Where I mix career information and career decision making in a test tube and see what happens

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Salary Surveys on the Web

When you're exploring a career, you probably want to know what level of earnings to expect. In my books, I rely almost exclusively on figures from the Occupational Earnings Survey provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, many other sources of earnings data are available.

I learned about one of these last week because of an article I wrote about the "beginning wages" of airline pilots. I received an amazing quantity of feedback about this subject. The feedback has been uniformly negative, and rightly so. As I explained in a previous blog (on the site where I used to blog), the figure I published (and which was publicized in some news articles) was based on the 10th percentile earnings of pilots. That figure can be a rough estimate of beginners' earnings in some careers, but for airline pilots and probably for many other careers, it can be way off-target.

I'm happy to say that the feedback I received has pointed me to an excellent source of information about the actual wages of pilots. I thank Captain Roy White and James Ball (author of "So, You Want to be a Pilot, Eh? - A Guidebook for Canadian Pilot Training") for referring me to www.airlinepilotscentral.com, where you will find earnings figures for various airlines. Because most beginners start at regional airlines, you probably want to click "Regional" to see the pay figures listed there if you're interested in what beginners earn. Here are the first-year earnings for the first 10 airlines listed there:

Air Wisconsin: $21,000 + per diem
Cape Air: $12,600 + per diem
Colgan Air: $18,900 + per diem
CommuteAir: $17,712 + per diem
Compass: $20,160 + per diem
Era: $25,000 + per diem
Go Jet: $20,160 + per diem
Great Lakes: $14,400 + per diem
Gulfstream: $16,200 + per diem
Horizon Air: $26,100 + per diem

These wages are obviously much lower than the 10th percentile earnings for all pilots ($55,330).

I know that there are many sources like this one that provide salary information about specific occupations. My first job in the career information industry consisted of acquiring these sources by mail (the World Wide Web did not yet exist), judging their validity, reconciling conflicting figures from different sources, inflating the figures as needed to make them apply to the same time period, and typing them up so a data entry keyer could put them into the database for the SIGI computer-based career guidance and information system.

To keep about 250 occupations up to date, I and another worker had to devote about two-thirds of our time to this effort. You can understand that this level of effort would not be feasible to sustain for the hundreds of occupations covered by my books for JIST. That's why I'm going to continue to rely on the occupational Earnings Survey for the median income figures of occupations. The figures from this survey are comparable and provide a useful first look at what you might earn in the occupation.

As with all other topics of career information, I would suggest that when you get serious about exploring an occupation, you go beyond the OES figures and examine occupation-specific sources of information, such as airlinepilotscentral.com and other sites maintained for a particular occupation or industry. That's a lot easier to do nowadays, thanks to the World Wide Web. On the other hand, you surely know that the Web also provides a platform for less-than-objective information providers to publish figures that may reflect their self-interest: either to discourage or encourage career entrants.

So check the basis of the figures. And then investigate the local wage picture, which may be very different from the national averages.

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