Is an engineering degree challenging

Job satisfaction is something everyone strives for—to have interesting, challenging and meaningful work.

For engineers, having a bachelor’s degree used to be enough to ensure a career path of rewarding and satisfying employment; however, it is increasingly common for companies to say they prefer or require their engineers to have more advanced degrees in order to move into higher paying, higher responsibility, and more meaningful work—positions which are traditionally believed to have a higher rate of job satisfaction.

To try and answer the question of whether having a master’s degree, or higher, leads to a more satisfying engineering career, surveyed 311 members of our audience of engineering and technical professionals to determine their feelings of job satisfaction and other career-related factors.

Degree Types by Industry

To begin with, we asked our audience to share their industry and education details to see the types of degrees held by workers, and the engineering and related industries in which they work.

Unsurprisingly, bachelor’s degrees are still the most common degree held by engineers and technical professionals in the top ten industries represented by our survey respondents.  Out of a total 142 bachelor’s degrees held, 108 are held by engineers working in these ten industries, with a further 34 spread across other industries including metal fabrication, consumer electronics, agriculture and more.

The reported total of 94 master’s degrees shows a similar trend, though they trailed second to bachelor’s degrees in these ten industries, with 73 respondents indicating they hold a master’s degree.  A further 21 respondents with master’s degrees indicated they work in other industries.

The exception appears to be in the education industry, which shows a significantly higher number of doctoral degrees compared to other degree types.  This is to be expected, as most engineering education careers, teaching or otherwise working in academia, typically require a Ph.D.

Degree Types by Job Role

We also surveyed respondents’ job roles, to determine what level of education is held by engineers and technical professionals at different levels of employment, from technicians and engineers to managerial and executive roles.

According to the survey results, 50% of engineers hold bachelor’s degrees, and 28% hold master’s degrees, while 46% of senior engineers hold bachelor’s and 31% hold master’s.  The distribution of bachelor’s and master’s degrees is similar for managers (44% and 38%), executives (41% and 35%) and directors (40% and 33%).    

Senior engineers and director-level respondents showed the largest number of doctoral degrees, at 16% and 20% respectively. Notably, 45% of respondents in technician job roles indicated their degrees held fall into the “Other” category, which includes education such as associate’s degrees, technical certifications and non-collegiate training programs.  These other degree types were reported in low numbers for engineers (5%), senior engineers (4%), managers (6%) and executives (6%).  Unsurprisingly, the director job role is comprised almost entirely of higher level degrees with 0% reporting “Other” and only 7% reporting a college diploma.

Employment in Field of Study

For engineers and technical professionals who pursue higher degrees, the reason is often to advance their career in a specific field.  We asked our audience their area of study, and whether they were employed in the same field of engineering, a related field, or a different field altogether as what they studied during their degree.

The survey results indicate that out of 142 bachelor’s degree holders, 51% are employed in the same field as their field of study, and 33% in a related field.  Out of 94 master’s degree holders, 62% said they are employed in the same field, and 21% in a related field as their degree’s field of study.

Influence of Advanced Degrees on Career Advancement

Given the purported trend of more engineering-related jobs requiring or desiring advanced degrees such as masters and doctoral degrees, we asked our audience a series of questions related to whether advanced degrees were required for their current positions and for career advancement in their field, as well as their thoughts on the effect of advanced degrees on salary.

Requirement and Preference of Advanced Degrees

We asked our respondents whether their current employment position required a master’s degree or higher.  6.8% indicated that an advanced degree was required, and 24.1% indicated that an advanced degree was preferred for their job.  However, the majority of 69.1% indicated that a master’s or other advanced degree was not required for their job.

We asked whether our audience felt that career advancement is easier when holding a master’s degree or other advanced degree.  More than half of respondents (59.5%) said they agree (41.2%) or strongly agree (18.3%).  14.8% of respondents were neutral, and 25.8% indicated they disagreed or strongly disagreed.

