'baby boomers' affect your site over the next five years?" (, 46% of respondents expect a significant impact and 37% answered that retirement would affect their site somewhat. This year's salary survey shows the impact of "mass retirements" still looms — if it hasn't happened already.

While the average age of survey participants is 48, more than half (53%) are 50 years or older, and of that group, 18% are nearing or already are at retirement age. Only 6.3 % are under 30. This points up the need to recruit young engineers and preserve important knowledge as more engineers retire (see, "Retirement: Companies Keep Know-how in Place").

As one reader notes, "[The] field is wide open. Lots of people ready to retire. We need more young engineers!"  

A total of 1,242 respondents participated in this year's survey.

From January through March, respondents accessed the survey questionnaire via a link listed on the website, in e-newsletters and in e-mail blasts sent to readers. Additionally, those who follow Chemical Processing on Twitter (!/Chem_Processing), Facebook ( and LinkedIn ( also were encouraged to participate.

Ten lucky respondents received gift cards to the vendors of their choice. The winners, randomly selected via are:
Mark Arisman, Director, Solomon Colors Inc.
Chuck Shull, Process Engineering Manager, Kao Specialties America,
Joel Grosser, Associate, Booz Allen Hamilton
Glenn Hopkins, Director of Manufacturing Engineering, IIMAK
Bob Norman, Logistics/Purchasing/Safety Coordinator, Generon IGS
John Marshall, Engineer, Henkel
Jonathan Zarych, Chemist, Syndicate Sales
Craig Willi, Chemist, Johnson Manufacturing Company
William Barber, Technical Director – Chemist, SIC Technologies Inc.
Heidi Curnow, Purchasing Manager, Scott's Liquid Gold Inc.

We appreciate the answers and comments we received from all of this year's survey participants.

About the Author

Amanda Joshi | Managing Editor

Amanda Joshi has more than 18 years of experience in business-to-business publishing for both print and digital content. Before joining Chemical Processing, she worked with and Electrical Contracting Products. She’s a versatile, award-winning editor with experience in writing and editing technical content, executing marketing strategy, developing new products, attending industry events and developing customer relationships. 

Amanda graduated from Northern Illinois University in 2001 with a B.A. in English and has been an English teacher. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and daughter, and their mini Aussiedoodle, Riley. In her rare spare time, she enjoys reading, tackling DIY projects, and horseback riding.