Is There Decent Money In Mechanical Design Engineering?

  • Can you make decent money from mechanical engineering?
  • Find out what you can do to maximise your mechanical engineering salary
  • "Clusters" will affect the salary you can command

Is there decent money in mechanical design engineering? The shortest answer possible is: there is as long as you don’t hang out a lot, don’t intend to spend your savings on your two week vacation and have a good retirement plan as well as a good position in a decent company. The more complicated, longer, truthful and confusing answer is debatable. We hope this article will prompt a discussion focused on the current state of the international engineering sector. What harm can it do?

Happy man with money

A fair pay for a fair days work

While none of the people I know are satisfied with their salaries (from stockbrokers to bankers, consultants to government workers), engineers and specially design engineers seem to have the lowest salaries. Many complain they can’t afford a decent living unless they curtail their social lives, cut back on the quality of food they buy (and where they buy it) and live in rural neighbourhoods. Going off my own experiences and from what I have seen, in Morocco, India, Canada and heard from other parts of the world, mechanical engineering won’t guarantee a savings account AND a vacation account.

It will pay the rent, buy the food, pay the utility bills and it will occasionally support a social life, but don’t go thinking you’ll be fine without a room-mate. Put aside thoughts of making it to some exotic country even if your currency can hold its ground without draining your savings. Things can get even more complicated if a retirement plan and health insurance aren’t provided with your work contract. Unless you make it into the big league a career in mechanical engineering or mechanical design engineering will support a basic lifestyle – you may have to put the parties, holidays and expensive ventures on hold at least for the time being.

The real world of engineering

I remember when I was in engineering school, our professors used to warn us against accepting work for less than 8,000 MAD (FYI, for 8000 MAD in a pretty rural neighbourhood, with a room mate and no more than a night out a week is achievable but it won’t extend to spending on someone else or spending extravagantly but you can actually make a life in Morocco) and to negotiate for 10,000 MAD. We were even advised that a short period of unemployment may be beneficial in the longer term as a means of demonstrating we were not willing to compromise our skills set and high standards with low wages. Can you imagine ending up as a +5 years graduate working more than 44 hours a week for a ridiculous wage. Taking a wage which does not reflect your education, hard work, high standards and skill set, and one that won’t even guarantee a good savings plan and a fund for emergencies, just does not make sense in the longer term.

Driven by money? Is engineering for you?

In Canada, where wages dropped to 3,000 dollars per month and even less (take it or leave it), my friends were actually wondering why they didn’t learn plumbing or wood crafting to make a second income. I will not discuss PhD students but all in all, the wages this generation heard and expected are farfetched from the actual reality – many seemed to expect extravagant wages would fall into their laps once they had finished their studies. In reality, once you have finished your studies and you are ready to utilise your skills to the full in the engineering marketplace this is when the real challenges begin!

Some of my colleagues are studying MBA and other MASTERS to get out of engineering “because there is no good money in it and I will not slave away for 50 hours at least per week so I can barely guarantee a good education for my kids. I’m not even getting started on car and apartment’s loans”. One naïve colleague was convinced by her father to go for mechanical engineering “because there is good money in it”. I told her we were constantly warned by professors and professionals during our years of study that this profession is meant for the passionate and the resilient, not those driven by money. They went on about how the markets are getting more competitive and engineers more available than technicians. Many of us found out that they were correct, this really is the case.

Any money in mechanical design?

How do you maximise your engineering salary?

Now, either people want to reach a high level of management in their respective field or aim to completely switch the kind of work they are doing. Of course, you can always ascend to a certain level of expertise in your work and prove to be an irreplaceable member of the workforce. However, there is another system at work in the markets: clusters.

Once your company is part of a cluster of its peers, there is no possibility of working for a competitor even one willing to pay more. Competition is killed stone dead and safety and consistency of performance is more valued than reaching for more challenging and innovative products. Hence, you end up being the expert up-to-date senior bound by agreements you weren’t even aware of. You are constantly barred from working for bigger and better firms because you’re a “valued member of the workforce”. This despite the fact you may be the perfect fit for a more challenging position offering a better remuneration package. Some of the more ambitious engineers are forced to take a gap period of one or two years in their employment so that they can reapply free from any restrictive contracts. However, do you think that dream position you looked at two years ago will still be there?

