I'm a few days late so hopefully someone will read this. I did my best to organize my thoughts but it does ramble a bit:
I've recently come to fear I'm working my way into a dead-end career. I'm a project engineer at a small company that does contract work in power plants; mainly maintenance, repairs, redesign and condition assessments. The work I do is primarily project management and supervision as well as documentation and reporting. Since we are a small company I also do a lot of "grunt work" on most of these projects. This is hands-on, hard-hat-coveralls-and-steel-toe-boots type of work including general labor, nondestructive testing, metallurgical sampling and basic fabrication. Most of my work is in the field, with me traveling 6-8 months out of the year. When I'm on jobs I work 70-80 hour weeks including weekends. I do not get paid for any overtime. The remainder of the year I'm in the office working 40 hours a week M-F.
I've been in this position for three years and currently have a base salary of $62,500 per year. I get an annual bonus every year in March, which is based on the number of billable hours worked in the previous year. Last year's bonus was $17,500. My starting salary was $50,000 per year and I received a raise to my current salary in November 2013. I live in Austin, TX.
My employer has four locations across the country (for my division anyway). The two larger offices are in economically depressed areas while my office and the other small office are in economically strong areas with higher average salaries and costs of living. For reference, the corporate headquarters has about 200 people (maybe 30 in my division) and the large regional office has about 25 people (15 in my division). My office has 4 people and the other small office has 3. Though I do not know exactly how much the other engineers make, I know that the standard starting salary is $40,000 per year. I started out higher because I held out and negotiated my offer when I was hired.
I am currently the second most senior non-manager engineer. As such, I function as an engineer-in-charge for my location. My local manager doesn't really deal with the same types of projects as I do and I primarily report directly to the VP of Engineering in the main office across the country. The one other engineer who has been here longer started a couple of months before me and works out of the main office.
I feel that I am underpaid.
I feel that I am underutilized, since I am out of sight out of mind and generally only get sent on projects that are nearby or projects that need extra help in other regions. I am fine with this but most of the other engineers end up getting more billable hours than me as a result of geography. I have brought up the fact that I would like to do sales calls to potential clients in the area, and both the VP of Engineering and VP of Sales agree that it is a good idea. However I am not very experienced with sales, especially cold-calling. I've tried it before only to find out that the VP of Sales had already contacted that lead recently, which makes us look like we don't communicate (which we don't unfortunately). Furthermore, whenever we do get local work, they will often fly crews in from across the country to do a job an hour's drive from me because the revenue from the job is credited to the regional office that does the work. I feel this is also why I don't get any support or guidance in doing sales.
The straw that broke the camel's back so to speak happened recently when the VP of Sales hired another engineer to work with me out of my office. The guy he hired was about 10 years older than me with a lot of sales experience in the utility industry but almost no technical background. Most of our new hires are right out of college with little to no knowledge of what we do (as is typical for an entry level position) and learn on the job for the first few months. I began taking the new hire on jobs with me and training him, but I could tell he wasn't a good fit for this lifestyle. I didn't come out and say anything about my reservations to management, but the welders and technicians brought up their misgivings about him with me often. Long story short, he will be resigning very soon and leaving on good terms, which I think is the best outcome. Today as we were discussing the decision he had made he mentioned that he had been hired with a base salary of $90,000 with an additional sign-on bonus of $15,000. I had suspected they started him at a higher salary than because of his age and "experience" but I was surprised it was that much higher.
Now, I've probably painted a pretty bleak picture at this point, and if you've read this far you're probably screaming "GET A DIFFERENT JOB!!" There are a few positives though which have kept me where I am. First, I have a huge amount of autonomy. Once I get assigned to a project I am free to decide how to work out most of the logistics and scheduling, can adapt the procedures and documentation to the specific task and interface directly with the client to keep up with their expectations as they change. When I'm in the office I can set my own hours and frequently work from home, so long as I am reachable by cell phone during normal business hours. I also have full time use of a company vehicle, including gas, tolls, insurance and maintenance.
I also haven't been actively searching for a new job because my skill set and experience level is not in demand in my current location. At my age of 27 its getting a bit late to change industries, and even if I did I would have to take a pretty significant pay cut and start over at entry level.
I think it is possible to salvage the situation, but I'm not sure of the best way to do it. The VP of Engineering (who hired me) is probably the closest thing I have to a mentor. He has taken time to sit down with me and have in depth discussions a few times, both about technical aspects of the work and about my own professional development and I feel I have a good rapport with him. Unfortunately since he is across the country and running an entire division there is not a lot of opportunity for one-on-one interaction, and I feel like I am bothering him every time I call him to ask for advice.
My questions for any one who has been in a similar position:
Should I ask for a raise? Or should I wait until my bonus comes through in a few weeks to see where I stand? Should I mention knowing what the new guy was hired at?
Should I push for more involvement in business development and ask for more clearly delineated expectations and progress benchmarks?
Should I start actively looking for another job, even if just to leverage a pay raise? I feel like I am worth about $90,000 a year based on my skills, experience, and workload.