A Comparative Study of International Engineering Salaries Dataset

Generating Data on Comparative Salaries

Average Salaries per country/engineering field/experience level

The data for the average salaries of engineers from SA, UK, US and Australia in the fields of mechanical, chemical, electrical and civil was found on Payscale.com, a website that aggregates the employment information of thousands of users, including engineers, across different levels of experience ranging from those new to the industry to the veterans with more than 20 years experience.

Salaries after tax

The average salaries from each country, for each field, and within four ranges of experience (0-5 year, 5-10 years, 10-20 years and >20) were then each run through the online tax calculators of each respective country (with the most basic settings) to get salaries per year after tax.

Applying Purchasing Power Parity (PPP)

The amounts generated by the above processes only served to illustrate the nominal value of earnings in each country’s local currency, but to be able to compare all the values they need to be translated into a single currency. Rather than using the current nominal exchange rate, the theory of Purchasing Power Parity – an economic theory that estimates the amount of adjustment needed on the exchange rate between countries in order for the exchange to be equivalent to each currency’s purchasing power – was applied to find a ‘real exchange rate’ (for instance R5 can get you the equivalent of $1 of the same goods, which suggests a much lower exchange  rate than the current R15/$1 rate) between the respective countries and all the  foreign values were subsequently converted to rands. The World Bank’s PPP adjustment were used. 

Mechanical Engineering

Nominal salary (in local currency) Experience levels (in years)
Country 0-5 5to10 10to20 >20
RSA 301000 484000 569000 668000
UK 28000 33000 33000 32000
USA 67000 84000 100000 102000
Australia 63000 75000 86000 97000
Salary after tax
Country 0-5 5to10 10to20 >20
RSA 247919 369649 423482 483872
UK 22127 25527 25527 24847
USA 51940 63390 74166 75498
Australia 49773 57578 64513 71223
Salary adjusted for PPP (in Rands)
Country 0-5 5to10 10to20 >20 PPP exhange rate to Rand
RSA 247919 369649 423482 483872 1
UK 157101.7 181241.7 181241.7 176413.7 7.1
USA 296058 361323 422746.2 430338.6 5.7
Australia 174205.5 201523 225795.5 249280.5 3.5

Electrical Engineering

Nominal salary (in local currency) Experience levels (in years)
Country 0-5 5to10 10to20 >20
RSA 311000 462000 629000 674000
UK 28000 32000 37000 40000
USA 66000 79000 92000 104000
Australia 69000 92000 103000 118000
Salary after tax
Country 0-5 5to10 10to20 >20
RSA 254819 355569 460082 487532
UK 22127 24847 28247 30287
USA 51267 60022 68778 76785
Australia 53648 68173 74883 84033
Salary adjusted for PPP (in Rands)
Country 0-5 5to10 10to20 >20 PPP exhange rate to Rand
RSA 254819 342769 460082 487532 1
UK 157101.7 176413.7 200553.7 215037.7 7.1
USA 292221.9 342125.4 392034.6 437674.5 5.7
Australia 187768 238605.5 262090.5 294115.5 3.5

Chemical Engineering

Nominal salary (in local currency) Experience levels (in years)
Country 0-5 5to10 10to20 >20
RSA 261000 442000 560000 590000
UK 30000 43000 50000 69000
USA 68000 86000 103000 124000
Australia 63000 93000 106000 140000
Salary after tax
Country 0-5 5to10 10to20 >20
RSA 219164 342769 417992 436292
UK 23487 32266 36326 47346
USA 52614 64737 76141 89996
Australia 52993 64513 76713 97453
Salary adjusted for PPP (in Rands)
Country 0-5 5to10 10to20 >20 PPP exhange rate to Rand
RSA 219164 342769 417992 436292 1
UK 166757.7 229088.6 257914.6 336156.6 7.1
USA 299899.8 369000.9 434003.7 512977.2 5.7
Australia 185475.5 225795.5 268495.5 341085.5 3.5

