The Price is Right: Our Annual Designer Salary Survey Print E-mail
Written by Chelsey Drysdale   
Monday, 09 May 2011 21:46

After a painful 18 months, our latest design industry snapshot shows a picture of improving health (and increasing wealth).

A rising tide is lifting designers’ ships.

That was the major takeaway from our annual salary survey, which revealed, among other things, that nearly 70% of designers saw their pay rise during the past 12 months. Also notable: Designers feel more secure in their jobs.

For two weeks ending in early April, PCD&F once again surveyed those unsung industry workhorses who perform bare board design. To compile the data, we asked PCD&F subscribers who indicated they are designers, and marketed the survey on various websites, including our own. The questionnaire covered salaries, job functions, titles, benefits, education, and career satisfaction and longevity.

We received 466 responses worldwide, nearly 70 responses more than in 2010. Note that differences between last year’s and this year’s data are not necessarily signs of changes, but rather could be the result of variations in the population of respondents. The results should be considered more of a snapshot of the industry, not an exhaustive statistical exercise.

Of the total respondents, 67% indicate their principal job function is PCB design and layout, by far the highest response (TABLE 1). Comparatively, 46.3% of the 2010 respondents identified PCB design and layout as their primary job function. Those performing PCB layout only make up 9% of the respondents, PCB engineering 8%, and design/layout management 6%. Last year, PCB engineering was the second most common response (13.6%). In 2011, engineering management, design support, application engineer, engineering consulting, ECAD librarian and “other” categories each received 2% of responses or fewer.
Senior PCB designers account for 57% of those surveyed, by far the largest segment. Next in line are PCB designers (12%). Last year, senior PCB designers made up 35.2%, and PCB designers accounted for 17.2%. Other job titles in 2011 include design engineers (9%), PCB design managers (6%), and senior engineers (4%). Hardware engineers and principal engineers each account for 3% of responses, and electronics technicians and “other” make up 2% each. CAD librarians and technical directors round out the job titles with 1% each (TABLE 2).

Not surprisingly based on the above, those who replied are very experienced, with 54% indicating more than 20 years tenure in the industry, compared to 60% last year. Twenty percent have more than 25 years under their belts, while another 18% have more than 30 years. Eighteen percent of designers say they have 11 to 15 years of experience, while 13% indicate 16 to 20 years. Only 14% of respondents say they have 10 years or fewer in the industry.

Respondents are Western-centric. Most (76%) who took the survey are based in the US (TABLE 3). Central/Western Europe makes up 7%, and Canada 6%. Only 3% are from Southeast Asia (not China), and 2% hail from Eastern Europe. While a couple respondents are based in Africa/Middle East, no one from Japan responded, understandable in light of recent tragic events.

If one wanted to draw a picture of a “typical” designer, they would start with a middle-aged male. The prevalence of the Y chromosome is stunning: 88% of respondents are male. More than half (58%) are 41 to 55 years-old. Just 14% are 35 or younger. However, only 8% are 60 or older, suggesting we still have some time to go before the profession fully changes over. The lingering question: When the older designers make their exit, will there be ample reserves to take the reins?

What did we learn? Designers still predominantly (67%) work for OEMs (TABLE 4). Ten percent say they work for design service bureaus, up from 8.6% in 2010. Six percent indicate they work for both OEMs and service bureaus. The number of respondents at electronics manufacturing services firms dropped to 1% this year from 3.9% last year. Given the push by EMS to grab more of the electronics manufacturing pie, that was a surprise.

While the notion that small businesses are the backbone of industry carries some weight, most designers still work for large firms. Forty percent are employed by companies with 1,000 or more workers, and 19% more belong to workforces numbering 251 to 1,000. Only 16% work for companies with 25 or fewer employees. (Perhaps the service bureaus are too busy to respond in larger numbers.)

Likewise, 15% of respondents work for firms with annual sales of $5 billion or more. Another 10% work for companies with annual revenue of more than $1 billion, and 7% are with $500 million companies. Just 13% of designers work for firms with less than $5 million in annual revenue.

Money Talks

For the survey, PCD&F asked respondents to characterize their current annual salaries (in US dollars), generally in $10,000 to $15,000 increments. The good news: Some 73% of respondents indicate their salary topped $60,000, making printed circuit board design a field comparable to other engineering pursuits. According to, the typical mechanical engineer in the US makes $52,000 to $72,400; the average electrical engineer makes $55,700 to $79,500, bonuses included. According to this survey, an impressive number make well above the average range: 30% in all report making $90,000 or more, with 12% topping $100,000 and 6% earning more than $115,000 (TABLE 5).

