Research: More skilled workers are needed; outsourcing, STEM initiatives may help

Think Again: The 2019 Control Engineering Career and Salary Survey includes questions on topics of concern, such as outsourcing, workforce, process improvement, cybersecurity, automation, and threats.

By Mark T. Hoske May 22, 2019

Outsourcing and workforce issues, process evaluation and optimization, cybersecurity and automation maturity, and business threats are among critical topics covered in the 2019 Control Engineering Career and Salary Survey. For brevity, see related questions and top answers below. The online report, authored by Amanda Pelliccione, director of research and awards programs for CFE Media and Technology, has all answers and percentages.

What are the biggest threats that your manufacturing business faces today? Check all that apply. About half of respondents said lack of available skilled workers. About one third each said economy and competition, separately.

Other double-digit replies were: inadequate management; lack of investments for equipment software upgrade/replacement; lack of investments for workflow, manufacturing design upgrades; regulations, codes, standards, etc.; taxes, tariffs on products; and government/political interference.

On the topic of skilled workers, the top three multiple choice (strongly agree) opinions were:

  • 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 Institutes, etc.)
  • Grade schools and middle schools should be more encouraging of trade school attendance.

Why does your facility outsource functions to third-party providers? Check all that apply.

Top answers are better focus on core competencies, lack of skilled staff, cost management, to support high-volume project times, and lack of equipment.

What functions does your facility outsource to third-party providers? Check all that apply.

Top answers are control panel build/wiring/fabrication, system integration, information technology (IT), and maintenance. (Experts in the Global System Integrator Database can help with those and other areas of expertise.)

Please indicate the stage of development for the following programs in your facility:

From highest to lowest levels of maturity were: safety, maintenance, management, cybersecurity, automation evaluation process, IIoT, and Industrie 4.0.

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

Top three replies were fully implemented at 36%, no program but plan to study at 26%, and no program and no plans for one at 24%. Another 6% said they don’t have a program yet, but will this year.

Think again about career, salary, and related topics covered in the Career Update section that follows.

Mark T. Hoske is content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media,


Top job-related concern is staffing

The write-in question, “Looking forward to the next 12 months, what is your biggest job-related concern?” provided 86 valid replies. I manually sorted those into seven categories and other, choosing only one category each.

Top job-related concerns are staffing, followed by money/budget, economy/competition, and training. Results follow along with a sampling of replies.

28 Staffing

Getting the next generation on board so I can retire in 2020.

Having the number of personnel to accomplish all tasks to support for product growth.

Having the resources to deal with the expansive growth we are experiencing. Talent is short, money is not.

Keeping talented workforce

Matching staffing to workload

Not enough resources to execute the work properly. Quality suffers as workload continues to increase and people are spread too thin.

14 Money/budget

Cash flow

Lack of funding for projects

Resource allocation

The facility I work at is quickly becoming undersized for production demands while aging at the same time.

12 Economy/competition

A downturn in the economy

Keeping ahead of competition


11 Training

Continuing education to keep up with latest technology used in our facility.

New technology

Training and education

7 Time

Finishing all projects on schedule

Sustaining production pace

Workload not allowing enough free time

7 Upgrades


Ability to implement (fund and staff) approaching control system obsolescence.

Parts obsolescence

Upgrading current equipment

5 Other

Elderly company owner with no interested heirs or buyers


2 Regulation

Long-term effects of tariffs

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.