Civil Engineering

Nominal salary (in local currency) Experience levels (in years)
Country 0-5 5to10 10to20 >20
RSA 280000 403000 573000 723000
UK 26000 31000 36000 44000
USA 56000 69000 81000 94000
Australia 66000 83000 100000 104000
Salary after tax
Country 0-5 5to10 10to20 >20
RSA 233224 317809 425922 516988
UK 20767 24167 27567 32846
USA 44532 53287 61361 70125
Australia 51693 62683 73053 75493
Salary adjusted for PPP (in Rands)
Country 0-5 5to10 10to20 >20 PPP exhange rate to Rand
RSA 233224 342769 425922 516988 1
UK 147445.7 171585.7 195725.7 233206.6 7.1
USA 253832.4 303735.9 349757.7 399712.5 5.7
Australia 180925.5 219390.5 255685.5 264225.5 3.5

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29 thoughts on “A Comparative Study of International Engineering Salaries Dataset

  1. Where did you get these figures from? I am a Chem Eng in Aus with 20 years experience earning more than AUD $350,000 and I am not even a very senior engineer that often earn in excess of $500,000.

    Several other factors play a role as well as in South Africa you have to overcome additional hurdles for promotion that has nothing to do with performance or capability.

    Among my group of engineering friends we all can confirm that we are much better off living in Australian than what we would have been did we stay in South Africa.

    1. Dear Hannes,

      All the data are in the following spreadsheet. I’m just using the data available.
      I realise in hindsight that it might not have been very clear in my initial article that I was using Purchasing Power Parity to determine the real value of salaries in respective countries – some countries are much more expensive to live in than others, so while you may earn a certain amount nominally, in real purchasing power terms it is much less.

      Otherwise, as long as you are happy wherever you are then all is well. This article was just meant to shed some light on erroneous perceptions that SA is such a terrible place to live and work in.

      Regards,

      Safrp

      1. I think you data is poor. It does not align with my or my engineer friends experience. Therefore your conclusions will also be incorrect.

        1. Dear Hannes,

          Are you are suggesting that your anecdotal information constrained by a limited sample group consisting of you and your friends qualifies as better data?

          Regards,
          Safro

          1. It should pass the smell test. For example the average wage earner in Aus receive about $100,000 per annum before taxes. You have engineers earning less than that. I am not a highly paid engineer and get 350% more and I know all the engineers that work for me get get least 50% to double what you state and my company pay just above average. Engineers are taught to mistrust data as instruments are often wrong. It is something we look out for every single day. In this case anectodal data tells me that your data there is something wrong with your instrument or alternatively how you used or interpreted the data.

          2. Dear Hannes,

            This is the data that your peers in Australia have offered the world. There may be other datasets out there that have higher numbers, but the nice thing about this dataset is that it has uniform data for all four the country’s used in the study. Someone also noted that the numbers for the SA engineer seem quite low as well, if that is the case, then it means that at least all the salaries are uniformly under reported, but the relative size of the pay differences should remain the same.

            I have provided you with observations based on the data sets that I analysed, you have provided me purely anecdotal evidence. In fact thus far, not a single person, on any forum, has provided me with a shred of counter evidence other than anecdotal.

            From information, easily accessible online, it is clear that Australian engineering is going through one of the worst employment crises in 30 years, while SA engineers have an unemployment rate of less than 1%. Now I don’t have a engineering degree, nor have I traveled to Australia, but I do have an Economics degree, and basic supply and demand tell me, even without any hard data on salary figures, that salaries are going to be relatively higher in SA than Australia.

            Coupled with the fact that Australia has the 13th highest cost of living in the world, compared to SA which is 103rd (source here) and it is blatantly apparent that these facts and figures aren’t nearly as ludicrous as you purport them to be.

            Regards,
            Safro

          3. I also have an economics degree as well, so I have followed your methods and reasoning. yes, I use anecdotal evidence but it is useful to highlight when something warrants a deeper look.

            To make an assertion that engineers are economically better off in South Africa than in traditional emigration destinations is a big call. This conclusion can impact decisions of individuals to emigrate or stay, so I think you have a duty of care to ensure that you came to the correct conclusion and that your conclusion is robust to the assumptions.

