What Cost, These Controls Engineers?

Salaries Skyrocket, According to Our Annual Survey

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By Mike Bacidore, Managing Editor

The average pay for a controls engineer made its second-largest jump in the history of our annual salary and state-of-mind survey. Highlighted by an increase of more than 8%, the yearly assessment of what OEMs are spending on the brains behind the brains inside the machines revealed few new surprises. The cost of controls engineers, just like the cost of gasoline or anything else in limited supply and high demand, is going up.

“Employers, as well as practicing engineers, need to do more to help local school systems and organizations like the National Society of Black Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers to foster an appreciation of the STEM curriculum,” says Sybil Barco, design engineer I at Fluor Power Group in Charlotte, N.C. “Without this grassroots effort, the shortage of capable technically prepared candidates will grow.”

Female respondents to the survey, like Barco, comprised 7% of participants, perhaps indicating the long-awaited tipping point of women’s visibility in the controls engineering profession.

And when you combine the attractiveness of salaries and job satisfaction with the push by organizations like NSBE, SWE and FIRST to direct traditionally underrepresented groups, like females or ethnic minorities, down this career path, controls engineering could see an influx of women to quell the claims of a short supply of talent.

Everybody Wins

The average salary of a controls engineer, according to our survey is $83,559, and almost to a category everyone in the profession saw financial increases over 2007. Remarkably, about two-thirds of participants said they received a bonus this past year, and the bonus exceeded 10% for almost 14% of those responding to the survey.

Individuals with an industrial engineering degree saw staggering rewards in pay, leaping from less than $72,000 in the previous year’s survey to more than $83,000 in 2008. Figures for those with an electrical engineering degree also increased significantly from less than $80,000 in 2007 to more than $87,000 this year. Math/physics majors’ salaries, however dropped sharply, from almost $99,000 to almost $83,000, which could account for the rise in the other degrees. Almost 60% of respondents reported having either an ME or an EE degree.

Research and development salaries fell slightly, from almost $85,000 to around $80,000, but management positions bounded from just under $83,000 to almost $96,000, and those in procurement realized an $11,000 annual increase, according to the survey results. “Many engineers will openly admit that, to get past a specific salary level, you must leave engineering and become a manager,” says Rob Herrmann, technical project leader at Sealed Air, which makes its headquarters in Elmwood Park, N.J.

No shockers in the salaries reported based on educational level completed. The more education, the higher the earning power. Those with doctorate degrees remained significantly above $100,000, and engineers with master’s degrees fell just shy of six digits this year. And almost two-thirds of participants report having at least a four-year college degree.

The same goes for salaries based on age and years of service. The older you are and the longer you’ve been in the industry, the more money you’re making, according to respondents’ answers. And almost 70% of survey participants reported at least 11 years of industry experience.

Feeling Groovy

While financial compensation is the basic reward for controls engineers, individuals still placed more emphasis on the fulfilling nature of the work itself and the work environment. The general state of mind of controls engineers remained high. Almost three-quarters of respondents said they’re fairly satisfied or very satisfied with their job and their work. This groovy feeling could result directly from a steady supply of challenging work, which survey respondents once again ranked as their most impactful motivator. Appreciation for their work was the second most important motivational factor, while salary/benefits, job security and opportunity for advancement rounded out the bottom. Despite rising salaries and a low ranking of job security as a motivator, about 45% of participants voiced some concern about their job security, possibly a result of having seen the bottom drop out of the job market in previous years.

The Learning Curve

Education and training are an ongoing source for controls engineers to keep up-to-date with the latest technology and to revisit old principles and basics. Although years of education translate into a higher salary, more than half of our respondents said that mentoring programs were the most important and beneficial parts of their educational training when they began their careers as controls engineers. And almost 40% of survey participants claimed their current employers offer mentoring programs.

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