Looking for a step-change increase in salaries

  • October 16, 2015
  • Feature

Results from the 2015 Salary Survey

By Rick Zabel, as originally published by InTech Magazine & InTech Online - October 2015.

Each year,InTech collaborates with Automation.com to conduct a salary survey. The results are in (Yawn)!  Let’s be honest, we all work in a very conservative field.  We do not accept or implement change very quickly.  So why would we expect salaries to change much from year to year?  Like previous years, the average salary of automation professionals realized only a modest increase -about 1.9% over last year. 

Since not much changes year over year, I decided to take a look back at historical data. We have been conducting a salary survey fairly consistently over the last eleven years.  We did not conduct the survey in 2006 nor 2009, so there is a gap in the data for those years. You can see the trend line for the average U.S. salary of an automation professionals in the bar chart below.

Between 2005 and 2010, there was a relatively significant increase in the average salary. Over a five-year period the average salary increased by more than $22,400. That is a 29% increase, and certainly something to get excited about!  Unfortunately, over the same length of time, from 2010 to 2015, the average salary only increased by about $8,000, an 8.1% increase.

Since one specific job function, Automation/Control Engineering, represents exactly a third of our responses this year, I decided to look at that specific average salary trend also.  It’s no surprise that the trend (below) matches very closely to the overall average salary trend (above).

So, what happened in the last five years? Is the demand for automation professionals not as great? Is the value they bring to a company not as great?  Was the cost of living increase not as great?  I’m fairly confident that the answers to all those questions is “No.” 

For years, I’ve been preaching that automation professionals are underpaid when you consider the value they can (or could) bring to a company. Many facilities are operating on old technology and therefore are not reaping the true benefits of a full integrated automation/business enterprise. More and more seasoned professionals are retiring, and we are not attracting enough new graduates into the automation field. What new grad wants to work for a company that is using 20-30-year-old technology?

The demand for automation professionals will remain high for the long term. As a result, salaries should continue to increase more quickly. I’m looking for (and expecting) a step-change increase in salaries in the near future. 

My message to employers is this…It’s time to make investments in new technology. It’s time to enable your automation staff to add more value to your entire enterprise with those investments. It’s time to act…now!  If you don’t make the investments, one or more of your competitors will.  Your business growth and survival depends on it.

Salary determining factors

After years of conducting this salary survey, we have identified the five major factors that determine salary:

  • Geographic Region
  • Job Function
  • Level of Education
  • Industry Segment
  • Years of Experience

Let’s dig into data.Our survey collected 3,330 responses from automation professionals located around the world, with 71.1% from the United States. Because salaries around the world vary greatly, we broke out the U.S. responses only to avoid skewing results. All of 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 33.3% of total responses. The most prominent years of experience category was 31 or more, indicated by 25.3% of respondents. More than half (51.8%) of the respondents were college graduates with a Bachelor’s Degree. 16.7% received an Advanced Degree. 80.7% of respondents reported salary increases this year, with the largest percentage (36.2%) realizing a 3-4% increase.

The largest percentage of respondents (24.8%) reported a salary in the $100,000 - $124,999 pay range. The second largest percentage (12.9%) reported a pay range of $125,000-$149,999.

Salary facts by region

The average salary in the United States is $107,383, up more than $2,000 from the previous year.  The only other region that reported a higher average salary was Australia and New Zealand, which reported $108,602 (US dollars). In the previous year, this region reported a significantly higher average salary of $134,709 (US dollars). But, then the exchange rate was much closer to a 1:1 ratio.  With the current exchange rate of 1.42, the stronger U.S. dollar accounts for the lower salary in that region this year.

Average Salary by Region of the World

 Region of World
Average Salary
Percent Respondents
 United States
 Central America (including Caribbean)
 South America
 Europe (Western)
 Europe (Eastern)                           
 Middle East
 Australia and New Zealand
 Asia & South Pacific
 South Asia

Within the United States, the highest paid region is the West South Central (South), with an average salary of $122,800 - nearly identical to last year. The lowest paid region this year is the West North Central (Midwest), with an average salary of $95,571. Regions are defined on Wikipedia.

Region of the United States*
Average Salary
Percent Respondents
 New England (Northeast)
 Mid-Atlantic (Northeast)
 East North Central (Midwest)
 West North Central (Midwest)
 South Atlantic (South)
 East South Central (South)
 West South Central (South)
 Mountain (West)
 Pacific (West)

It all depends on what you do

Your job function within the automation profession can come with a salary swing of more than $44,400. On the low end, those in Maintenance and Operations are earning $91,710 per year. On the high end, Engineering Management commands a $136,128 salary. The average salary of the largest percentage of respondents by job function (33.3%, Automation/Control Engineering) was $106,629. The top five highest-paid job functions are listed below.