We also asked whether respondents felt that an advanced degree is a requirement for career advancement.

In this instance, only 32.8% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that advanced degrees are a requirement for advancing their career.  47.3% of respondents disagree or strongly disagree that advanced degrees are required, while 19.9% were neutral.

Improved Expertise and Quality of Work

We also asked our audience their opinion on breadth of knowledge and quality of work with advanced degrees.

Pursuing advanced degrees is often considered the best way to deepen and broaden your engineering expertise and skill set, which is what makes them appealing for professionals who want to advance their careers.  Overall, our audience seems to agree, with 45.7% indicating they agree (36.7%) and strongly agree (9%), while 33.4% were neutral.  Only 20.9% indicated that they disagreed or strongly disagreed with the suggestion of improved breadth of knowledge.

Interestingly, while our respondents mostly agree that improved expertise and knowledge comes with an advanced degree, it appears this doesn’t carry over into their feelings about quality of work.

When asked whether advanced degrees mean an engineer or technical professional’s quality of work is higher, 36.7% indicated that they disagree or strongly disagree with this premise, and 40.2% appear to be neutral.  Only 23.2% of respondents stated they agreed or strongly agreed.

Overall Job Satisfaction

There are a number of factors that contribute to an employee’s sense of job satisfaction. Two of the primary points are whether they find their regular work tasks challenging and enjoyable, and their salary earnings. 

Enjoyment of Work Tasks

Whether workers find their regular tasks interesting, challenging and rewarding has a significant impact on their level of job satisfaction.  Having tasks and projects that interest and challenge employees is essential to staying engaged and active in their jobs, enjoying their workday and feeling fulfilled in their career overall.

We asked our respondents about the level of interest, challenge and enjoyment they feel toward their work.

 Across all our respondents, the vast majority agree or strongly agree that the work they do is interesting (83.3%), challenging (80.4%) and enjoyable (74%). 

Looking at respondents who hold specific degree types, the majority of each type of degree holder agreed or strongly agreed that their work tasks were interesting, challenging and enjoyable.

Salary Range

Earnings are another important factor that affects how satisfied an employee feels with their job. When an employee feels they are being well paid, they are more likely to feel valued and respected, which leads to higher feelings of satisfaction in their career.

Our survey found that more than half (59.8%) of respondents indicated their annual salary falls between $60,000 and $120,000, which is fairly standard for engineering and related careers.

Overall Job Satisfaction

So where do the engineers and technical professionals of our audience fall in terms of their overall job satisfaction?  Out of the total pool of respondents, more than half (79.1%) indicated they are satisfied or very satisfied with their job.  12.2% responded neutrally about their satisfaction levels, while only 8.7% said they were dissatisfied or greatly dissatisfied.

Dividing respondents by type of degree held, we see similar amounts of satisfaction across all degree types—specifically, that most engineers and technical professionals at any level of education are satisfied or highly satisfied with their job:  

  • 78.2% of bachelor’s degree holders are satisfied (52.8%) or highly satisfied (25.4%)
  • 78.7% of master’s degree holders are satisfied (50%) or highly satisfied (28.7%)
  • 80% of doctoral degree holders are satisfied (40%) or highly satisfied (40%)
  • 82.6% of college diploma holders are satisfied (47.8%) or highly satisfied (34.8%)
  • 81.8% of other degree holders, which includes associate’s degrees, technical certifications and other forms of education, are satisfied (59.1%) or highly satisfied (22.7%)

Interestingly, the respondents with the highest reported overall job satisfaction appear to be either those with doctoral level degrees, or college and technical training, while bachelor’s and master’s degree holders are slightly lower.  However, the difference is small enough that it’s reasonable to conclude that overall job satisfaction is not strongly impacted by the level of education workers possess.

While potential job satisfaction isn’t the only reason to pursue advanced education, it’s certainly an important consideration.  For other factors to take into account when deciding on continuing your engineering education, check out Fast Track Your Engineering Career with a Master’s Degree.