• By Cory Fogg
  • Cover Story
Capping off a decade of growth
Results from the 2019 engineering salary survey
Cover Story Main img Sept-Oct

By Cory Fogg

After five years of consistent growth, automation and control engineers in the U.S. reported sluggish growth for the year as the decade nears its end. The Automation.com/InTech 2019 Salary Survey showed 2% growth for automation and control engineers specifically, while the average salary of all U.S.-based respondents saw a fractional decrease. Similar drops in average salary were also reported in several global regions.

While it may be disappointing to see the momentum of a decade of salary growth stagnate, demand for engineers is expected to remain strong. For example, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for industrial engineers is expected to grow 8% over the next 10 years, which is faster than the average (5%) for all occupations. Demand for chemical engineers will grow 6% by 2028.

Regarding salaries, the great news is that engineers in the U.S. today are finishing a decade in which salaries rose 16%. Technological advancements and increased connectivity have led to greater needs for industrial system designers, integrators, and cybersecurity specialists, boosting the value of professionals with expertise and experience in these areas. The less-great news is that the value boost did not seem to apply 2019's 2% salary growth for U.S. automation and control engineers.

Still, in the U.S., 63.2% of respondents reported a salary of more than $100,000, with nearly 41% reporting a salary in the $100,000-$150,000 range. So, an engineering career clearly remains a valuable proposition for many of our surveyed professionals. The 2019 salary survey data reveals rises and falls in several key areas:

  • Some 83.3% of our respondents reported a salary increase in the past year, although 70.9 percent of those said that the raise was less than 4%.
  • Entry-level average salaries dropped 11.2%, eliminating a boost reported in the 2018 survey.
  • The East North Central region (including states like Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois) reported the lowest average salary of all U.S. regions in 2019-and 4.1% less than their 2018 average.
  • The industries that saw the largest raises, proportionally, were oil and gas (4.9%) and utilities (4.1%).
  • Respondents who reported having either an ISA professional certification or similar certification in 2019 (30.9%) averaged a 5.3% higher salary than those who did not.

Survey demographics

Our survey results reflect data collected from more than 1,600 responses sent in by automation professionals located around the world, with a special focus on the 995 responses received from the U.S. One of the biggest differentiators in terms of engineer salary is the region, so our analysis separates the U.S. responses. Note: All the results quoted in this article, other than average salary by region of the world, represent U.S. responses only.

As has been the case for several years, the primary respondent to our survey was a U.S.-based automation/control engineer (making up 26% of the survey pool). Although we had data come in from sources all over the world and from a variety of job functions and industries, U.S.-based personnel made up 66.7% of respondents, followed by Western Europe (5.8 percent) and Canada (5.7%).

Respondents were primarily "very experienced," as over half claimed more than 21 years of experience and almost 85% have more than 11 years of experience. Post-secondary degrees were also prevalent, with 69.3% of respondents having at least a bachelor's degree.

A varied world for automation professionals

Throughout the 15 years we have conducted this salary survey, we have identified five major factors that determine salary: geographic region, job function, level of education, industry segment, and years of experience.

Geography is a key differentiator in engineer salary. A U.S.-based engineer, for example, can expect a higher salary than his or her neighboring engineers in Canada, and far more than their colleagues to the south in Mexico. Mexican engineers reported the lowest average salary of any global region.

It is interesting that although respondents in most regions around the globe reported average salaries that were slightly lower than the previous year, there were significant salary gains in the South Pacific islands. Engineers in Australia and New Zealand, for instance, reported a 13% average rise in salary, while the Asia and South Pacific region reported a 5% rise-the only two global regions to report positive growth in their average salaries.

Average salary by region of the world


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The state of U.S. engineers

The salary for the U.S. engineer plateaued slightly in the past year, but this is the culmination of a decade in which average salaries rose by nearly $20,000. So, does this mean that the U.S. engineer should expect salaries to level off? Not necessarily. While the average salary did decrease by a fraction of a percent (.6%), the survey showed a similar infinitesimal regression in 2014 as well, which was sandwiched on each side by multiple years of significant salary growth.

Average salary by year, automation/control engineers

The data cannot tell us definitively how the automation and engineering skills gap and labor shortages may be affecting salaries; however, the data does show precedent that this single-year salary stagnation could well be an outlier in the middle of years of continued growth. We will continue to monitor this with great interest to see how salaries respond in the years to come.

Location within the U.S. matters as well. Just like a U.S. engineer might have a salary advantage over an engineer in a neighboring country, an engineer living in California or Texas has a salary advantage over an engineer living in Wisconsin or Montana. While we cannot say with certainty all the factors that create this disparity, we can definitely say that the demand for engineers in these higher-paid regions appears to be high.

