Optics Careers Are Very Satisfying

2013 SPIE salary survey for optics and photonics finds job satisfaction high.

01 October 2013

Job satisfaction is high among a full 85% of respondents in the new SPIE salary survey of the global optics and photonics community, and the trend holds in regions of varying pay ranges as well as varying work-week lengths.

Survey results released in August update results from similar surveys in 2011 and 2012 and form the largest such international study of the industry.

“I love this industry!” says SPIE Senior Member David Aikens, founder and president of Savvy Optics (USA). “I don’t know anyone who is happier with their choice of careers and industries as people doing optical design. What a glorious life we have.”

The survey found that median salaries, at $76,000, were 4% higher than last year, with differences primarily driven by country income level and employer type.

“Overall, these are jobs that not only pay well but also yield quality-of-life satisfaction and the ability to make a difference,” says SPIE executive director Eugene Arthurs. “In addition to enjoying their own work, optics and photonics professionals overwhelming — by 90% — say they respect the work of their peers.

“The stability in strong salary levels as compared to levels across all jobs reflects the continuing strength of the optics and photonics sector and the high value that these jobs contribute to the economy.”

Among continuing trends, aerospace, with a median annual income of $113,500, remains the highest-paid sector, while the gender gap is still in play. Median salaries are 36% overall higher for men than women, with the largest gap occurring in mid-career.

Women earn less than men

Arthurs noted that the report also stressed the need for the industry to continue to work toward gender pay equity. “The forward-looking photonics sector needs to move beyond the historical injustice in this,” he said. “Thorbjørn Jagland, secretary general of the Council of Europe, has rightly characterized achieving gender equality as a legal, economic, and moral imperative.”

Particularly because photonics R&D is necessary for solving the many challenges the world faces in energy supplies, effective healthcare, communications networks, and other areas, Arthurs said, “We cannot afford to continue to discourage half of the next generation from working to help find these vital solutions.”

In the SPIE survey, Swiss, Australian, and Canadian respondents enjoyed a combination of top pay and moderate workload. These countries are three of the top four in median salary, with fewer than 10% of respondents working more than 55 hours per week. Some 14% of photonics workers in the US, second in the top pay category, work 55 hours or more per week.

The survey did not demonstrate a correlation between job satisfaction and either salary or hours on the job. Israelis and Portuguese were tied at the top of the job satisfaction scale, with 94% saying they enjoy their work, yet Israel’s median salary is twice that of Portugal, and Israel matches Romania in reporting the highest percentage of workers who say they spend 55 hours or more on the job each week.

Close behind, 39% of workers in higher-income Asia said they work 50 or more hours per week.

Respondents in lower-income Asia were the most optimistic about pay increases in the near term, with 91% saying they expect to receive raises in 2014.

The survey was conducted in April, with more than 6,500 valid responses from 103 countries.

The SPIE 2013 Optics and Photonics Global Salary Report is being mailed to all SPIE members with the print issue of SPIE Professional and is available online at the updated SPIE Career Center website.

SPIE Career Center updates website

The SPIE Career Center has a new address, spiecareercenter.org, and provides more international connections and improved navigation and search functionality.

Other improvements include the complete 2013 Optics and Photonics Global Salary Report; information about continuing education opportunities; SPIE.TV video interviews and features; and more articles with career advice and industry news.

The website has also become more internationally friendly by listing salaries in several currencies and by collaborating with optics.org, which offers a jobs section with the same job listings and functionality as the SPIE Career Center.

SPIE salary report key findings
  • Switzerland offers the highest median salary: $127,073.
  • Ukraine has the lowest median salary: $8,125.
  • The most highly paid workers are in the aerospace field, with median earnings at $113,500.
  • Optics and photonics professionals in the civil and environmental fields have the lowest median salary: $44,510.
  • Israelis and Portuguese tied for high job satisfaction, with 94% reporting work enjoyment.
  • Israelis and Romanians have the longest work weeks, with 23% reporting they work 55 hours or more per week.

— Have a question or comment about this article? Write to us at spieprofessional@spie.org.

— To receive a print copy of SPIE Professional, the SPIE member magazine, become an SPIE member.

Recent News
Sign in to read the full article
Create a free SPIE account to get access to
premium articles and original research
Forgot your username?