Long term investment in staff is the key

The other reason for the relatively low remuneration on offer, compared to the highly demanding engineering degrees, is the coming of technicians. Technicians can now complete a two year course after high school, receive training to execute a particular set of tasks and save an employer the hours and the wages of a qualified engineer. It is difficult to understand how some managers got to where they are today because hiring a technician will save money but will you maximise the company’s potential, will a technician be able to think outside the box and will you be able to keep pace with your competitors?

It might be a shock for many looking towards engineering as a career but if you are in this purely for the money, above any practical achievements, you may need to think again. For those who decide that a career in engineering is right for them, you need to haggle for the best starting wage, ensure you are rewarded for your achievements and constantly fight to get recognised. Many engineering companies will talk the talk but will they walk the walk when it comes to remuneration?

Everybody likes to be appreciated but at some point appreciation needs to be shown in terms of cold hard cash. If your employer does not show their appreciation in the correct manner, are there others out there who may value your skills and your innovation a little more? Might they be the ones to reward you accordingly?


About: Khadija Ouajjani

Since 2012. Mechanical Design Engineer in the aeronautics industry. Mainly dealing with CAD, FEA, simulation and analysis for turbo-engines. Writing for EC since 2014. Garlic, Color Pencils, Open Systems, Coffee, Herbert, Final Fantasy VII, Writing, Tolkien, Mechanics, Deutsch, Nihongo, Herbs, Aïkido, Tea, Cinnamon, Motion, Friends.

3 Responses to Is There Decent Money In Mechanical Design Engineering?

  1. K.I.S.S. says:

    Incisive, as always Khadija.  If I could add my personal experience it would be this. Corporate enterprises generally tend to 'pigeon hole' personnel,  without regard to their abilities.  You run the very real danger of becoming a manager, rather than a designer within five years of your tenure.With a small Company, you'll probably be more valued, but also under more stress and with higher commitments. The tightrope to walk is one of specialty versus ubiquity.  If you stray too far to either side, you'll either find yourself locked into a position that makes yourself virtually unemployable elsewhere, or on the other side, you'll be inherently replaceable. Personally,  I think that the key is to focus more upon the design aspect than the pure engineering. Computing power is a new harsh reality,  as is immediate access to inumerable databases of calculus. That certainly doesn't compensate for the knowledge required as to how to apply such information, but it does narrow the gap.The ability to combine a good, grounded knowledge of engineering principles with aesthetic appeal and ergonomic sense seems to me like the way to go in this rapidly changing work environment.

  2. Reshaping Engineering says:

    An interesting post with many valid and universal points on career paths of the mechanical engineer.  But per se i think there is a contradiction between the creative design and development work and the work format of the salaried (passionate and resilient) engineer. You work the 8-hour (or more) day for which you get a fixed salary. But you hardly stop mulling over design problems and bold new solutions once you get home. This takes us straight over to the as obvious as overlooked career path in this post. Go independent. Take on the assignments that really gets you going. Not just the ones your boss assigns you to regardless you like it or not. And takes a significant cut of the price for your contribution too.  Consultant brokers make your independent career so much easier. Of course you have your own contact network, but as a handy addition you get visibility to assignments allowing access to intriguing projects with blue chip clients. You can really impact your own income.

  3. JenniferG says:

    Interesting post. Like many skilled professions, it's important to think outside the box when it comes to increasing income and positioning one's self to make more money. Really, if you sell ice, it's probably best to sell the ice in desert climates rather than at the north pole. Look for opportunities where people need your skillful help rather than where people just want your skillful help. Places like Invent2win,com allows mechanical designers to share in the wealth of any product they apply their skills to. Royalty based gigs worth $2MM each can help any mechanical designer to exceed income expectations.

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