            Without focusing on the problem that your data fly in the face of several people’s experience, there are several other factors that were excluded from your analysis. For example, there are additional costs in South Africa to meet the same standard of education and health care, use the roads, career opportunities are often constraint by racial discrimination, university fees for children fees are often funded by the state (I have 3 children that study medicine so that is important), etc. Externalities are not appropriately priced including pollution (I worked in Secunda), state interference etc. These often do not make the PPP model that is heavily skewed by property prices. Then there are the benefits of a strong safety net if you loose your job…. etc. I still think on the balance of probabilities your conclusion is incorrect.

  2. The PPP adjustment is just plain BS as is the average salary in the UK. I know of no engineers who are still on 30k in pounds after 20 years experience (after tax). Most of my counterparts are on take home of at leat 60k (at least that is engineers who are of any competence). Maybe just maybe you picked those engineers who elected to become shelf packers in stores or dustmen as a result of the pressure of being an engineer. Take home pay in the UK already has NI extracted which pays for the like of the NHS and unemployment benefit etc, this all needs to be paid for in RSA in after tax rands.
    Though to be fair I think that in RSA the average 20 year engineer probably takes home closer to 600-700k if they are at least half competent due to the shortage.
    The PPP of the pound is closer to 18:1 if you factor out the housing issue in the UK (as I know because I spend a lot of time in the UK) and in fact on groceries and water and lights alone it is closer to 20:1 when you shop around for the best deals.
    I think you need to get a better data set and not just use the big mac index or beer index (as important as they clearly are…)

    1. Dear Geoff,

      I worked with the World Bank’s own PPP adjustments. I you can suggest a better dataset then I will have a look at it.

      Regards,
      Safro

  3. i am a SA engineer resident and working in ther UK for the last 27 years. your data regarding mechanical engineer’s salaries is incorrect- after 20 years work experience a mechanical engineer can , easily, expect to earn £40K plus (notthe 33k that you have stated).

    1. Dear Stephen,

      Im using the aggregated user data that was provided on the website payscale.com. For instance, the aggregated input of 2.284 mechanical in the UK states that the average wage for a person with more 20 years experience is 32 000 pounds. here is the link

      Even if they did earn 40k plus, it would still not match an SA engineer’s salary in terms of purchasing power. The amount would have to be closer to 60k.

      Regards,
      Safro

  4. I think you missed this in your link
    http://www.steppingsouth.com/News/News_080124.htm

    “Vacancies at private companies sometimes stay open for long rather than them placing an unsuitable candidate. This is much more apparent at a parastatal like Eskom.”

    I know of 4 engineers who cannot get a job in South Africa because of this.

    In other countries there is no such problem.

    1. Dear Pieter,

      The statistics indicate that the unemployment rate for engineers in SA is very low.
      If the four engineers you know are unable to get a job then they are either the exception or they have not been counted in the statistics. If it is the latter, then I apologise – I can only do so much and have to rely on statistics that are found in public sources for my data.

      Regards,
      Safro

      1. The statistics also say that white people own most of the farmland in South Africa.

        There are only 30 000 farmers in South Africa making them less than 1% of a white population of 4.5 million. So, more than 99% of white people do not own any farmland at all.

        So, there is statistics and then there is statistics.

    2. Looking at the replies above from the other respondents, it is clear that there is something wrong with the statistics.

      No wonder engineers are leaving South Africa because they don’t believe the “statistics”

  5. Peter Calitz and others, due to your negative perceptions about SA, you are missing the point of the article by Safro. I will also request you to look at employment statistics in SA -you can even look at murder, robberies and so forth- and you will find that they are still worse for the majority of the population, particularly among Black Africans and Coloured. and Calitz your argument about land is exactly the problem that many developing countries are faced with- a small proportion of the population (1% according to you argument), regardless of race, owning almost 2/3 of fertile farm land or controlling GDP. That’s why countries like India, Brazil, Columbia, and add SA remain highly unequal, wealth is controlled by the few privileged.