The West South Central region, which includes Texas, reported the highest average salary in the U.S., while accounting for nearly 20% of all U.S. respondents. The Pacific region, where California contained more than 10 percent of U.S. respondents, was second in average pay. Still, as you will see from the numbers, demand might not be affecting salaries. The Rust Belt states in the East North Central region, for example, have high numbers of engineers, but significantly lower salaries than their Texan and Californian counterparts. Four of the nine U.S. regions reported average salary increases in 2019, with the largest percentage increases in the South Atlantic region (9.3% increase) and the West North Central region (4.3% increase and an 11.2% rise over the past two years). (*Regions are defined on Wikipedia.)

Average salary by U.S. region


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A decade in review

Although engineers as a whole reported an average salary hit in the past year, automation/control engineers had no such issue. Nearly 40% of U.S.-based respondents reported this as their job function, and it is clear that this is a prominent area for engineers to find some of the best value for their skills.

Automation/control engineers are also coming off a decade of significant growth, having seen average salaries rise by nearly 17 percent over that time, with 2% growth registered for last year. The 5% gain that automation/control engineers saw last year, we said, was likely not sustainable. However, given the number of aging and retiring engineers, along with many organizations still warning of a potential skills gap, we expect the demand for automation/control engineers, as well as their compensation, to remain relatively high.

While automation/control engineers made up the bulk of respondents, many other engineers of various job functions contributed to our survey, and we did not ignore them. In all, we collected data across 12 job functions to help depict the many options open for tomorrow's engineer, as shown in the chart.

Average salary by job function


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Unlike last year, however, most of these job functions reported decreases in average salary. Only automation/control engineers, process/plant/manufacturing engineers, engineering management, and sales professionals reported increases. A 6.3% salary rise for the process/plant/manufacturing engineers in 2019 set the pace, with this group seeing an average increase of $20,000 over the past two years.

Our survey collected a few responses from information technology engineers, and these professionals reported the largest drop in average salary (15.5%) compared to last year. However, given the growing need for professionals to be able to work with both information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) systems, the overall value of these professionals remains high compared to many other functions.

Proven ROI for engineering degrees?

At a time when colleges may have to work to prove the value of many college degrees, the engineering field is one where the value is very clearly seen. The 48.6% of our respondents with college degrees reported a 13.5% higher salary than those who did not attend college. Advanced degrees paid off even further, with an 8.1 percent salary increase over those engineers with a bachelor's degree.

While college can cost a great deal for today's students, our survey suggests that engineering degrees, both undergraduate and advanced degrees, may boost salary opportunity by more than $10,000 annually. If this is indeed the case, the average engineer can find a decent return on investment (ROI) for his or her degree and an ability pay off student loans in just a few years.

Average salary by level of education


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The right industry can mean higher value

Education level is a big salary separator, but the industry an engineer works in also has a very significant impact. An engineer working in oil and gas, for instance, will likely have a larger salary than one working in food and beverage or water/wastewater.

The numbers in the chart show a wide spectrum of averages among industries. It is interesting to note that while utilities engineers (electrical, natural gas, nuclear, and water/wastewater) may not be paid as well as their oil and gas brethren, their average salaries have risen for a fourth consecutive year. Water/wastewater professionals in particular have reported a 17.5% ($17,622) rise in salary since our 2016 salary survey, so the utilities industry has been one of particular growth for engineers.

Average salary by industry 

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Experience rules

Although there are many differentiators that have measurable impacts on salary for today's engineer, none present as much variance as experience. It would seem to make sense that a 30-year industry veteran would make more than a fresh college graduate, and the numbers continue to back that up, as the chart shows.

By the time engineers hit 11 years in the industry, their earnings potential has already risen over 40 percent since they joined, according to our survey. Yet, if they continue accruing that experience, in another 20 years they can expect a 15% boost in earnings potential over that time.

Average salary by experience


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We continue to hear companies worrying about a looming skills gap, with dozens of positions going unfilled due to a lack of qualified or experienced candidates. While our survey provides some evidence that paying one's dues and gaining experience does pay off, entry-level salaries have been taking a step backward. For rookie engineers in the U.S., salaries for entry-level employees (0-2 years of experience) fell 11.3% this past year.

There are variables that prevent us from coming to definitive conclusions, but it seems like closing the skills gap may require companies to boost the financial incentive to attract the younger employees needed. This could help alleviate any gaps that may result from the retirement of more experienced engineers.

In general, job satisfaction among U.S. engineers appears to be holding steady. Just as we reported last year, slightly more than 54% of those surveyed in the U.S. say they are not looking for new opportunities. This group had an average salary of around $123,000.

As one might expect, money seems to be a factor in whether or not someone is looking for a new opportunity. Those who claimed they were "passively looking" for new opportunities made an average salary that was 6.2% less than those who were not looking at all. Those who described themselves as "actively looking" made an average 16.3% less than those not looking. So, again, organizations looking to facilitate higher job satisfaction among their employees might see some positive results with financial incentives.

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About The Authors

Cory Fogg is the content editor at Automation.com.