Table 5. Current Annual Salary ($US)

Asked how their salary has changed in the past year, 43% say it increased 1 to 3%; 28% indicate no change; 15% of designers experienced an increase of 4 to 6%, and 9% say it rose more than 7%. While 69% received salary increases in the last 12 months, only 49.9% received a raise, according to last year’s survey. This year, 4% indicate their salaries dropped, down from 7.8% in the 2010 survey.

The majority of respondents (53%) did not receive an annual bonus in the past 12 months. Still, that’s better than last year, when 43.8% received a bonus. Of those who received a bonus in the past 12 months, 42% say it was 1 to 3% of their salary; 29% say it was 4 to 6%, and 30% say it was more than 7%.
Other company benefits include health insurance (85%); dental insurance (73%); life insurance (70%), and 401(k) plans (68%). Forty-five percent have the luxury of a company cafeteria, while 33% have the option of purchasing company stock. Thirty percent of designers have access to employer pension and retirement plans, and another 30% have an exercise room at work. More than a quarter indicate profit sharing as an option (26%), and nearly a quarter say they can telecommute (24%). Eighteen percent are offered relocation expenses, and 7% can take a sabbatical. A mere 6% have daycare facilities at work, and 9% say they are not offered any of the above benefits.

A notable shift has occurred since the 2010 survey in terms of career challenges. Last year, the respondents’ top concern was keeping their jobs. In 2011, however, “workload” garnered nearly half of responses (48%). Technology is the second-largest concern (38%), and a third of respondents report concern over keeping their jobs. Twenty-seven percent expect outsourcing challenges (TABLE 6).

Old School

Technology is getting more intense, but conventional boards just won’t die. Asked what types of projects and/or technologies the designers directly engineer, design or layout, more than half indicate single-sided boards, and four-fifths say double-sided. If it works, why change? Other results:

  • Single-sided PCBs: 51%
  • Double-sided PCBs: 81%
  • 4- to 6-layer PCBs: 86%
  • 7- to 10-layer PCBs: 64%
  • 12-plus layer PCBs: 53%
  • Flex/rigid PCBs: 49%
  • Microvias/HDI: 44%
  • RF/microwave: 35%
  • BGAs: 56%
  • ASICs/ICs: 29%
  • Embedded systems: 15%
  • Chip-scale packages: 14%
  • Hybrids, MCMs, SoCs, SiPs: <10% (each).

The number of new designs produced each year varies, with six to 10 being the highest, with 27% of responses. Nineteen percent of designers produce 11 to 15 new designs, and 18% produce only one to five annually. Fourteen percent say they produce 16 to 20 new designs, and 10% say they create 21 to 30. Eleven percent of designers find time for more than 30 new designs each year.

Are designers getting more education, or is more education needed to be a designer? Sixty-two percent of designers say their highest level of education is “some college” or an associate’s degree. In 2010, nearly 60% said they attended college, but lacked a four-year degree. This year, twenty-one percent hold bachelor’s degrees in engineering, while 6% have a BA/BS in a non-engineering field. In 2010, 14% held an engineering degree (TABLE 7).

Grad school doesn’t seem a factor for designers, as only 6% have master’s degrees and no respondents reported a Ph.D. Five percent have a high school diploma only.

Despite the lack of higher degrees, 57% of respondents say their companies provide tuition reimbursement, up from 54.8% last year. Fifty-three percent tout on-the-job training as an educational opportunity supported by their company, while 45% indicate conference reimbursement. Thirty-nine percent have company-sponsored classes; 26% have the opportunity for mentoring, and 20% say college classes are supported by the firm.

Most respondents are not in management. In 2011, 79% of designers indicate that no one reports directly to them, while 16% say one to five people do so. Only 3% say six to 10 staff members report to them, and 2% are in charge of more than 10.

Asked which products or service purchases designers evaluate, recommend, specify or approve, designers claim predominantly CAD software (78%), three percentage points more than in 2010. Prototype PCB services garnered 57% of responses, much higher than in the prior survey. Design services was third (34%), followed by assembly services (29%), and CAM software and active/passive components (27% each). Volume PCB fabrication services and connectors and cables each received 26%, respectively. Solder mask and substrate materials both had 21%; CAE software came in with 20%, as did computers and peripherals. Fewer than 15% of respondents specify solder materials, epoxies or finishes, suggesting DfM has not fully taken hold.

Designers mostly have the power to recommend products (40%), while 17% can evaluate products and 15% can specify them. Only 12% can approve product purchases, and 16% do not have any power to perform any of these functions.

Here are last year's results:

Chelsey Drysdale is senior editor of PCD&F; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated on Monday, 13 June 2011 21:42




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