Control Engineering salary and career survey, 2015

Control Engineering research: While slightly less is expected for salary and significantly more for bonuses in 2015 compared to 2014, concerns about shortages of skilled workers remained highest on the list of challenges. This online report has additional graphics and details, with links to past research and related articles. NEW: Salary by engineering education, discipline, years, age.

By Mark T. Hoske May 18, 2015

Slightly less is expected for salary and significantly more for bonuses in 2015 compared to 2014, while concerns about skilled workers remained highest on the list of challenges. Company profits remain the largest criteria for bonuses, and job satisfaction gained strength over last year. Project management and communication skills remained the most valued skills or engineers after engineering skills, of course. These were among key findings in the 2015 Control Engineering salary and career survey and report.

Online, methods

Additional information and graphics appear with this online version of this article beyond what fit in the May 2015 North American print and digital edition, including discussion of more survey questions than would fit in print, more analysis, and additional data points, such as engineering salaries by engineering education, discipline, years, and age, information unavailable in time for the print deadline. Thank you to survey respondents; with 458 responding between March 12 and March 26 via a web-based survey, the margin of error is plus or minus 4.6% at a 95% confidence level. A gift card incentive was used.

Salary and benefits

The average base annual salary for the 2015 set of respondents to this year’s Control Engineering salary and career survey was $90,367, down slightly compared to that of respondents to the 2014 survey, when the average totaled $93,373. In 2015, 73% expect a salary increase; 58% expect a 1%-3% increase. Only 9% expect a salary increase of 4%-6%, and 6% expect a more than 6% increase. A quarter of respondents expected their salaries to stay the same compared to last year, and only 2% expected a pay cut in 2014. See Figure 1 at the top of the page. While each set of respondents differs from year to year, this year the decrease was more than offset by an increase in bonus compensation.

The bonus compensation average among respondents is $16,166 in 2015, compared to $10,045 reported by 2014 respondents and $10,045 in 2013. In the 2015 survey, 28% are expecting more (up from 23% in 2014), 59% are expecting it to remain the same as last year’s, and only 13% are expecting a smaller bonus. Seventeen percent of respondents expect an increase of 1%-3%; 3% expect an increase of 4%-6%; and 8%, an increase of more than 6%. See Figures 2 and 3.

A large majority of survey takers, 61%, said bonus criteria are largely tied to company profitability. Respondents indicated less importance for other criteria, including personal performance at 48%, then product profitability at 23%, safety at 21%, quality 18%, plant or line productivity 17%, reducing plant costs 16%, uptime/downtime 12%, and energy efficiencies at 8%. In 2014, profits drove 69% of bonuses. Without personal performance, which was included in last year’s survey, the next most important criteria were safety, quality, and plant or line productivity. See Figure 4.

Job satisfaction

The majority of respondents, 85%, were satisfied with their jobs: 39% responded that they thought their jobs were satisfactory, and 46% reported that they love going to work every day, up from 39% last year. The survey found that the top five factors contributing to job satisfaction were technical challenges 44%, feeling of accomplishment 39%, financial compensation 28%, job security 25%, relationship with colleagues 24%, and benefits tied with location at 18%. Others, in order, rounding out double digits, were relationship with boss, feeling of recognition, advancement opportunities, workload, and company financial health. The lowest reported factor influencing job satisfaction was company size, at 2%. See Figure 5.

A large majority—74%—considered manufacturing secure, up from 67% of survey takers in 2014 and 63% in 2013. The increasing confidence corresponds with an increasing number of months of manufacturing growth (26 as of March) for the Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) from the Institute for Supply Management.

NEXT PAGE: See additional survey information on operation emphasis, education, engineering disciplines, and other related information gathered from the Salary Survey.

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Greatest emphasis

Survey takers were asked what areas of the plant are receiving and should receive the highest emphasis. Automation and controls, safety, and operations should get the highest emphasis, while operations received the top spot in 2014. Training should get the largest boost, according to the survey takers, while operations is getting twice as much emphasis as it should. The emphasis on automation and controls is about right. See Figure 6.

