By Patrick McLaughlin
After a tumultuous year during which the information and communications technology (ICT) workforce appeared to be spasming in the midst of Covid-era employment conditions and a spate of retirements, the results of our most recent compensation survey among ICT workers indicate a return to normalcy. Of course, in 2023 to describe anything as “normal” isn’t necessarily a reason for celebration. This article examines some of the primary findings of our latest compensation survey, including some comparisons to previous years’ results.
Let’s start with information about our methodology for collecting the information, and some basic demographics. We collected data via online survey in early 2023, using information only from individuals working in the United States. We obtained 536 usable responses to the survey.
Establishing table stakes
Among the questions we asked respondents were: primary job function, age, and number of years worked in the ICT industry. We also asked participants to self-identify their respective levels of expertise in the technology areas of data center projects, fiber optics, industrial automation, the Internet of Things, outside plant, security, and wireless systems. We also asked respondents to identify professional credentials they hold.
Compensation-specific questions we asked include whether the respondents are paid by hourly wage or annual salary, and the amount of their total compensation that came in the form of overtime hours and/or a bonus.
Participants’ job types break down as follows: 38 designers, 87 engineers, 77 general managers, 134 lead technicians, 106 project managers, 43 technicians, and 51 in the category “other.” Notably, the 38 designers in this year’s results is significantly below the number who participated last year (69). The other job types show up in relatively equal numbers this year compared to last year.
The average annual compensation for each job type is: designer: $112,169; engineer: $111,647; general manager: $123,216; lead technician: $81,934; project manager: $105,231; technician: $81,934; other, $91,911.
Compiling all the data we got from every survey respondent, the average worker’s compensation increased by 4% from last year to this year.
Before pointing out differences between this year’s compensation statistics and last year’s, it’s important to be clear that in the years we have conducted this survey, we have not tracked the same workers year-to-year-to-year, in the way that a sociological or medical study might track certain individuals over a number of years. Rather, for our compensation survey, we invite professionals from across the industry to participate, and we work with the data from those who willingly provide their information. Of course those individual participants vary year to year. With that in mind, I believe it remains relevant to point out changes in the average compensation for job types.
Technicians and lead technicians both earn more, on average, currently than they did a year ago ($78,174 currently vs. $67,818 last year for technicians and $81,934 currently vs. $78,210 last year for lead technicians). Average compensation for a designer also jumped, from $105,646 to $112,169, while project managers rose from $94,797 to $105,231. General managers also enjoyed a bump, from an average of $110,055 last year to $123,216 today. Those represent some hefty percentage increases in some cases (15% for technicians, 12% for general management, and 11% for project management), so with an overall average increase of 4%, something had to give. The job type that declined the most from last year to this, and in doing so brought down the average increase in total compensation, isn’t really a job type at all. It’s our “other” category. Last year, when the average compensation for a worker in the “other” category was $106,927, the role of network/IT management was common among respondents. That job type averaged $115,745 in compensation last year. This year, the “other” category is far more diverse in specific job functions, and its average compensation is $91,911—a 14% decline.
If we put that “other” category aside, and focus on the specific, defined job types common in the ICT industry, the survey results show increases across the board with the exception of engineers, whose average compensation fell by 1.6% from $113,478 last year to $111,647 this year.
The overall compensation increase for most ICT job types comes among mixed results for overtime pay and bonuses. Among employees paid by hourly wage, 66% received overtime pay within the previous year, averaging 130 hours of overtime in the 12 months leading up to their participation in our survey. Both those numbers are down, from 69% receiving overtime pay a year earlier, and averaging 142 hours of overtime. Both those numbers were down from the prior year.
For salaried workers, bonus data is mixed but better overall compared to overtime pay for hourly workers. Over the 12 months that preceded our survey, 47% of salaried workers received a bonus (down from 50% the previous year), and the average bonus amount was 10% of the employee’s annual salary (up from 9% of salary the previous year).
