Control Engineering Salary and Career Survey, 2017

Control Engineering salary and career survey research shows an average salary of $96,045 in 2017, up slightly from the 2016 results; job satisfaction continues among respondents. Life-long learning remains critically important. To get youth interested in engineering, more investments in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education and high-profile projects need to be made, respondents said.

By Mark T. Hoske May 16, 2017

The average salary for respondents of the 2017 Control Engineering Salary and Career Survey increased less than 1.4% to $96,045, from $94,747 in 2016, about 5% more than the average salary of respondents in 2015. Data analyses of engineering salaries and career-related topics here include tables showing compensation by eight criteria for benchmarking: age, education, years with current employer, years with current industry, business, job function, number of people supervised, and location in the U.S.

Technical challenge and feeling of accomplishment top the next two factors for job satisfaction—financial compensation and relationship with colleagues—by more than 20 percentage points. More than 80% were satisfied with their jobs, and 46% love going to work every day. Among the biggest threat to manufacturing business remains the economy at 19% (down from 29% last year), with lack of available skilled workers a statistical dead heat at 17%. 

Worker shortage, cyber-insecurity

The survey asked about opinions related to the continuing concern about lack of skilled workers. The leading responses were 33% "strongly agree" that:

  • More public, private, and/or academic partnerships related to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) need to be made to get more youth interested in engineering-related studies.
  • More inspirational, high-profile STEM-related investments need to be made to get more youth interested in engineering-related studies (such as space exploration and colonization, big science, advanced energy projects, Manufacturing USA Innovation Institutes, etc.)

Similarly, 17% strongly agree that their company needs to be more involved in STEM activities.

Just 9% of respondents felt they personally should be more involved with STEM activities.

Also among respondents:

  • 14% strongly agreed there wouldn’t be a shortage if companies would pay enough. 
  • 12% strongly agreed greater investments in time and resources need to be made in standards to enable interoperability and easier system integration to more easily get by with fewer workers.
  • 11% strongly agreed greater investments in time and resources need to be made in advanced technologies so we can more easily get by with fewer workers (like in many agriculture industries). And in the 3% to 5% strongly agree range:
  • We cannot get the talent we need at any price.
  • We cannot pay an adequate amount for talent because that would make us uncompetitive.
  • Immigration policy needs revising so we can get the talent needed to remain competitive.
  • H1-B worker visa policies need revising so we can get the talent needed to remain competitive.
  • Despite consistent warnings and related coverage on the topic, 14% of respondents said no cybersecurity program was in place at their site, no better than last year. (See a separate cybersecurity research report from Control Engineering.)

Online, methods

See related articles on engineering advice, job-hunting tips, and on project management, one of the skills identified as important for success in this survey. More information and graphics appear with the online version of this article; search on the headline at or, if reading the digital edition, click on the headline.

Thank you to survey respondents; with 218 responding between March 13 and April 10 via a web-based survey, the margin of error is plus or minus 6.6% at a 95% confidence level. A gift card incentive was used. 

Salary increases

The average base annual salary for the 2017 set of respondents to Control Engineering Salary and Career Survey was $96,045, up from $94,747 in 2016, and up from $90,367 in 2015. In 2017, 69% expect a salary increase about the same as 2016. Among respondents, 56% expect a 1% to 3% increase, 9% expect a salary increase of 4% to 6%, and just 4% expect a more than 6% increase. About 29% of respondents expected salaries to stay the same, and only 2% expect a pay cut in 2017 (see Figure 1). The salary expectations are similar to 2016, although year to year those answering the survey differ; this year’s demographic information is provided in text later.

The nonsalary compensation average among the 67% of respondents getting a bonus was $14,216 in 2017, and among all respondents, the average is $9,594. In 2017, 38% of respondents expect more nonsalary compensation, 11% expect less, and 62% expect the same (see Figures 2 and 3).

A larger majority of survey takers, 59%, said bonuses are tied to company profits compared to 80% last year. Among criteria, personal performance was 43%, down from 59%, and safety at 23% compared to 31%. Other criteria were product profitability at 21%, quality at 18%, plant or line productivity at 17%, reducing plant costs at 14%, uptime/downtime at 12%, and energy efficiencies at 6% (see Figure 4). 

Salary benchmarks

Figure 5 tables show totals for each benchmark area, with higher granularity by age, sample sizes, and with additional trends, graphics, and analysis; download the salary survey report.

Showing upward pressure on engineering salaries for younger respondents, salary averages under 30 years of age increased significantly to $66,924 from $58,376 in 2016. Average nonsalary compensation for this age group decreased to $4,291 in 2017 from $7,211 in 2016.

Salary averages increased to $93,447 for those in their 30s (up from $86,113 in 2016), nearly $91,671 for those in their 40s (down from $96,939), $99,316 for those in their 50s (up from $94,928, perhaps trying to dissuade talent from early retirement), $104,007 in their 60s (down from $106,100), and $87,444 for those 70 years or older (down from $105,592).