Education, skills

Survey respondents are well educated. About half, 49%, of respondents have a bachelor’s degree, and 21% have a master’s. Other responses included associate’s degree 9%, some college 7%, trade or technical school diploma or certificate 5%, dual bachelor’s degree 3%, and high school diploma 3%. Only 2% of respondents reported having a doctoral degree. Percentages were comparable to last year. See Figure 7.

Engineering disciplines

As for engineering disciplines studied by respondents, electrical (EE) or electronic engineering was reported by 61%; studied controls 19%, mechanical 15%, instrumentation 12%, chemical 12%, industrial 10%, civil 2%, and other 15%. In 2014 and 2013, EE was 46% and 45%, respectively. See Figure 8.

(Note: Rather than a major shift in educational emphasis, this increase may reflect the separation of the survey email requests from Plant Engineering subscribers, a group with a traditionally lower EE representation, perhaps in the low to mid-30% range. This split also may have influenced other areas of relatively large changes, such as salary and bonus. Plant Engineering salary survey results appeared in the January/February 2015 issue of that publication.)

Skill sets needed for engineers

Respondents agreed—64%—that engineering skills are most necessary, about the same as 2014 and 2013 respondents. Other important skills included project management 57%, communication and presentation 49%, computer 40%, team building 38%, language 17%, marketing and sales 16%, and finance and accounting 13%. See Figure 9.

Outsourcing areas, needs

When there was a need for outsourcing, system integration expertise topped the list of needed functions at 26%, followed by maintenance 21%, logistics and procurement 11%, and human resources and recruitment 10%, rounding out the double digit replies. There’s no point of comparison; this was a new question for 2015. See Figure 10. Reason for outsourcing was in a statistical dead heat between better focus on core competencies and cost management at 25% and 23%. The other double-digit response was lack of skilled staff at 17%.

(See the following related article. AME: The hardest part of outsourcing is reversing it)

Age, experience, hours

Among respondents, 66% were between 40 and 64 years of age, compared to 77% for that group in 2014. By decade, more respondents were in their 30s and 50s this year, compared the group responding in 2014. Those in their 20s were 8% vs. 6% in 2014; 30s, 19% vs. 11% in 2014; 40s, 19% vs. 25% in 2014; 50s, 37% vs. 32% last year; 60s, 16% both years.

While more than half of respondents reported working for their current employers for more than 10 years, the largest single group, like last year, were respondents at their current employer less than 5 years, now 29%, up from 25% last year. The shift makes sense. With economic growth continuing, engineers seem more likely to try to find greener pastures. Continuing up the scale, 5 to 9 years 19%, 10 to 14 years 14%, 15 to 19 years 11%, 20 to 24 years 7%, 25 to 29 years 9%, and 30 or more years 11%. Similarly, the large majority of respondents—71%—reported having been in their industry for 15 years or more, down a bit from 79% in 2014.The under 15-year group grew, 29% compared to 21% in 2014. The 15- to 24-year group was 20%, down from 27% in 2014.

Respondents in 2015 reported working fewer hours than those in 2014. The largest group in 2015 and largest gain by percentage points over 2014 was:

  • 40 to 44 hours per week at 42%, up from 35% in 2014.
  • Fewer than 40 hours a week, 7%
  • 40 to 44 was 42%
  • 45 to 49 was 31%, down from 36% in 2014
  • 50 to 54, 13%, down from 16%
  • 55 to 59, 4%, down from 7%
  • 60 or more, 4%, same as 2014.

Region, businesses, titles, functions

The region where the most respondents work is East North Central 21%. Reported next were outside U.S. 19%, West South Central 13%, South Atlantic 12%, Pacific 9%, West North Central 7%, Middle Atlantic 6%, New England 6%, Mountain 4%, and East South Central 4%.

Primary businesses or products manufactured at the respondents’ locations were engineering or architectural services 17%; system integration 16%; instrumentation, measurement, or control systems or devices 15%; and industrial controls, test, or medical equipment or instruments 12%, rounding out the double-digit responses.

The top three titles were controls engineer at 22%, followed by electrical engineer at 10% and senior engineer at 9%.

Leading job functions were system or product design, control or instrument engineering 36%; other engineering 19%; process, production, or manufacturing engineering 13%; operations or maintenance 11%; and system integration 9%.

