Engineers being paid $15 an hour - is that true?

One of my friends was laid off late last year from a long-term contract job - which was considered part-time even though it required extensive international travel - and in the meantime had sent out more than 100 resumes all over the U.S. Today, she got a job offer from a firm right here in town, also contract but possibly indefinite; benefits are skimpy but she does have health insurance through her husband and they do not have children. Anyway, she said that some of these jobs paid as little as $15 per hour - for a job that requires a 5-year bachelor’s degree or more! She didn’t say what her salary was, not that it’s any of my business anyway, but yes, she said that $15 to $30 an hour is indeed the current salary range, at least in our region and in the field she works in.

I thought engineering paid in the high five or low six figures, and that these jobs were for draftsmen or some similar “assistant” jobs.

Engineers of the Dope, what’s going on? :confused:

What kind of engineer is she?

Not an engineer but $30 sounds like either an entry-level position or regional variation, or both. $15 is low. $40 ($83k) is about average for a civil engineer, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics[1]. But it depends on the specialty.


[1] Torpey, E. (2018). Engineers: Employment, pay, and outlook. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from Engineers: Employment, pay, and outlook : Career Outlook: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

You know, I don’t think I’ve ever asked her what specific type of engineer she is. Her previous job was in the oil industry, so I’m presuming petroleum or something else to do with geology.

(And no, she did not attribute the pay scale to being female!)

Contract jobs (some of them) tend to be the situation where you are working to make the company owner rich. He hires people for as cheap as he can get then lowballs the bids on the job he provides engineers for. Knowing how these guys think, she’d better double-check the contract for any penalties if she quits a job early to go to a real job. The idea that the range is up to double the low end number also indicates something. Statr them off with low expectations. Of course, during a slowdown in the oil patch I assume there’s a glut on the market - but serious companies still wouldn’t drop their offered wage that badly.

Not sure down there, but as I understand it in Canada, an engineer must be “mentored” by an accredited engineer in a relevant job for at least a year or two to get their accreditation after graduation; and I had heard some companies take advantage of this. But in Canada, $15/hr is close to Barrista wages. (Of course, $15C = $US11 or so). If you already have engineers and need more, then screwing over the people you hope to keep for the long haul is a recipe for high turnover.

It could be title inflation, where they give you a better job title instead of more money. I had ‘engineer’ jobs that I thought were better described as ‘drafter’ or even ‘detailer.’ That came from the Quality Wars of the '90s, when ‘experts’ claimed that workers valued titles and respect more than money; management ate that up.

If you want to know the range for various levels of experience in various locations for various kinds of engineers, this is the source that I am required to use to calculate prevailing wages for H-1B visas.

Decent contracts for mid-tier employees, engineers or not, should pay 55-65 USD per hour. They should be easy to come by.

However, the amount of preying on people who are off of work is tremendous, and the am’t of low-balling is scary, combined with title inflation.

I am in that mix right now. I have made as much as 200/hour, but it doesn’t stop what seems to be reputable companies offering decent titles for 15-18 USD per hour. Recruiters would make great politicians.


Any tech person should be working with companies such as TekSystems, which should be able to get someone with an engineering degree 60/hour all day and night.

Interesting page-thanks.
That is one extensive list of job occupations! :slight_smile:

About thirty years ago, Washington Technology magazine ran a series on bidding practices of area defense contractors. One bidder was promising to provide bachelors-level electrical engineers for five dollars an hour. For comparison, when I was hired as a freshly-minted BSEE by the government a few years earlier, my salary was around $30,000, which would equate to $15/hour (for a forty-hour week).

So this company was claiming they could hire EEs for one third of what the government was paying its EEs, which is invariably less than contractors paid theirs.

When pressed, the company admitted that they recruited in low-cost of living areas; essentially they were hoping to trick unsophisticated employees into taking less pay than they could get from other employers. I found this strategy… amusing. I’m from West Virginia, but I and the other dumb hicks I grew up with all knew that the cost of living in DC/Balt was higher.

The company also said that it expected “a certain amount of unpaid overtime” from its employees. So if they make you work 80 hours a week, they’re getting two employees for the cost of one.

That is still fairly common in Gov’t contracting. The real strategy isn’t to somehow find a bunch of low-paid people to do the work-that isn’t going to happen over the life of the contract and the company knows it. What is actually going on is that the company will staff with people at the going (or maybe slightly lower if they can) rate and burn through the money more quickly than promised. These will be multi-year contracts and the company will use all the money for the first year in say 8 months. They will then go to the Gov’t and ask that the second year funding be turned on early (exercise the option early). Typically they will “fire” the contract manager for doing such a terrible job to show how shocked they are that their low-ball wasn’t working. The Gov’t is faced with a choice, either let all the contractors go after 8 months or give the contractor the money they had budgeted for the work back when the awarded the contract. After all, the Gov’t could not have awarded the contract if they couldn’t point to their budget where their estimated funds were earmarked. The Gov’t budgets an estimated amount for the work before the contract is awarded. In theory the budget is adjusted when the contract is awarded, but when there is an obvious problem looming, the Gov’t often keeps the money in reserve knowing it will be spent before the next budget cycle. So the three year contract burns through their ceiling in two years and the contract is let out for bid early. All the losing contractors who had bid honestly complain off the record, but the Gov’t contracting officer points out that their hands were tied and they had to accept the low bid. Depending on how well the contractor is liked by the Gov’t this can be a great strategy for the contractor or a disaster. After all they are contracturally required to provide the services at the price promised. They could be held to that. But why make your friends suffer? Especially since it is likely the contractor will essentially default and walk away leaving the Gov’t with a mess. Easier to pony up the money that is already in the budget anyway.

I only got $14/hour in my first engineering job out of college. Of course, that was in 1982.

Maybe $15/hr for an entry level technician just finished as associate’s degree?

There are a lot of jobs with the title “engineer” in them that don’t require a degree in engineering. My father’s title was “sales engineer,” which meant he wasn’t afraid of talking directly to the engineers instead of calling the office every time one of them had a question. My grandfather was a “stationary engineer” for the railroad, and his actual job was working on construction/maintenance crews at rail yards.

In Texas anyone who works at a gas station claims to be in the “oil business.” No aspersions on your friend, but I’m pretty sure somewhere in Texas there’s a gas station mechanic with an actual job title/description like mechanical engineer specializing in maintenance and repairs currently employed in the petroleum industry.