Not surprisingly, more education resulted in more salary. Compared to last year, however, those with a trade/technical school diploma received significantly more, an average of $80,175, compared to $71,906 in 2016. Those with a high-school diploma had the highest level decrease, to an average of $65,000 from $77,916 in 2016. While sample sizes for cross-tabulated results are smaller and have a higher margin of error than general questions, these trends do match greater expressed need for tech school education beyond high school training.

Average salaries by number of years with current employer seemed designed to reward those with tenure in the 5- to 9-year group at $93,116, up significantly from those in the fewer than 5-year group, $85,097.

Those with less than five years in their current industry received the largest average amount of non-salary compensation, even topping those with 35 or more years of industry experience. Again, while sample size is small, it is in line with hiring pressure on the lower end of the industry scale.

Best three industries for overall compensation (salary plus non-salary compensation) were:

  1. Agriculture and construction at $184,000;
  2. Oil, gas, and petroleum, including refining at $142,531;
  3. Chemical manufacturing at $124,791;
  4. Electrical equipment, appliance, and component manufacturing at $119,722; and
  5. Computers, communications, consumer electronics, and electronic product manufacturing at $119,167.

Highest total compensation for primary job functions in named categories (other than general "Other") were "General or corporate management" at $124,574, and "Other engineering, including evaluation, QC, standards, reliability, test, project, software, plant, electrical, mechanical, or electronic engineering" at $110,486.

Compensation increased with numbers of employees managed, except for those who manage no one (which was higher that those who manage one to five employees, which may reflect salary pressure to attract new engineers. For salary by regions, see Figure 12. 

Job satisfaction

Job satisfaction remains high, at more than 80%; 37% responded that they thought their jobs were satisfactory, and 46% reported that they love going to work every day; 15% said it was tolerable, and they’re willing to consider a change; only 2% said they’re leaving first chance they get.

The survey found that the top five factors contributing to job satisfaction were technical challenge, 46% (up from 39% last year), about the same as feeling of accomplishment, 45% (up from 33%). Financial compensation, 25% (down from 37%), tied with relationship with colleagues, 25% (same as last year). Benefits at 21% was nearly a tie with job security at 20% (both about the same as last year). Job security, relationship with the boss, and location were statistically equal, also, at 16%, 15%, and 14% respectively. See Figure 6 for other factors.

The large majority—73%—considered manufacturing secure, about the same as last year. Control Engineering subscribers often have different views about what areas should get emphasis compared to areas that actually get emphasis. According to respondents, the three areas that should get the highest emphasis are operations (29%), automation and controls (23%), and safety (15%). Just 12% of respondents said operations should get the highest emphasis; 27% (the highest) said automation and controls should get the highest emphasis; 17% said safety should get the highest; and training and education is the most neglected area, getting 2% of the emphasis, when it should get 13%, respondents said (see Figure 7). 

Education, skills

Survey respondents are well-educated. When asked about their highest level of education, 46% have one bachelor’s degree (another 3% have two), 19% have a master’s degree, and 7% have a doctoral degree. Other responses included associate’s degree (11%), some college (7%), trade or technical school diploma or certificate (5%), and high school diploma (2%) (see Figure 8).

Among engineering disciplines studied by respondents, electrical and electronic were the most popular by far, followed by controls, instrumentation, mechanical, industrial, and chemical, all in double digits (see Figure 9).

Among skills needed to advance, respondents not surprisingly agreed that engineering skills are most necessary, 67%, with project management at 56%, computer at 45%, communication and presentation skills at 44%, and team building at 38%, rounding out the top five (see Figure 10).

Outsourcing and why

When outsourcing was needed, maintenance and system integration were the two most common functions, statistically equal, at 20% and 19% respectively. About 40% didn’t outsource. See Figure 11.

Reasons for outsourcing were better cost management (45%), better focus on core competencies (34%), and lack of skilled staff (28%). Other factors, such as competitiveness at 8%, and quality control 4%, were considerably less important.

In a separate question about threats to manufacturing business, just 4% chose outsourcing or downsizing or lack of investments for equipment software upgrade/replacement, all significantly behind the economy at 19%, lack of available skilled workers at 17% (up from 13% in 2016), inadequate management at 9%, government or political interference at 8%, and regulations, codes, standards, etc., at 7%. 

Age, experience, hours

Among respondents, the largest 10-year age period is 50 to 59 at 34%, down from 40% in 2016 and 37% in 2015. The largest five-year age period is 55 to 59 at 18%. In 2016, 50 to 54 was the largest group at 23%. The 50s decade had more respondents (34%) than everyone under 45 combined (28%); and 40% of respondents are 60 and older. An aging workforce may increase pressure to find enough engineers with the desired skill sets.