  • Engineering Management – $136,128 (7.7% of respondents)
  • Consulting Engineering – $131,226 (4.8% of respondents)
  • Project Management – $121,264 (3.9% of respondents)
  • Sales - Business Development – $119,486 (6.7% of respondents)
  • General or Operations Management – $115,958 (5.3% of respondents)

Average Salary by Job Function

 Job Function
 Average Salary
Percent Respondents
 Automation/Control Engineering
 Consulting Engineering
 Design Engineering
 Engineering Management
 General or Operations Management              
 Operations and Maintenance
 Process/Plant/Manufacturing Engineering
 Project Management
 Sales - Business Development

A degree of higher learning

68.5% of respondents possessed a college degree or higher. The average salary of college graduates (without further graduate school) is $111,333. Those respondents who either attended some graduate school or completed an advanced degree reported an average salary of $123,472 – that’s a $12,139 increase over college graduates. If you factor in that increase over your career, it certainly pays to get that advanced degree.

Average Salary by Highest Level of Education

 Level of Education
 Average Salary
Percent Respondents
 High School Graduate
 Technical/Trade School Graduate       
 Attended Some College
 College Graduate
 Graduate School/Advanced Degree

Industry segment dictates pay

Not surprisingly, the biggest payer is the Oil & Gas industry segment at $125,772. The largest number of responses came from the Engineering Consulting or Systems Integration segment (20.9%) where the average salary is $113,903. Refer to the following table for salaries by all industry segments.

Average Salary by Industry Segment

 Average Salary
Percent Respondents
 Engineering Consulting or Systems Integration
 Food & Beverage
 Industrial Machinery & Equipment
 Oil & Gas
 Utilities - Electrical, Natural Gas, Nuclear
 Utilities -Water/Wastewater

With experience, comes more money

As you would expect, the average salary varies greatly by years of professional work experience. Based on the data, over the course of your career, you can expect to nearly double your salary. The salary of those with less than 2 years of experience is $60,217. Those respondents who put in 31 or more years are bringing home $119,842 per year.

Average Salary by Years of Experience

 Years of Professional Work Experience
 Average Salary
Percent Respondents
 2 Years or Fewer     
 3-5 Years
 6-10 Years
 11-15 Years
 16-20 Years
 21-25 Years
 26-30 Years
 31 or More Years

What determines job satisfaction?

Over the years, the job satisfaction results never really changed. So we stopped asking. Job satisfaction within the automation profession is high.  Just to refresh your memory, the feeling of accomplishment typically rated the highest. Technical challenge, benefits, salary, pleasant work environment, good relationship with work colleagues, and job security are also contributing factors. The top four most important benefits are health insurance, pension plan/401K, flexible working hours, and paid time off.

Again this year, we asked respondents to tell us if they are seeking other opportunities. Those who are actively seeking new opportunities made up 9.0% of respondents and had an average annual salary of $93,995 – nearly $14,000 less than the average. Passive job seekers made up 39.7% of respondents, whose average salary was $103,900 - nearly $3,500 less than average. Those not seeking new opportunities (51.3%) were making $112,627 – more than $5,200 above the average salary.

Licenses and certifications

We compared the salary of those with a Professional Engineering license to those without a license. It’s no surprise that those with the license (14.3%) earn an average of $27,771 more each year, or an average salary of $131,958 versus $104,187 for those without the license (81.4%).

What about those professional certifications? This year, we asked respondents to tell us if they possess any association certifications. 28.6% of respondents have some kind of certification, while 68.9% did not. The salary did not vary much between the “haves” and “have nots.” Those professionals with a certification made $110,333, while those without made $107,037.


As in previous years, I conclude the salary data with a recipe for how to maximize your salary. Like any great recipe, this recipe hasn’t changed over the years.

Recipe to Maximize your Salary*

  • Get your Bachelor of Science degree (any engineering will do). An advanced degree will improve results.
  • Move to the West South Central region of the United States (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma or Texas).
  • Work in the Oil & Gas industry segment. If that doesn’t work out, try Engineering Consulting or Systems Integration.
  • Get your Professional Engineering (PE) license.
  • Exercise your leadership attributes and become an Engineering Manager.
  • Continue to show your value to your managers and company. Convince them to make more investments in technology and business integration.
  • Stick with your profession – you can almost double your salary through-out your career.

*Results may vary depending on attitude.

About the Author

Rick Zabelis Managing Director, Publisher and occasional Editor of Automation.com, and has been with the company since its inception in 2000. Previously, Rick worked with Wunderlich-Malec Engineering Inc. of Minnetonka, MN, where he served as the Marketing Manager for the Process Control and Software Integration Business Groups. Rick also held positions of Application Engineer, Account Manager, Sales Engineer, and Regional Sales Manager for automation product manufacturers and distribution companies. Rick is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin – Madison with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering.

Congratulations to our 2015 Salary Survey drawing winners Daniel S., Brian Z., Joshua B., Tim C., and Susan B.

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