Happy under pressure - Results of 2011 Salary Survey

  • October 10, 2011
  • Feature
By Rick Zabel, as originally published by InTech Magazine & InTech Online - October 2011.
Annual salary survey indicates higher job satisfaction with little or no pay increase
Time flies. It is hard to believe another year has passed since we published the 2010 salary survey results. In last year’s salary survey article, I wrote about how I and many other automation professionals just fell into this industry at some point in our careers, and we are still here today. According to the survey results, not much has changed in a year. After all, as engineers (myself included), we do not typically like change. Change is often difficult to control, and we thrive on being in control. As a matter of fact, we get paid to be in control. So maybe it is fitting that we all work in a very conservative industry where very little changes from year to year. We appreciate the status quo.
Unfortunately, there are many factors beyond our control. In the current economic, global, and competitive environment, manufacturing companies are being forced to continually analyze, optimize, and improve production efficiencies. According to our survey, one thing does continue to change. Many of us feel greater pressure to increase productivity and reduce costs. On top of that, many of our manufacturing plants and processes are being controlled by old systems and are (or soon will be) in need of replacement or upgrades. Fortunately for us, automation plays a huge role. There are a wealth of technologies, tools, and software available to help us to address these pressures.
As pressures increase, however, the average salaries of automation professionals have not increased. Yet, we remain satisfied. Job satisfaction has increased among automation professionals. More than 80% of respondents, up 7% over last year, indicated they are satisfied with their job. 34% said they are very satisfied, and 46% said they were somewhat satisfied.
Based on the survey results, job satisfaction is tied to a number of factors. While salary is a leading factor, it is not the most important factor. Like last year, the feeling of accomplishment rated the highest, with job security, benefits, salary, technical challenge, pleasant work environment, and good relationship with work colleagues all as contributing factors. The top four most important benefits include health insurance (77%), pension plan/401K (52%), flexible working hours (37%), and paid time off (36%).
Year after year, I argue salaries of automation professionals are low when compared to the value automation brings to a manufacturing company. And each year, I keep waiting for those salaries to increase. As the workforce shortage continues to grow, I maintain the demand for experienced automation professionals will increase. I still think that time is coming. But that will require a change—one change that we engineers would certainly welcome. By the looks of it, we will still be here. After all, we are problem solvers, and what is most important to us is the feeling of accomplishment.
This year, InTech again collaborated with Automation.com to conduct the annual salary survey. The survey had 4,737 completed responses from automation professionals located around the world, with 58% from the U.S. Salaries around the world vary greatly. Instead of tallying all the results together, we decided to break out the U.S. respondents, to avoid skewing results. All the results quoted in this article, other than “Average salary by region of the world,” represent U.S. responses only.
Snap shot of typical respondents
The job function of the typical survey respondent was an Automation/Control Engineer, accounting for 22% of responses. The most prominent average age range was 45–54. Nearly half (44%) of the respondents were college graduates with a bachelor’s degree, with the largest percentage of those (36%) possessing a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. 25% of respondents attended graduate school, and 18% received an advanced degree, of which the largest percentage (26%) acquired a Business Administration degree. The largest percentage of respondents (27%) have more than 31 years of professional work experience, while more than half (57%) have been with their current employer for less than 10 years. Salary increases were pretty much non-existent again in 2010; 25% had no increase, and 46% received a 1–3% increase. At least a portion of the compensation of 59% of our respondents came in the form of commissions or bonuses. The largest percentage of respondents (35%) clocked between 41 and 45 hours per week, and the average vacation time was three weeks per year. Let’s take a closer look at the data.
Salary facts
The largest percentage of respondents (23%) reported a salary in the $100,000–$124,999 pay range. The second largest percentage (13%) was a pay range of $70,000–$79,000. The average salary in the U.S. is $99,540—that is only $203 dollars more than the average salary last year. Two other regions of the world reported a higher average salary. Canadian respondents reported an average salary of $101,646, while Australia and New Zealand respondents reported a whopping $121,089. It is interesting to note the dollar exchange rate in both of these regions is fairly close to a 1:1 ratio. However, the cost of living is typically higher in both regions, and the average salaries reflect those higher living expenses.