Again in 2017, more than half of respondents reported working for their current employers for more than 10 years, the largest single group. Respondents who have been with their current employer less than five years is now 31%, up from 27%. Continuing up the scale, five to nine years, 16%; 10 to 14 years, 12%; 15 to 19 years, 9%; 20 to 24 years, 12%; 25 to 29 years, 9%; and 30 or more years, 12%. Similarly, the large majority of respondents, 75%, reported having been in their industry for 15 years or more, about the same as last year. The largest five-year-period for respondents in their industry was 30 to 34, 18%.

For hours of work per week, the most common range is 40 to 44 hours at 41%, 45 to 49 at 29%; 50 to 54 at 17%. Just 4% worked 55 or more hours per week and 9% worked fewer than 40 hours per week.

Region, titles, function

The region where the most respondents work is East North Central at 22%. Reported next was outside the U.S., 15%, and South Atlantic, 13%, Pacific, 10%, Mountain, West South Central, Middle Atlantic all were 8%, New England and West North Central each with 7%, and East South Central, 3%. 

Energy, size, staffing

The largest eight primary businesses for respondent locations were:

12% System Integration, Consulting, Business, or Technical Services

10% Instrumentation, Control Systems, Test, Measurement, or Medical Equipment Manufacturing

7% Machinery Manufacturing

7% Automotive and Other Transportation Equipment Manufacturing

6% Utilities, including Electric, Gas, Water & Waste, and Telecommunications

6% Chemical Manufacturing

6% Oil, Gas, and Petroleum, including Refining

5% Plastics and Rubber Manufacturing

Primary job functions were: system or product design, control or instrument engineering, 34%; operations or maintenance, 14%; other engineering including evaluation, QC, standards, reliability, test, project, software, plant, electrical, mechanical, or electronic, 13%; process, production, or manufacturing engineering, 13%; system integration or consulting, 11%; general or corporate management 9%; and other, 6%. 

Energy, size, staffing

The distribution of employees at respondents’ locations was as follows: less than 100 at 39%, 100 to 249 at 19%, 250 to 499 at 14%, 500 to 999 at 11%, and 1,000 or more at 17%.

Management responsibilities among respondents were one to five employees at 38%, six to 25 at 38%, 26 to 100 at 5%, and more than 100 at 3%.

Forty-nine percent of respondents do not expect the number of employees in their department to change in the next 12 months, about the same as last year, while 34% expect an increase. Decreases were expected by 10%.

Thirty-three percent of respondents expect their plants to add new product lines or shifts within 12 months; about half said they don’t expect to do so. 

Evaluation, optimization

Does your facility have a program to evaluate and optimize processes so appropriate automation and controls can be considered and applied?

42% have fully implemented such a program

6% said not yet, but we will implement such a program this year

19% No, but we plan to study these issues

19% No, we have no plans for such a program

5% No, we don’t know how such a program could help.

The survey assessed stage of development (maturity levels) in four areas and compared the response in 2017 versus 2016, which is in parentheses.

Cybersecurity program:

28% mature (34%)

25% developing (32%)

23% underway (21%)

14% nonexistent (12%).

Safety program:

54% mature (63%)

24% developing (27%)

15% underway (6%)

4% nonexistent (4%).

Maintenance program:

45% mature (52%)

23% developing (26%)

13% underway (13%)

10% nonexistent (9%).

Management program:

37% mature (46%)

28% developing (29%)

21% underway (13%)

6% nonexistent (12%).

Process evaluation program for consideration of more or upgraded automation and controls

22% mature (N/A)

28% developing (N/A)

18% underway (N/A)

22% non-existent (N/A). 

IIoT implementation

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) level of understanding among respondents was:

25% Familiar and being incorporated into automation, controls, and other areas

23% Heard of it and are look at how to incorporate

47% Heard of it and are unsure how it applies to us

4% Have not heard of it and interested in learning

1% Have not heard of it and have no interest.

As for IIoT implementation plans:

3% already have implemented in automation, controls, and operations and won’t do more in 2017

7% budgeted to add (or add more) IIoT into our automation, controls, and operations in 2017

13% are unsure how IIoT will help automation, controls, and operations

26% continue to study how best to implement IIoT

28% have no plans to implement IIoT.

Looking at salary among regions, West South Central (AR, LA, OK, TX) had the highest average base annual salary, $123,915, and highest average non-salary compensation, $20,056, perhaps reflecting petrochemical industry competition. The Pacific region (AK, WA, OR, CA, HI) was second (Figure 12).

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


Key concepts

  • Most engineers like their jobs, and technical challenge and feeling of accomplishment rank higher than financial compensation.
  • Compare engineering salaries by various benchmarks.
  • Automation and controls should get more attention than operations. 

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