Despite Job Worries, Engineers' Salaries Show Slight Increase

2009 Research Shows Slight Up-Tick in Pay: Ninth Annual Control Design Salary and State-of-Mind Survey Shows Education Still Plays Key Role

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If you're not concerned about your job, then you are either lucky or oblivious to the events swirling around you. But you're definitely in the minority. In our Ninth Annual Control Design Salary and State-of-Mind Survey, 62% of the respondents said they were concerned about job security. Of course, that number isn't surprising, but the slight up-tick in annual salary is. Despite reports of reduced work hours and pay in manufacturing and machine-building, the average salary for a controls engineer increased by almost 1% to $84,300, according to our latest research.

Similar to our survey results in previous years, more than 90% of participants are over age 35, and 73% said they're controls-and-machine-automation veterans of more than 11 years.

Headed for a Breakdown

While company management's annual salaries went down from last year ($95,922 to $91,917), all other job descriptions we surveyed said their salaries increased. Engineering and design, as well as research and development, increased by more than $3,000 over 2008 reported earnings. But the biggest gain was shown by technical support, which bulked up well over 10% to $77,289.

Electrical engineering is the most popular degree held by our participants (41%) and still holds the top spot for compensated degrees at $87,921, but business management and computer science degrees showed surprisingly huge jumps in our survey, ramping up to $85,577 and $83,684, respectively. Mechanical engineering degrees showed just a slight increase at $83,672. While the type of degree saw some major shuffling from 2008 results, the level of education still held true to form. Doctorate degrees dipped only slightly from $109,860 to $107,778 at the head of the pack. The remainder of education levels held fairly true to the salaries of 2008, with more education translating into a higher salary. Master's degrees demanded $98,582, and four-year college degrees earned $86,244. Almost 70% of respondents to our survey hold at least a four-year degree.

Cashing in on Education

Despite almost two-thirds of survey participants saying their companies laid off workers in the past 12 months and another 55% saying they had hiring freezes in place, 63% of participants said their companies offered continuing-education reimbursement, and more than half relied on supplier-led classes. Mentoring (39%), internships (33%) and company classrooms or labs (31%) also were cited as being offered by participants' companies.

Survey respondents said that when they began their careers as controls engineers, supplier classes were important training tools for them (51%). Mentoring also was important, cited by 49% of participants. Reimbursed continuing education (40%) and first-year on-the-job training (33%) also ranked fairly high.

Everything Stays the Same

Despite the lackluster economy and job concerns, the number of survey respondents who are fairly satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs remained largely unchanged, hovering just under three-quarters (43% and 30%, respectively). Challenging work still remained the No. 1 motivator for controls engineers, and in fact this year it inched up slightly, recognized by 45% of participants as the thing they respond to best. Not surprisingly in these economic times, appreciation and salary/benefits fell a few percentage points (19%, 15%), but all motivators maintained their order of importance from the previous year.


Earlier this year, we emailed invitations to our subscribers and included a link to the survey in several of our newsletters. Usable survey responses were returned to us from 502 participants. Results were analyzed and additional interviews were conducted. For specific information about the survey results, contact or phone toll-free 800/984-7644, ext. 444.

Tim BlackburnTim Blackburn
Senior Electrical/Instrument Engineer
Orbital Engineering (
Pittsburgh, Pa.

Tim Blackburn sees the economic downturn and its consequent operational downtime as an opportunity to be constructive. "The natural inclination during a slump is to pull back, reserving capital, but in reality this is the perfect time to retool while the interruptions will not impact production capacity adversely," he explains. "Once the economy rebounds, you will not have time to add new technology and skills. You will be too busy turning out product."

Blackburn's path into engineering was fortuitous—well, maybe not for the wood shop involved.

"While I was in high school, the wood shop burnt during the summer of my freshman year, so I took a course in mechanical drafting in place of wood shop," he explains. "I loved the whole concept of developing the designs that others would build." One associate's degree in mechanical engineering design from Penn State and a B.S. in electrical engineering from Point Park College later, Blackburn found a mentor who showed him the path.

"Many of the skills I use daily were learned from the first engineer I worked with as a young designer at Koppers," he recalls. "Mr. Edelman was an incredible mentor who took me under his wing. Each morning, we would both come to work early and have ‘class' on a topic that was relevant to the current project. He also made sure that I had the opportunity to attend trade shows and vendor training."

And that discipline of staying current through regular training has carried over throughout Blackburn's career. "Given the current economy, online courses have some appeal, but they lack personal involvement that can be such a significant part of the learning experience," he says. "I take advantage of the training programs offered locally and nationally by the trade organizations, such as ISA. These programs are developed and conducted by professionals for professionals."

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