Average salary by region of the world
The average salary of the largest percentage of respondents by job function (22%, Automation/Control Engineering) was $102,660. The top five highest paid job functions are listed below—it is no surprise three of them are management positions. The highest paid job function is Consulting Engineering. With the increasing skills shortage, this proves the demand is high for seasoned industry consultants.
  • Consulting Engineering – $168,692 (3.5%)
  • Engineering Management – $125,993 (5.5%)
  • Safety Systems Engineering – $120,714 (0.6%)
  • General or Operations Management – $114,448 (3.1%)
  • Project Management – $111,060 (3.7%)
Average salary by job function
A degree of higher learning
More than 69% of respondents possessed a college degree or higher. The average salary of college graduates (without advanced degrees) is $103,961. The results show those who attended at least some graduate school (but did not finish) only commanded a marginal increase in salary of $795. Those respondents who actually completed an advanced degree reported an average salary of $110, 810—that is a $7,000 increase over college graduates. If you factor that increase over your career, it certainly pays to finish that advanced degree.
The largest percentage of respondents (32%) received a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering, pulling an average salary of $109,492. The other top five average salaries by degree are:
  • Chemical Engineering – $120,845 (10.8%)
  • Physics – $112,069 (1.5%)
  • Other Science – $108,136 (3.0%)
  • Other Engineering – $107,173 (4.3%)
  • Business Administration – $105,657 (5.1%)
Participants of our survey work in 40 different industry segments. The largest number of responses came from the Engineering Services segment (12%), where the average salary is $113,074. It is interesting to note which industries are the biggest payers. The highest average salary ($126,786) is being paid to those who work in Utilities – Pipelines, except Natural Gas. The next five highest salaries are being paid to professionals in these industry segments:
  • Oil & Gas Extraction – $120,765 (4.0%)
  • Petroleum Refining & Related Industries – $117,255 (6.3%)
  • Engineering Services – $113,074 (12.2%)
  • Utilities – Combo (Nuclear/Fossil Fuel, etc.) – $109,500 (1.6%)
  • Valves, Fittings, Fabricated Metal Products – $108,750 (0.7%)
For a complete list of salary breakdowns by job function, degree, country, industry, etc., please visit: www.automation.com/salary_survey_2011.
Membership has its privileges
Namely, increased pay. Once again this year, it is apparent professionals who are members of some industry organizations pulled in higher salaries, on average, than those who are not members. Nearly half of all respondents (43%) were ISA members, and their average salary is $103,965. Compare that to respondents who don’t belong to any organizations (32%), whose average salary is $92,560. Interested in ISA membership now? Visit www.isa.org/join to learn more.
Points of interest
The average salary for a male is $100,422, while the average salary for a female is $87,351—a $13,000 difference. If you go to any industry event, it is apparent a small percentage of women (less than 7% of respondents) work in the automation industry. You could argue the reason might, in part, be due to the salary gap between men and women. However, according to an April 2010 Time.com article, “Why Do Women Still Earn Less Than Men,” a woman’s salary can vary between 81% and 91% of a man’s salary, when factoring comparable education and experience. So, even though the salaries are not equitable, the 87% difference reflected in our survey is within the norm. I am not saying it is right, I am just stating the facts. Arguably, one reason for the lower woman’s salary is women are typically the primary caregiver for children in a family, and they are more likely to take time from their career to raise their children.
The average salary of an independent contractor was almost identical to that of a direct employee, less by $13 per year. In previous years of the survey, independent contractors typically received a few thousand dollars more per year. 93% of respondents indicated they are a direct employee, while 7% indicated they are a contract employee.