      1. Dear Pieter,

        The point of the article is to show that taking into account PPP, SA engineers actually earn a lot compared to other countries because the cost of most everyday goods are much cheaper here.
        If the author of the other article bothered to read my dataset, then he would see that the values aren’t nominal values, but adjusted for purchasing power. Obviously a engineer in Uk doesnt earn R200 000 per annum, in fact he earns closer to R600 000 – R700 000, but if you take into account how expensive the UK is – London is regularly cited as one of the most expensive cities in the world – then using PPP values (offered by the World Bank if you want to argue the figures, take it up with them) to adjust the R600 000 to actually be only worth around R200 000 in SA.

        All the comments on this article, as well as the rebuttal on News24 written by the other gentleman are using purely anecdotal evidence or just pure disbelief. None of them have given me any hard evidence to counter the multitude of data that I have provided.

        Just because you refuse to believe something, does not mean it isn’t true.

        Regards,
        Safro

    1. The point of the article is that South African engineers earn more that engineers from other countries and that is absurd. Look at SkerP’s rebuttal and understand.

  6. Very interesting.

    Even though the figures might not be 100% accurate (I mean how accurate is Payscale really?), the conclusion is the same I found from my own research and search for greener pastures.

    Another interesting way to look at this though would be that depending on your expenses and how much you can save in all of these countries, SA might still be best, or more likely for someone on a median salary, you can save more in Rand terms overseas.

    So as an engineer, go see the world, save some dollars, hedge your bets with a second passport, get some international experience, and if South Africa is still standing or even standing stronger after 10, 20 or 30 years when you retire then you return and retire in luxury with your dollars converted into Rand to take advantage of that PPP rate.

  7. Hi Safro,

    Although you make a good point regarding PPP versus salary. As you know the South Africa’s currency has depreciated around 56% since Zuma has been in power. If you took the rand value of 7.60 or say 8 rand to the dollar as per 2009, and 12 rand to the pound as of 2009, do your statistics alter much?
    Cheers
    Barrie

    1. Dear Barrie,

      Good point on the depreciation, but the PPP values used looks at the cost of a basket of simialar goods, and does not take into account current or past exchange rates, and even with the rand depreciating that much, the cost of living has not increased nearly as significantly in South Africa. What this means of course is that it has become even cheaper for those traveling with pounds and dollars to visit our sunny shores.

      Regards,
      Niel

  8. Dam right it’s cheap, was out in SA in Christmas, 8 people in restaurant for meal out with drinks £40. But what I am getting at is in 2009 if £1 gets me 12 rand, then you compare what £1 can buy and what 12 Rand can buy. Same with the dollar, if $1 dollar equals 8 Rand, then you compare what 8 Rand and $1 can buy. So the whole PPP would have to be re adjusted therefore you results would totally different, or am I missing something? If South Africa’s currency should suddenly strengthen, to it’s real terms again, which I believe to be around the R14 to the pound and R9-10 to the dollar, when you compare what you can buy with 15 rand and 10 rand to each the dollar and pound, don’t overseas countries look more favourable?

    1. Thats what PPP figures help you do. Depending on when the figures were last updated of course. In my experience the one thing that this does not take into account is if you want to travel, which is my curerrent positon.

  9. As an Engineer on secondment in the UK, I can confirm the UK numbers seem to be more correct than the anecdotal evidence provided by people with more than a semblance of bias against South Africa in the comments above. I realise my experience is as anecdotal as the others at the same time however.

  10. So would it be fair to say we should look at the Purchasing Power in terms of GDP in order to get an accurate answer? If you look at it in those terms the scale is tipped the other way. Also what PPP does is always converts your currency into dollar and compares to New York so its a bit iffy at times. I always look at the cost of living in a country compared to the average salary.

    As Safro pointed out a couple of websites to go and use figures, if you take prices of SA for bread, milk, restaurant prices, rent and many other things the website Numbeo which has all the latest stats as of 2016, U.K is 53.60% more expensive than South Africa. But the average Gross salary in U.K per annum is £26500 after tax £21,107 and in SA gross salary R210,384 after tax R181,704. Also I have looked at the average cost of living per country in U.K as of 2016 it costs the average person £13,400 pounds a year to live, which is about 60-65% of your take home pay. But I cannot find any stats on the average cost of living in SA, maybe someone can help?

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