Looking for a step-change increase in salaries

Results from the 2015 salary survey

By Rick Zabel

Each year, InTech collaborates with Automation.com to conduct a salary survey. The results are in (yawn)! Let’s be honest; we 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 increased only a modest amount—about 1.9% over last year.

Because 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 past 11 years. We did not conduct the survey in 2006 or 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 automation professionals in the bar chart.

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, from 2010 to 2015 (the same length of time), the average salary only increased by about $8,000, an 8.1% increase.

Because 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 is no surprise that the trend in the engineering average salary chart matches very closely to the overall average salary trend.

So, what happened in the past 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 am fairly confident that the answer to all those questions is “no.”

For years, I have been preaching that automation professionals are underpaid considering 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 fully 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 am looking for (and expecting) a step-change increase in salaries in the near future.

My message to employers is this: It is time to make investments in new technology. It is time to enable your automation staff to add more value to your entire enterprise with those investments. It is time to act . . . now! If you do not make the investments, one or more of your competitors will. Your business growth and survival depend 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, and years of experience.

Let’s dig into data.Our survey collected 3,330 responses from automation professionals around the world, with 71.1% from the U.S. Because salaries around the world vary greatly, we broke out the U.S. responses 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.

Snapshot 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. Of respondents, 16.7% received an advanced degree, and 80.7% 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 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 U.S. 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 (U.S. dollars). In the previous year, this region reported a significantly higher average salary of $134,709 (U.S. 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

$107,483

71.1

Canada

$105,717

6.8

Mexico

$37,500

1.0

Central America (including Caribbean)

$68,369

0.7

South America

$53,960

3.4

Europe (western)

$84,944

4.5

Europe (eastern)

$46,458

0.9

Africa

$59,095

1.5

Middle East

$85,349

3.0

Australia and New Zealand

$108,602

1.1

Asia and South Pacific

$50,163

3.7

South Asia

$37,985

2.3

Within the U.S., 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 at Wikipedia.)

Average salary by region of the U.S.
Region of the U.S. Average salary Percent respondents

New England (Northeast)

$108,873

4.0

Mid-Atlantic (Northeast)

$103,497

9.2

East North Central (Midwest)

$101,754

17.2

West North Central (Midwest)

$95,571

10.2

South Atlantic (South)

$103,115

14.2

East South Central (South)

$101,126

4.9

West South Central (South)

$122,800

21.3

Mountain (West)

$96,349

7.2

Pacific (West)

$113,596

11.9

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:

  • 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

$106,629

33.4

Consulting engineering

$131,226

4.8

Design engineering

$102,688

7.0

Engineering management

$136,128

7.7

General or operations management

$115,958

5.3

Operations and maintenance

$91,710

14.4

Process/plant/manufacturing engineering

$98,529

6.0

Project management

$121,264

3.9

Sales – business development

$119,486

6.7

Other

$91,375

10.6

A degree of higher learning

Regarding education, 68.5% possessed a bachelor’s 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—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

$94.239

3.1

Technical/trade school graduate

$92,386

15.6

Attended some college

$92,586

12.8

College graduate

$111,333

51.8

Graduate school/advanced degree

$123,472

16.7

Industry segment dictates pay

Not surprisingly, the biggest payer is the oil and 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.

Average salary by industry segment
Industry

Average salary

Percent respondents

Chemicals

$113,142

9.7

Engineering consulting or systems integration

$113,903

20.9

Food and beverage

$94,927

4.6

Industrial machinery and equipment

$102,408

10.9

Oil and gas

$125,772

14.0

Pharmaceuticals

$111,235

3.9

Utilities: electrical, natural gas, nuclear

$109,752

8.5

Utilities: Water and wastewater

$83,043

7.1

Other

$98,027

20.4

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 fewer than two 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

$60,217

4.1

3–5 years

$74,330

5.6

6–10 years

$95,200

11.1

11–15 years

$103,529

9.8

16–20 years

$108,199

14.1

21–25 years

$114,832

13.9

26–30 years

$115,423

16.2

31 or more years

$119,842

25.3

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. 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, with an average salary of $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 (PE) license to those without a license. It is no surprise that those with the license (14.3%) earned 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? We asked respondents if they possessed any association certifications, and 28.6% had 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.

Maximize your salary

As in previous years, I conclude the salary data with a recipe for how to maximize your salary. Like any great recipe, this recipe* has not changed over the years:

  • Get your BS degree (any engineering will do). An advanced degree will improve results.
  • Move to the West South Central region of the U.S. (Ark., La., Okla., or Texas).
  • Work in the oil and gas industry segment. If that does not work out, try engineering consulting or systems integration.
  • Get your PE license.
  • Congratulations to our 2015 salary survey drawing winners Daniel S., Brian Z., Joshua B., Tim C., and Susan B.

  • 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 throughout your career.

*Editor’s note: results may vary depending on attitude.

Fast Forward

  • Salaries for automation professionals increased modestly.
  • Historical analysis shows slower salary growth from 2010 to 2015 than from 2005 to 2010.
  • Geographic region, job function, education level, industry segment, and experience are the most important factors in determining salary.

About the Author

Rick Zabel is managing director, publisher, and occasional editor of Automation.com, and has been with the company since its inception in 2000. Previously, Zabel worked with Wunderlich-Malec Engineering Inc. of Minnetonka, Minn., where he served as the marketing manager for the process control and software integration business groups. Zabel also held positions of application engineer, account manager, sales engineer, and regional sales manager for automation product manufacturers and distribution companies. Zabel is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin – Madison with a BS in electrical engineering.

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