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Experience and education pays - literally

Posted: 30 Sep 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:educational experience? test engineer? design engineers? communication systems? semiconductor industry?

The 2002 edition of Electronic Engineering Times - Asia's annual salary survey reveals that companies still put a premium on engineers that have attained a high level of educational and possess a substantial number of years in experience.

In the 2001 survey conducted by Electronics Engineering Times - Asia, salaries were substantially below U.S. levels. This year, the mean salary across Asia dropped by a percentage point, from $13,546 last year to $13,344 this year. Annual salaries of Chinese EEs are still way below their Asian counterparts at $7,033 while Taiwan engineers receive the highest salaries in the region at $22,692.

Salary levels have remained the same as a result of the prolonged slump in the electronics industry. Raghu Panicker, channel manager of Mentor Graphics India, says their company have frozen salaries since last year. "For the rest of this year, there will not be any pay hikes. The overall scenario in the industry looks bad, with salary levels declining and companies freezing recruitment," he adds.

How experience pays

The economy is a major issue in answering the question of whether or not to give out salary increases, especially in the engineering community. However, in terms of the level of salaries, the issue of experience comes in. Kim Ho-Jong, senior consultant of Unico Search Inc., says "The most sought after engineers in the industry are those with over 5 years of experience. Engineers with less than 3 years of experience are not much in demand."

In mainland China, engineers with about three to 25 years of experience earn income ranging from $8,626 to $9,213. This reveals that experience is not much of a factor in the salary level of Chinese engineers.

Contradicting China's income situation is the upward flow shown in Taiwan. The diagram posts growing figures as the level of experience rises. Engineers with one to nine years of working experience earn $10,000 to $20,000 and skilled engineers with 12 years to 20 years of practice are paid at $28,000 to $38,000. Surprisingly, engineers with 20 to 25 years of technical knowledge gets $60,000, a fairly big leap as compared to engineers with much lesser working experience. To wrap up, the rates for engineers at their technical peaks are bigger compared to those with lesser degrees of experience.

Similarly, experience counts a lot in South Korea's electronics industry. Engineers with less than 6 years of experience receive slightly more than $17,000 in income. This jumps to slightly more than $21,000 for engineers with about six to less than 12 years of experience. EEs with more than 12 years of experience earn approximately $29,000, or a 38 percent jump.

Education as an asset

Undoubtedly, one of the factors, if not the major factor, in receiving a higher compensation package rests upon an engineer's educational attainment. Companies prioritize "tech people" who continually seek higher educational attainment as assets - primarily to enable the company to keep pace with the latest technological advancements and improve the engineers' skills, hence the higher pay scale.

It is this promise of greener pastures that drive engineers to pursue higher study opportunities. Rumki Fernandes, head of Consulting and Value Added Services at ABC Consultants Pvt Ltd, estimate that about 40 percent of the top engineering students from Indian Institute of Technology pursue graduate studies. "Other engineers out of campus work for two to three years in any firm and then leave to pursue higher studies," Fernandes said.

And the payoff can be very big for an engineer armed with a post-graduate degree. In Taiwan an engineer that possess a Bachelor's degree in electronics/computer/electrical engineering or an engineering field takes in an average annual pay of $17,297 - a rate just slightly below the island's annual average salary of $18,539.71.

But with a master's degree, he's or she's pay can jump up to $21,700, while a doctorate degree can be worth $25,364 annually - 37 percent higher than the island's average salary.

South Korea and mainland China's engineers also share the same situation as their Taiwan counterparts. A South Korean graduate with a Bachelor's degree in electronics/computer/electrical engineering receives an average of $19,689.33, which is almost 10 percent lower than the country's average. While a similar engineer in the mainland receives around $7,400 annually - just below the country's average of $8,135.55.

In South Korea, a master's degree can push the salary up to at least $25,000 annually, while a doctorate degree further increases the pay to at least $32,000. In mainland China, a master's degree can double an engineer's salary, while a doctorate one can, no doubt, triple it.

Having an MBA degree also bodes well for an engineer. South Korean respondents of the survey said engineers who possess an MBA receives $75,000, while their mainland counterparts receive $20,435; a much lower rate than South Korean-based individuals but significantly higher than the average salary in mainland China.

The pay adjustment for possessing an MBA degree is mostly due to companies that require "multidiscipline" engineers, especially those in management positions, who are able to balance the engineering and business aspects of their jobs.

"A successful technical manager should understand the relationship between technology and the market," explained Zhenqiang Diao, executive editor of web-based recruitment firm Diao said that aside from the technical training provided by the company, engineers should enroll in MBA courses to enhance their perception on business operation and the market.

But, contrary to what many believe, having an MBA does not normally equate to a higher salary. S.R. Dinesh, a senior research analyst at Frost & Sullivan (India), observes that the importance of an MBA degree as an added qualification for engineers has gone down.

"With the number of management institutes that have come up in India, there are so many graduates. This means that there is an excess in supply, while demand has declined since not all of the graduates are up to par," explained Dinesh. He reckons that there are up to 300 management schools that are churning out up to 70 graduates per year.

Seniority is not always the key

As with other professions, a measure of seniority is also followed in determining the amount of compensation an engineer receives. Respondents to the salary survey indicated that as engineers move up the age bracket, the compensation they receive also increases.

This might be due to the perception that as engineers age, they are able to gather more knowledge, refine their skills, and generally become more reliable in terms of job function.

Engineers from the Asian region exhibited a steady increase in their salaries when they moved along the age bracket. South Koreans within 20 to 24 years experience received at least a 15 percent increase in their wages, peaking at $35,000. While those included within the 60 to 64 age range also said they received a salary of $75,000.

Their Taiwan and mainland China counterparts also showed a generally a steady increase, with Taiwan's engineers receiving $26,100 at the 65 and over bracket, while China's engineers within the 40 to 44 year bracket received $11,121.

However, the data for both also indicated that seniority does not necessarily guarantee an increase in the wages. Mainland China engineers said that their salaries started decreasing when they hit 45. This condition bottoms out around the 55 to 59 age bracket when they receive just $4,909 in annual salary - just 20 percent above what engineers aged 20 to 24 received.

Their Taiwan counterparts within 50 to 54 years old also claimed a slight decrease, experiencing about a four percent reduction from the average salary that engineers in the 45 to 49 groups receives.

"The salary of senior or experienced engineers basically depends on factors such as workplace, academic degree, knowledge, and the company's need and condition," shared Jeong Min-Keun, president and CEO of South Korea-based IT search firm WhoIT. "Just having more experience or a higher position does not guarantee a higher salary level."

- Gerwin Co and Kathryn Gerardino

Electronic Engineering Times - Asia

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