Trends in compensation of AEC employees


    Zweig Group recently released its 2017 Salary Survey of Engineering Firms and 2017 Salary Survey of Architecture, Interior Design & Landscape Architecture Firms. The engineering survey is published as three regional collections — Northeast and South Atlantic, Central, and Mountain Pacific. The architecture survey is collated into one national compilation. More than 600 companies contributed to the research, providing interesting insights that are in line with data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and The National Bureau of Economic Research.

    The BLS found that there were only 112,600 architecture jobs in the United States in 2014. That number is projected to increase to 120,400 jobs by 2024. For civil engineers, there were 281,400 jobs in 2014, projected to increase to 305,000 by 2024. Looking only at these numbers, it makes sense that Zweig Group’s 2017 salary surveys found that the average entry-level and newly licensed civil engineer is making less than last year, whereas the average entry-level and newly licensed architect is making more. The labor pool for engineers is more than twice the size of the pool for architects. This has created a great demand for engineers, and colleges across the United States have delivered. The supply and demand equation has put downward pressure on the compensation of newly minted engineers and firms are responding by opening with a lower rate.

    The overall engineering job market is competitive and has been impacted by foreign nationals who are coming out of college looking to enter the U.S. workforce. This phenomenon has been widely studied during the last decade. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, “Immigration increased the supply of graduates in computer science and mechanical and electrical engineering by 36 percent, causing wages to fall by an estimated 10 percent.”

    This falls directly in line with Zweig Group’s findings in the 2017 Salary Survey of Engineering Firms. Nationally, entry-level engineers are making 3.7 percent less than they were a year ago and project engineers or newly licensed engineers are making 9.7 percent less than they were last year. Management-level engineers experienced a roughly 4.5 percent increase in their base salary, while the average principal-level engineer salary increased almost 10 percent. Overall wage growth across all engineers was just over 4.5 percent.

    However, a different trend is emerging in the architecture field. For interns, coordinators, junior architects, and intermediate architects, the national average salary increased by just more than 5 percent compared with last year. Salaries for senior architects, project managers, department managers, and principals were essentially flat compared with last year when all values were lumped together. Overall wage growth across all architects was about 3 percent.

    These are telling numbers, and if firm leaders expect to increase production while increasing profits, they will need to take a close look at their compensation programs. The efficiencies to be gained through technology and a younger, leaner workforce are real. Zweig Group has engaged in compensation analysis for more than a decade, interacting with some of the nation’s top AEC firms. These adjustments are the low-hanging fruit for a company looking to improve its profitability and present great growth opportunities for ambitious young engineers.

    The 2017 Salary Survey of Engineering Firms and the 2017 Salary Survey of Architecture, Interior Design & Landscape Architecture Firms are available for purchase (print or digital versions) at

    Will Swearingen is director of Research. He can be contacted at

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