Design Controls for Your Career

Whatever Measures You Can Take to Retain Your Workforce, Rather Than Have a Reduction in Force, Are the Right Things to Do

Mike BacidoreBy Mike Bacidore, Managing Editor

Are you concerned about your job? If you're not, then you're in the minority. Sixty-two percent of the respondents to our Ninth Annual Control Design Salary and State-of-Mind Survey said they were concerned about job security.

While that number isn't surprising, the slight uptick in annual salary is. Despite national reports of manufacturing companies reducing work hours and subsequently pay, the average salary for a controls engineer inched up slightly to $84,300, according to the results.

Sure, you could argue that the data is skewed because the participants in the survey are the fat cats who still have their jobs, but only 14% of the respondents said they were in management, so the playing field appears level. More than 90% of participants are over age 35, and 73% said they've been in the controls-and-machine-automation field for at least 11 years, which is similar to our results from previous years.

"Whatever measures you can take to retain your workforce, rather than have a reduction in force, are the right things to do," says Ken Moehring, equipment engineering manager at Belcan Engineering (www.belcan.com), an automation design/build company with a center in Cleveland, and one of our survey participants. "We're doing a lot of in-house training now. We're trying to streamline our engineering activities. We've worked with our IT people to generate macros. If companies have to reduce costs, the best step is to cut back on hours instead of reducing headcount, but you have to temper that with people's financial issues.”

Another survey respondent, Tom Donnelly, senior electrical engineer at Domtar's (www.domtar.com) pulp and paper mill in Ashdown, Ark., agrees that allowing valuable employee knowledge to escape isn't the answer.

"Some companies are downsizing arbitrarily," he says. "They cut back and don't know where or how much. Then they have to scramble to rehire what they lost. Before they make those decisions, those companies need to take a better look at what they really need, in terms of personnel and skills, now and down the road."

Tim Blackburn, another survey participant and senior electrical/instrument engineer at Orbital Engineering (www.orbitalengr.com), an automation design/build firm headquartered in Pittsburgh, sees the downtime as an opportunity to be constructive. "The natural inclination during a slump is to pull back, reserving capital, but this is the perfect time to retool while the interruptions will not adversely impact production capacity," he explains. "Once the economy rebounds, you won't have time to add new technology and skills. You'll be too busy turning out product."

Whatever measures you can take to retain your workforce, rather than have a reduction in force, are the right things to do.

While 61% of those taking part in our survey said their companies laid off workers in the past 12 months and another 55% said they had hiring freezes in place, 62% said their companies offered continuing-education reimbursement, which is important. More than two-thirds of respondents (69%) have at least a four-year degree, and 41% of those were earned in electrical engineering.

Donnelly, for example, holds a bachelor's degree in EE from North Carolina State University (NCSU), but he's also earned an MBA and is now in the process of completing his master's degree in EE through online classes at NCSU.

"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," counters Blackburn. "I take advantage of the training programs offered locally and nationally by the trade organizations."

We also asked which types of educational training were important to participants when they began their careers as controls engineers. Supplier classes topped the list at 51%, with mentoring a close second at 49%.

Moehring earned his mechanical engineering degree at Cleveland State University, but co-op experience was a big benefit for him. "I went through a co-op program at Eaton Axle in Cleveland," he says. "Co-op experience is really great because I had a stint in the assembly and testing area, and I was exposed to a lot of things."

To read the full results of our survey and learn more about some of the respondents, visit www.ControlDesign.com/2009salarysurvey.

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