Energy, size, management responsibilities, staffing

Among respondents, 36% were responsible for managing or reducing energy for a line, process, or facility.

Mix of location size was as follows:

  • Less than 100 at 32%
  • 100 to 249 at 19%
  • 250 to 499 at 17%
  • 500 to 999 at 11%
  • 1000 or more 20%
  • 1% reported they didn’t know.

Management responsibilities were claimed for

  • 1 to 5 employees at 51%
  • 6 to 25 at 41%
  • 26 to 100 at 6%
  • 101 to 250 at 1%.

The majority of respondents, 48% compared to 55% in 2014, reported that they do not expect departmental staffing changes in 2015, while 33% reported that they expect an increase, compared to 37% in 2014. Only 8% of respondents expect departmental staffing decreases, the same for both years. Among respondents, 33% expect their plants to add new product lines in 2015, down slightly from 36% in 2014, but comparable, considering the margin of error.

NEXT PAGE, NEW THIS YEAR: See additional survey information on salary by education levels, years in industry, and by the engineer’s age.

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Online extras, new this year: Salary by education levels, engineering discipline, years in industry, age

For the first time, based on 2014 reader feedback, Control Engineering applied filters to the data to find additional information about how salaries and benefits vary across leading levels of education, engineering disciplines, years in industry, and age. While these are smaller data sets in filtered categories, and the margin of error is higher, the data points are interesting nonetheless. This additional information appears exclusively in this online report.

Salaries by education

Salaries by the three most-represented levels of education rank as expected with a master’s degree at $94,343, a bachelor’s degree at $93,453, and an associate’s degree at $74,597. However, average bonuses make earnings of those with bachelor’s degrees about even with those with master’s degrees. See the table: Top 3 most-represented levels of education.

This raises the question: With today’s high demand for engineers, is a master’s degree level of education worth the time and expense for engineers in these fields? The adage always has been that education is never wasted; there is value beyond salary and bonuses. Write-in comments also seem to indicate that life-long continuing education is critical for engineers. (See link at the bottom to see write-in advice.)

Salaries by top engineering disciplines

Among the top six engineering disciplines, chemical engineering had the highest average annual base salary at $107,903. The second spot was a statistical dead heat among controls at $90,551, electrical or electronic at $89,036, and mechanical engineering disciplines at $88,162. While bonuses followed a similar pattern, chemical engineering bonuses were proportionally higher than the runners up, compared to differences in salaries. See the table: Top 6 disciplines studied.

High demand for engineering expertise in the petroleum industries may be putting additional upward pressure on chemical engineering salaries.

Salaries by years in industry, age

Salaries sorted by one’s years in industry show a generally increasing trend, peaking at 30 to 34 years in industry. A notable exception is the “Less than 5” years group, earning $10,000 more in average annual base salary, which corresponds with a continuing shortage of engineers and upward pressure to bring in newer talent to replace many retiring baby boomer engineers. See the table: Years in industry.

Average annual salaries by age follow a similar logical upward trend with age, peaking at 65 to 69 years of age at $104,713. Two dips in salaries that appear in the 45 to 49 and 60 to 64 age groups could be explained by the higher statistical effect of a few smaller salaries on a small sample size, as opposed to any age-related trends for these groups.

Bonuses generally increased with age group, which is made more apparent by summing and comparing 10-year groups, moving higher in age. An exception is the average bonus peak of $15,705 for the 45 to 49 age group and less in the 50 to 54 and 70 or over groups. These again could be explained by the higher statistical effect of a few high or low amounts on a small sample size, as opposed to any age-related trends for these groups.

– Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering,, with data from Amanda Pelliccione, research director, Control Engineering,

ONLINE extras

See other Control Engineering research at

Five advantages of training: See more advice than what appeared in print.

In addition to the extra information and three article links embedded in the article above, see the following related career advice links at the bottom of this file.

Key concepts

  • Salaries among respondents decreased slightly, but bonuses increased.
  • Less than 5 years with an employer was the largest group again.
  • Engineering, project management, and communications are leading skills for success.
  • See the Think Again column linked at the bottom for advice from respondents.

Consider this

If you don’t think you’re getting paid what you’re worth, is it because you have trouble quantifying your value to the right people?