The average salary consistently increases as your tenure with a company increases. The average salary of a professional who has been at their company for less than two years is $86,731. That compares to $108,685 for those who have been at their company for 21 or more years. The average salary also consistently increases as the size of the company/division increases. The average salary of a professional who works for a company with less than 30 employees is $86,267. That compares to $113,050 for those who work for a company or division with 10,000 or more employees. The bottom line: It appears you can earn more money by working for a larger company and staying with that company for the duration of your career.
Upcoming retirements and skills shortage
There continues to be concern about the exodus of retirees from the automation industry and the imminent workforce skills shortage. More than 65% of respondents are over the age of 45 and in the second half of their career. Brace yourself for this: More than 30% of respondents will retire in the next 10 years, and almost 14% will retire in the next five years. Another 9% are not sure when they will retire. Are your companies preparing themselves to retain, replace, or augment this aging workforce?
 The good news is 49% of those respondents who said they will retire in the next 10 years indicate they will continue to work part-time or offer consulting services after retirement. And who wouldn’t when a “Consulting Engineer” can command a 60+% pay increase above other job functions? Another 29% of those future retirees are not sure what they will do after retirement. So, it appears there will still be a significant talent pool available, at least in the short-term future.
Automation newbies must brush up on skills
Unfortunately, many of those few, young professionals joining the automation industry are missing some key skills. This is not surprising because most of them did not specifically train for this industry. There are few college programs that focus on automation and control engineering, so newbies are forced to learn on the job. The top skill missing with new automation professionals is the understanding of automated processes; 43% of survey respondents selected this skill as missing. The second most lacked skill, coming in at 33%, is basic engineering principles. In third place, 31% say newbies are missing business acumen.
Pressures to reduce cost, improve productivity increase
In 2009, 81% of respondents indicated they felt an increased pressure to reduce costs. Last year, 64% said they felt increased pressure over the last 12 months. This year, 56% feel increased pressure yet again. For the majority of the remaining respondents (42%), the pressure has stayed the same. Nearly identical to the last two years, 65% percent of respondents said they felt more pressure to increase productivity, while 34% said the pressure stayed the same. While workplace pressures continue to increase, salaries do not. What is wrong with this picture?
Cooperation between Engineering & IT
Again this year, we asked the question about convergence or cooperation of IT and automation groups within companies. The complaint of dueling IT and engineering departments is continuing to subside, as it should. With the pressures to increase productivity and reduce costs, it has become essential that business processes and manufacturing process work together nicely. Up 7% from last year, 54% of respondents said their IT and engineering groups operate separately, but they cooperate well. Showing a slight decrease, 17% of respondents said their IT and engineering groups are separate, and they do not cooperate.
A few companies have even combined their IT and engineering groups. 4% of companies have combined the groups, and everyone reports to an engineering leader, while 2% have combined, and everyone reports to an IT leader. The remaining 23% of respondents said this question did not apply to them, likely because their company is too small to have defined groups or they work for a systems integration or engineering services company.
Not much has changed in salaries in the last year. However, based on the data from the salary survey, it is easy to conclude automation professionals are generally satisfied with their jobs. The pressure to increase productivity and reduce costs is a natural result of the tough economy and global competition. As automation professionals, we need to step up to the challenges and solve those problems that hinder our manufacturing processes and bottom-line profitability. Let’s use our expertise to analyze, optimize, and improve operations. But do not forget to measure the results of your improvements. By measuring results and return on investments, you can prove to management the value of your profession and ultimately be able to command higher salaries. It is a win-win for everyone involved. This is one change you can drive.
More analysis of the salary data
Because many of you are highly analytical, we published a number of salary-related tables, charts, and graphs on Automation.com, including a breakdown of average salaries by regions within the U.S. There are literally hundreds of ways to analyze and compare the data, but we had to stop somewhere. Go to www.automation.com/salary_survey_2011, and see how you stack up.
Rick Zabel is vice president and publisher of Automation.com. He would like to extend a special “Thank You” to all who took the time to complete our survey; and to Kia Weller and Stephanie Dwyer at Automation.com for all their help compiling the survey data.

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