The highest paying engineering jobs share three attributes. They all focus on innovation, require a rare skill, and are high-risk.
These three attributes create the top incomes in every engineering industry. In fact, they’re the funnel for engineers who make over $500k per year!
In this article, my focus is on these three job attributes. More specifically, their influence on driving the highest paying engineering jobs.
To point out, almost always, the highest paid engineers are 10x engineers. Or at the very least, they’re exceptional engineers and far from average. And this isn’t a surprise. Only a select few can take on mountains of responsibility without buckling. All the while, perform at a high level day after day.
#1 Rare technical specialty skills
With employment, the law of supply and demand is king. It’s one of the leading drivers for how much an employer is willing to pay you.
If you have a specialty skill low in supply and high in demand, employers will bend over backward for you. This means you can easily fetch the big bucks with employers competing over you.
Think of pro sports and superstar athletes. It’s all very similar. If you’re a superstar athlete, teams will literally throw money and roll the red carpet out for you. All in the hope you sign on the dotted line to join their team to make them a contender. Because the skills of a superstar athlete are VERY rare and difficult to come by. Almost as rare as a bigfoot sighting…
In engineering, superstar performers exist too. These are the 10x engineers whose output is miles ahead of their peers. You rarely hear about these engineers though, because they’re not flamboyant. Rather, they’re almost always reserved and their work does their talking for them.
Now, to get in this rarified circle of maestro engineers, you need a combination of the following:
- Experience leading work in a high-demand industry for years on end and becoming very good at what you do.
- Track record of carving new sub-niches as a trailblazer in an industry. In other words, discover new technologies and/or processes.
- Ability to figure out unique approaches on how to solve problems. In return, save employers time and money.
- A special knack for doing high-level technical work.
- A relentless work ethic and a deep desire to constantly improve.
In short, find high in demand work and master it. Better yet, find what’s in demand with a low supply of talent supporting the work.
#2 Focus on innovation and building a better future
You can have the most amazing skills, but in the wrong niche, you’ll never maximize your income. You’ll just rot away with an abundance of untapped potential.
For example, imagine you’re a world-renowned programmer. BUT, you work in a large bank doing mundane work. Your work scope is processing the core financial accounting systems for the bank. That’s it!
So, not only are you not doing any innovative work, but you’re using less than 10% of your skillset. To make matters worse, your superiors can’t tell the difference between you and your peers.
I know, it sucks, because you have 10x the abilities of your peers. But, you can’t blame your superiors.
After years of working in a bank, all your superiors will know and think about is bank processes. Also, your work tasks are all simple, so you never even have opportunities to showcase your full skill set. To pile on, even more, most bank employees aren’t thinking about world-changing inventions. It’s not a knock-on working in a bank, but just a reality.
Now, imagine instead of a bank, you work for a top Artificial Intelligence (AI) company. In this role, you use every last ounce of your skillset. Heck, you stretch your skills to their absolute limits while constantly learning too. You do this to singlehandedly drag society forward with new advancements.
What’s more, in this role, your skills are highly desired and noticed by your peers. And, your superiors recognize the financial value your skills bring to the table. They understand how your work may one day revolutionize humanity. At the same time, create new billion-dollar industries to boot.
As a result, you’re paid appropriately. If a bank pays you $80,000 per year, an AI employer may pay you upwards of $1,000,000 per year.
The point is, align your abilities with industries with bright futures. This way, you can fully leverage your skills and maximize your income.
The success of Standard Oil Company
Standard Oil Company started by John D. Rockefeller in 1870 revolutionized the oil industry.
The company produced, transported, refined, and marketed what we call black gold. It rose in height in a period when America was rapidly growing. At the same time, a single oil industry leader did not exist then. So the industry door was wide open for a suiter to plant their winning flag.
Clearly, John D. Rockefeller had impeccable timing when he pounced on the opportunity. As a result, his company became one of the world’s largest oil companies at its height.
Now, try to do the same today with your everyday oil products. You’ll flop, and flop hard no matter what you do. This is exactly why you need to be a forward thinker. You need to pinpoint future booming industries and jump in with both feet before it gets crowded.
This is the first-mover advantage. Today, any breakthroughs in the following industries will make many people very rich:
- Artificial intelligence
You can find other hot future niches by reading about all the types of engineering.
#3 High-risk work
High-risk work most often comes with a high salary, and deservedly so. There’s a reason why some underwater welders demand half a million dollars in salary. They do incredibly dangerous and valuable work. Not only can they lose their lives with any given project, but their work puts the lives of the public at risk.
More specifically, high-risk projects include two distinct yet closely related parts. These two parts include the following:
- Cost: a project costing hundreds of millions of dollars
- Injuries and death: design failures causing injuries and loss of human life
Now, how do these two parts relate? For safety, you need to go above and beyond with engineering to ensure public safety. This added safety factor greatly increases project costs. In the same vein, if people get hurt from any engineering work, the liability is HUGE. So much so, that the court costs can bankrupt a company.
Not surprisingly, engineers involved in high-risk work need to be on top of their game. Because it’s an understatement to say “a lot is on the line” with high-risk engineering projects.
This correlation between salary and risk is further illustrated with doctors. For example, the salary of a cardiologist is much greater than a primary care doctor’s salary. It’s because a cardiologist operates on people’s hearts. As a result, their work can kill someone right then and there on an operating table. Whereas a primary care doctor mainly gives general information. Information you can fairly quickly find on Google yourself.
This same risk and salary model applies to the engineering profession as well. One engineer designs 120-volt lighting for malls. While another engineer leads the design for bridges across turbulent deep seas. The latter engineer is the person putting thousands of lives at risk. Thus, to no one’s surprise, they demand a much higher salary than the lighting engineer.
This then leads us to the following popular quote:
With great risk often comes great reward.
So if you don’t make huge stressful decisions, you’re probably not doing any high-risk work. Because high-risk positions aren’t laid back and cushy.
A good litmus test for the risk level in a job is the salary. More times than not, a salary will reflect the level of risk in a job. BUT, if the two other attributes with innovation and specialty skills are missing, a high-risk job can still be low-paying. A great example is structural engineers who design regular everyday bridges. They hold A LOT of liability with their designs putting many lives at risk, yet they’re low paid.
“What makes the highest paying engineering jobs?” wrap up
Engineering includes many high-paying jobs. Like any other profession though, only the best of the best land these jobs.
You need the right skillset, timing, and smarts to find yourself in a high-paying job. The great thing is, the engineering profession has plenty of high-paying positions. Because with every major advancement, there’s a handful of high-paying jobs floating nearby.
In the end, money brings power. But with great power comes great responsibility.
What are the highest-paying engineering jobs you know about? What factors do you think contribute the most to high-paying engineering jobs? Are you up for the responsibilities of a high-paying engineering job?
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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2020 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, our history and future, sports, and fitness.