For the second consecutive year, designers were more likely to receive a bonus than salaried workers in other roles. A noteworthy 78% of salaried designers received bonuses within the past year, with the bonus amount averaging 9% of their annual salary. Project managers also fared well with bonuses. Fifty-six percent of them received bonuses, worth an average of 9% of their salary. While fewer than half of general managers (46%) received bonuses, those who did cashed in to the tune of 14% of their salary.
Job-hopping is moderate among ICT workers, with 9% of workers changing employers over the past year, barely down from 10% changing employers the previous year. Those who changed employers reported making 4% more than those who did not change jobs within the time period, which is up from 2% the prior year.
Experience and specialties pay off
Experience pays, according to this year’s data. We took the average compensation of workers with 0 to 4 years of experience in the ICT trade, and compared it to the compensation of workers with experience in five-year increments. Using the baseline of 100% for workers with 0-4 years of experience, here’s how it shaped up.
- 5-9 years: 148%
- 10-14 years: 138%
- 15-19 years: 169%
- 20-24 years: 171%
- 25-29 years: 197%
- 30-34 years: 177%
- 35-40 years: 188%
We similarly computed compensation according to age, by decades. Using workers in their 20s as the baseline of 100%, we found that workers in their 30s earn 138% of those in their 20s, and those in their 40s earn essentially the same—137% of what those in their 20s make. The number jumps to 151% for workers in their 50s, and settles at 147% for those in their 60s.
We remain unable to make assessments of the gender pay gap in the ICT industry, because so few of our participants are women. This year 5% of our survey respondents are women. In the years we have conducted the survey, we have always received less than 10% of our data from women. Nine percent of technicians and six percent of lead technicians who responded to our survey were women.
Expertise in certain network technologies or network types correlates to higher compensation. We asked workers to rate their own levels of expertise in certain specialties, and compared those who claimed high expertise to those who claimed no expertise in each specialty. This year, industrial automation is the area of specialization associated with the highest pay; those claiming high levels of expertise in industrial automation make 13% more than those with no expertise. Other areas of expertise and the increased compensation associated with them are the Internet of Things, 9%; data center installations, 8%, outside plant, 7%, wireless systems, 5%, fiber optics, 5%, and security, 2%.
As for formal education, graduates of technical/trade/vocational schools earn approximately 4% more than those with a high school diploma, while those who attended or graduated from a four-year degree program earn approximately 11% more than those with a high school education.
BICSI’s Registered Communications Distribution Designer (RCDD) is the most widely recognized professional credential in the ICT industry, and each year we have conducted the survey we have found that on average, workers with the RCDD earn more than those without it. This year is no different, although this time around we took a slightly different look at our data to make this determination. Specifically, we considered individuals who are designers, engineers, and managers. Among those job types, professionals who hold the RCDD earn 23% more than those who do not hold the credential.
When we compared workers who are members of a union to those who are not, we found that on average union members make 13% more than non-union members. But the difference varies by job type. For example, union engineers actually earn less than non-union engineers, by 5%. All other job types benefit financially from union membership. Union technicians earn 8% more; for designers it’s 10%; project managers, 16% higher pay for union members than non-union; lead technicians who belong to a union earn 23% more than non-union lead technicians, and general managers who are union members earn 32% more than non-union managers. In the five years we have conducted our salary survey, the percentage of respondents who are union members has remained relatively steady—declining only slightly from 14% in 2019 to 12% this year.
A year ago at this time we detailed our belief that the ICT industry is in the midst of The Great Retirement, with the number of older and deeply experienced workers declining. We don’t believe that’s the biggest story to tell from our data this year. Based on participation rates in our annual compensation survey, the decline in the number of older and most-experienced workers was modest over the past year. Nonetheless, it remains imperative for the ICT industry to attract and train new workers. Even so, a primary takeaway from this year’s compensation data is that for workers in the field conducting ICT and structured cabling installations, pay has by and large at least kept up with inflation. And specific areas of expertise command higher pay.
We thank all individuals who completed our compensation survey this year, and we hope you have found the information to be useful.
Patrick McLaughlin is our chief editor.