Control Engineering Career and Salary Survey, 2020

Career update: Many subscribers work in critical industries; half of non-salary compensation relies on profits, some changed by COVID-19. Lack of skilled workers continues to be the top threat to manufacturing for the survey period ending March 16, before more recent COVID-19 impacts.

By Mark T. Hoske May 19, 2020

Engineers expected to get paid more in 2020 ($102,669 in 2020, $101,450 in 2019 compared to $100,339 in 2018 survey respondents), and 69% expected a 2020 salary increase, down from 74% in 2019, according to respondents to the Control Engineering Career and Salary Survey and Report for 2020. 

Register to see the Control Engineering Career and Salary Report, 2020.

Top threat to manufacturing businesses remains lack of available skilled workers, 42%, followed by competition and the economy tied at 32%, similar to 2019.  

Note: Data was collected Feb. 26 through March 16, 2020, before more recent adverse effects of COVID-19 hit the economy. In separate CFE Media research on COVID-19’s impacts, 74% of respondents said their businesses have seen negative effects, and 35% of respondents said a great deal of impact, for the five-day period ending March 25. That said, many Control Engineering subscribers work in industries deemed essential (See industry list in full report). 

During times of economic challenge, financial compensation becomes more important among factors impacting job satisfaction, and, in 2020, compensation came out on top, followed by technical challenge, and feeling of accomplishment. In 2019, technical challenge and feeling of accomplishment both ranked higher than compensation for job satisfaction criteria. However, in both years the top three were within the margin of error for each survey, making the ranking difference anecdotal. 

As Figure 1 shows, 52% expect a salary increase of up to 3% in 2020 (63% in 2019; 56% in 2018); 18% expect an increase of 4% or more (11% in 2019; 19% in 2018); 30% 25% expect the same (25% in 2019; 23% in 2018); and 1% expect a salary decrease (same as 2019; 2% in 2018). Additionally, the 2020 survey noted that of the increases above 4%, 12% of respondents expect a 4 to 6% increase, and 5% said more than 6%. 

Prior to the COVID-19 economic contraction in March to 49.1 for the purchasing manufacturers’ index (PMI) from the Institute of Supply Management (ISM), upward salary pressures reflected strong U.S. manufacturing results coupled with demographic pressures of an aging workforce with too few going into science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) related professions. Regarding the shortage of skilled workers, 35% strongly agree that grade schools and middle schools should be more encouraging of trade school attendance, up from 29% in 2019. Among respondents, 27% said immigration policy needs revising to get talent to remain competitive, up from 19% in 2019. 

Survey methods 

Survey respondents for the Control Engineering Career and Salary Report for 2020 were invited to anonymously provide their annual compensation information and opinions on the current state of their facilities and industries. The 2020 Control Engineering Career and Salary Report reflects data gathered from 379 automation professionals; margin of error is +/- 5.0% at a 95% confidence level. 

Salary, bonus details 

For base salary compensation, the minimum was $24,000 ($25,000 in 2019), and the maximum was ($800,000 in 2019), for 379 survey respondents providing this information. 

For non-salary compensation (Figure 2), 28% expect an increase (23% in 2019); 12% expect an increase of 4% or more (9% in 2019); 60% expect about the same (same as 2019); and 12% expect less (17% in 2019). Among the 12% expecting 4% or more, half expect 4 to 6% and half expect more than 6%. 

For non-salary compensation, the 2020 average received among 379 respondents was $11,937 ($10,467 in 2019); among the 67% receiving a bonus (254 respondents) the average was $17,811 (compared to 73%, $14,370 in 2019). 

Bonus criteria 

Two leading criteria for bonus compensation were company profits, 53% (down from 57% and 73% in the last two years), and personal performance, 43% (down from 47% and 62%) in Figure 4. Rounding out the top five were product productivity, plant or line productivity, and safety metrics. 

In 2019, the top 5 included new business and sales, product profitability, and plant or line productivity. Energy efficiency fell below double digits in 2019 and remained there at 6% in 2020. 

Job satisfaction, skills needed 

Leading job satisfaction factors (Figure 5) changed with financial compensation the most important followed by technical challenge, feeling of accomplishment, and relationship with colleagues.  

In 2019, top four were feeling of accomplishment, technical challenge, financial compensation, and relationship with colleagues. 

For skills needed to get ahead, respondents were asked to check as many as apply. Engineering skills remain on top, 66%, same as 2019. The next five are in the same order as 2019though the perceived need for project management skills, at number two, dropped to 54% from 64%, and communication/presentation skills, at number three, fell to 45% from 56%. Computer, team building and marketing/sales were the next three. Language skills were next in 2020, and while the same 13% as 2019, came in ahead of finance/accounting at 9%, statistically tied with recruitment at 8% (new for 2020 on the list). See related article on advice from respondents. 

About half (54%) of respondents studied electrical or electronic engineering, mechanical engineering and controls engineering were statistically tied for second at 24% and 22%. (See more online.)  

What should get emphasis 

The survey asks respondents what areas do and should get emphasis within their organizations. See Figure 6. Automation and controls showed significant increases in those thinking it receives and deserves more emphasis.  

In 2020, 20% of respondents said automation and controls receives highest emphasis; 24% said it should. 

In 2019, 12% of respondents said automation and controls received highest emphasis; 20% said it should. 

In 2020, the top five that get emphasis are:  

  1. Budget, profits and financial
  2. Automation and controls (#4 in 2019)
  3. Operations
  4. Customers and sales (#2 in 2019)
  5. Safety.

In 2020, the top five areas that should get emphasis 

  1. Automation and controls
  2. Customers, sales (#4 in 2019)
  3. Product development
  4. Safety (#2 in 2019)
  5. Training and education (#6 in 2019; below operations as #5.).

The gap between what is and what should be spent on training and education is the largest proportionally among the choicesrespondents noted that training and education should get four times the emphasis it currently does. 

In terms of annual salary and job satisfaction, take a look at these tables exclusive to the online version of the Career and Salary Survey:

Figure 8: Expected change to non-salary compensation: Fewer respondents expected a decrease in non-salary compensation. Courtesy: Control Engineering research, CFE Media and CFE Technology[/caption]


Figure 10: Evaluating and optimizing processes: Automation is being more widely evaluated and optimized in 2020 than in 2019. Courtesy: Control Engineering research, CFE Media and CFE Technology[/caption]


Mark T. Hoske is content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media, Amanda Pelliccionedirector of research and awards programs for CFE Media and Technology, conducted the research and assembled the related report. 

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The Control Engineering 2020 Career and Salary Report is sponsored by Miller Resource Group. 

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For much more information, download the Control Engineering 2020 Career and Salary Report for respondent regions, titles, functions, company size, staffing, views on energy, cybersecurity, and outsourcing, along with salary and non-salary compensation benchmarks by age, education, number of years with employer and industry, by job title, by job function, and by employees managed. 


On the next pages, see related articles on career advice, training: Advice from survey respondents and from Engineering Leaders Under 40; Retention; and Training. How are you using engineering talents to advance your company’s objectives? Do those evaluating you know? 

KEYWORDS: Engineering salary survey, career advice 

Engineering salaries and bonuses were expected to increase. 

Survey period ended March 16 before full impacts of shelter in place were felt. 

Automation is getting more emphasis. 

Author Bio: Mark Hoske has been Control Engineering editor/content manager since 1994 and in a leadership role since 1999, covering all major areas: control systems, networking and information systems, control equipment and energy, and system integration, everything that comprises or facilitates the control loop. He has been writing about technology since 1987, writing professionally since 1982, and has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism degree from UW-Madison.