More Challenge, More Income

The average Control Engineering subscriber has progressed predictably since we last surveyed print and online readers in 2005: He (and respondents are overwhelmingly male) is two years older (just over 48), has two more years at his current job (for a total of 9.17 years), and has almost 23 years of experience (compared to 21.


The average Control Engineering subscriber has progressed predictably since we last surveyed print and online readers in 2005: He (and respondents are overwhelmingly male) is two years older (just over 48), has two more years at his current job (for a total of 9.17 years), and has almost 23 years of experience (compared to 21.7). He is a direct employee (89%) rather than a contractor, and as his work hours have crept up (from 46 to 48 hours per week on average), so have the number of his direct reports (from 3.8 to 4.13 people).

Process Control, Machine Control, Information Control
What’s not so linear, however, is his salary increase: The average salary has gone up more than 10%, from $78,012 in 2005 to $86,474 in 2007. In addition, even his perception of his compensation has improved: In 2005, 53% of respondents perceived their gross income as being lower than that of their peers. Today, only 48% believe that to be true.

Anecdotally, engineers talk about taking on more challenges than ever before—and they also talk about being promoted, switching to more satisfying jobs, or becoming more autonomous. The responsibilities have definitely increased, but so have the rewards.

“I am now doing more microcontroller and embedded designs of a higher level than I have ever needed to do before. The challenges are very real and the satisfaction of solving a particularly challenging design idea is very rewarding,” said one respondent.

The monetary jump is most dramatic when you look at approximate annual income . In 2005 and 2003 surveys, just over 50% of respondents reported earning between $60,000 and $90,000. This year, however, only 40% of respondents are in that range. And where did they go? Thirty-one percent report earning $100,000 or more per year, compared to only 15% that had reached that milestone in 2005 or 2003.Process Control, Machine Control, Information Control

Said one respondent: “I control the growth because I own the business. I have increased my income by learning how to manage sales and quotation skills. This keeps the engineering time relatively constant, but with greater monetary rewards.”

Here are some specific ways in which respondents’ roles and responsibilities have changed:

  • Promoted to senior position. Job is essentially the same, but I am a team leader and in a mentoring role.

  • Promoted to Control Systems (and IT) Engineering Manager for our site.

  • I was promoted from a Process/Project Engineer to the Ag Division/Plant Engineer, which means not only am I in charge of everything engineering-wise (process design/redesign, production design/redesign), but also have taken on different aspects of plant engineering.

  • Took up additional responsibilities of handling R&D and simulation.

  • More compliance activities, increased operational duties, on top of existing design, manufacturing, and QA tasks. Also Webmaster and Web content creation.

  • More advanced control project assignments

  • More responsibility approving suppliers, training global suppliers, and traveling to Asia.

  • Received promotion and duties have changed. Before, I was a supervisor in preventive maintenance. Now I am working in a steam plant, in which boilers are new to me.

  • Increase in responsibilities due to self-driven desire to see projects completed.

For some, change has not been so enjoyable, and “more” is less a challenge than a burden. The burden is found in the increasing need to do more with less: fewer resources, less time, and fewer engineers on staff. Engineers themselves reported:

  • Less time allowed on projects. No time for R&D. Company wants new control strategies with no time allowed for testing.

  • Less people, more work. Handling facility electrical systems and all machine controls.

  • Job specification has changed from a specific job description to a multidisciplinary, all-encompassing (within the engineering field) job. More things are expected of me: I have to do everything from production programs to fixing PLCs.

  • Got my 7th boss in 2.5 years. Priorities are a moving target.

  • It has gone from design and development, to product characterization, to R&D prototype, to refined prototype, to manufacturing introduction, to yield enhancement, to product recovery.Process Control, Machine Control, Information Control

  • Previously, I got all required data for design from lead engineers; now, I have to calculate and design all myself.

The types of engineering practiced by our subscribers haven’t changed much over the years, with electrical/electronic topping the list at 63% of respondents. In descending order, the rest of the top five are instrumentation (53%), design (51%), automation/manufacturing (47%) and system integration (45%). New this year, we asked about the combination of mechanical and electronic systems known as mechatronics, and 24% chose that as their primary type of engineering.

When we cross-referenced primary type of engineering practiced with average salaries , system integration came out on top, with an average salary of $90,212, following closely by quality/reliability ($90,168) and software/IT ($89, 097). Mechatronics as an engineering specialty had the second lowest average salary ($82,189), followed only by mechanical engineering ($81,883).

Process Control, Machine Control, Information Control
When we looked at average salary data by primary job function, it was no surprise to see general/corporate management come out on top, with an average salary of $102,500. System integrators/consultants weren’t far behind ($97,149). Control and/or instrument engineers reported an average salary of $89,074, while system design engineers (which include applied R&D functions) reported earning $93,728, on average.

The IT/information systems average salary was the most interesting, because it was the only one to register a decline: from an average of $92,708 in 2005 to $87,222 in 2007. This may be because of the greater integration of IT into manufacturing; demystifying the role makes companies less willing to pay a premium for it. In fact, in comments, a number of respondents reported taking on more IT responsibility:

  • Job is trending to more traditionally IT-level projects and applications including networking, Web, and interfacing with business systems.

  • Due to organizational changes, some of the plant control systems that were maintained by plant staff are now under Information Technology.

  • More IT/management reporting content is involved.

  • Added software to my job functions.

  • New development cycle to take advantage of Microsoft Vista OS features.

  • From full-time controls engineering to IT and ISO 9000 quality leader. Simply said, for all but the largest automation companies, IT is basically dead.

Process Control, Machine Control, Information Control
IT responsibilities have been a welcome and interesting addition to many engineers careers, primarily because it represents a new technical challenge—and a technical challenge actually trumps salary as the most important factor in job satisfaction, according to respondents (46% to 44%). This year a feeling of accomplishment came in third in importance; it was first in 2005, perhaps because salaries weren’t as robust. Other factors important to job satisfaction are benefits (22%) and advancement opportunities (19%).

Engineers’ biggest concerns
related to their job showed a virtual tie for first place: balancing work/life responsibilities (60%) and keeping current on technology (59%). This is a shift from 2005, when job security, keeping current on technology, and management support were of chief concern. Perhaps with 58% of respondents saying their areas of responsibilities have increased, while only 38% say they’ve stayed the same, the desire for more time is starting to surpass the desire for more money.

Process Control, Machine Control, Information Control
Only 4% reported an actual decrease in responsibilities over the past year. Said one engineer: “Overall, my job has become less demanding physically. I have been at this plant long enough to work out some of the bugs, and I’m reaping the rewards of monitoring an overall system that is running smoothly.” Perhaps, as the work/life balance issues get addressed, we’ll hear from more engineers like this one who are reaping the rewards of a work life well-spent.

Author Information

Renee Robbins is editorial director of Control Engineering. She can be reached at . For additional data points and cross tabs, see the salary survey information in the Resource Center online at

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