Want more money? There’s no mystery where jobs for engineers can be found; they move with the economy.
For example, after years of stagnant oil prices, money is flowing into the oil patch. And that’s good news for petroleum engineers. Since 2003, their employment has grown by 8 percent per year, and—even after subtracting for inflation—earnings grew by 2.3 percent per year. If sustained, that would mean a healthy 25 percent increase over inflation in 10 years.
Each kind of engineering has its own market with different starting salaries. Data for 10 different specialties are shown in the table ”Engineering Employment and Earnings in 2007.” Civil, mechanical, and industrial engineering have the most jobs, but median earnings are higher for petroleum, computer hardware, and aerospace engineers.
Even if jobs quickly follow the money, going where the jobs are isn’t so easy, if it means changing from one field to another. One way is to go back to graduate school to study a different engineering discipline. Still, one’s former salary can hold the new one down.
Thus, in 2007, starting salaries for petroleum engineers were at US $60 700 for baccalaureates and only $57 000 for those who held master’s degrees. That’s because typically someone with a master’s degree has a bachelor’s in some other field—for many, the master’s is a way to shift from one career path to another.
Civil engineering also has a negative earnings differential for the master’s relative to the bachelor’s, and for computer hardware engineers, while positive, it is very low. The master’s differential is greatest for electrical, industrial, and aerospace engineering—15 percent or more for each of them. The master’s appears to be well worthwhile in these fields.
The Ph.D. has the highest differential relative to the master’s in computer-hardware engineering with more than a 50 percent gain in starting salary. The differential is greater than 15 percent in all of the fields for which we have data.