October 2009

Cover story

Squeeze play

InTech survey: Pressure to cut costs intensifies; salary levels remain consistent

Fast Forward

  • 81% of respondents feel more pressure to reduce costs, compared to 64% last year.
  • 23% of respondents make between $90,001 and $110,000.
  • The top pay raise last year was 3%.
  • Safety knowledge is the top skill new automation professionals are missing.
By Gregory Hale

There is no secret here.

The economy is in turmoil, and business is down, so that means manufacturers need to get whatever revenues they can and try to boost the profit in this tight economy.

One way to go about that is ratcheting up productivity while reducing costs. With that understanding, it is no surprise 81% of respondents to the annual InTech/ISA salary survey said they feel increased pressure to reduce costs this year while only 18% said the pressure stayed the same.


Big deal, what is so surprising about that? Last year's survey results coming just before the economic melt down that ensconced the globe revealed 64% of respondents felt the pressure to reduce costs, and 34% said the pressure was about the same. What a difference a year makes.

"It all broke loose last year. So, I have felt (the pressure) this year," said Tom McAvinew, senior control system engineer at Jacobs Engineering in Golden, Colo., and past vice president of ISA's Standards and Practices.

"I have always felt cost pressures because I work with pulp and paper, and they have felt that pressure for a long time," said Mark Maupin, E&I department manager at Weatherly Inc. in Atlanta.

"One of the things we do to cut costs is to optimize boilers and using less expensive fuels. We have very low energy costs with natural gas a $3 to $3.50. Any time we have a turn in the economy we will see a spike in costs," he said.

Sometimes other factors heighten the sensitivity to cost pressures.

"I work for LynondellBasell. We have been in Chapter 11 for a while, so we are always looking at costs," said Keith Todd, instrumentation technician at LyondellBasell's refinery in Houston.

Cost pressures are one thing, but productivity is another, as 65% said they felt more pressure to increase productivity, and 33% said it was about the same. That compares to last year's number of 62% feeling a heightened pressure, while 36% said it was the same.

The global survey breakdown has majority of respondents working in the U.S., with 77%, and 7% in Asia, 6% in Canada, 4% in Europe, 3% in Latin America, 2% in South America, and 1% in Australia.

Show me the money

In terms of salary levels, it seems like there has actually been a bit of a jump as those making between $50,001 and $70,000 is down from last year, 17% to 13%. But the number at the next rung in the pay scale increased, as those making between $70,001 and $90,000 increased to 24% this year from 21% last year.

At the $90,001 to $110,000 level, the number came in the same this year as last year at 23%. Those making $110,001 and $130,000 scored at 15%, compared to 14% last year, and those at the $130,001 to $150,000 level came in at 7% this year and last. On the high end of the pay scale, 2% said they made $210,001 and above, while on the low end, 5% said they made $30,000 and below.

Raises go hand in hand with salary levels, and this year it seems 3% was the top pay raise among respondents, with 26% coming in at that level. The next highest pay level increase was 1% or less with 23%, followed by 4% with 13% of respondents, 2% with 11% of respondents, and 5% according to 9% of respondents.

Experience is always a hot point in the industry, with some saying there are no real young people jumping into an industry considered old fashioned. That statement may have some merit, as 5% of respondents have two years or less experience in the automation profession. That is the same percentage for those with three to four years of experience. Those with five to eight years jumps to 8%, and those with nine to 12 years come in a 12%.

The percentages after that start to really go up, as 23% said they have 13 to 20 years of on the job training, while 30% said they have been around for 21 to 30 years. Those with 31 years or more of experience comes in at 16%.

Now those are what the survey said in the specific categories. If you take the percentages from eight years of experience or less and combine them, the total comes in at 18%. That number compared to last year when 20% responded to having eight years or less of experience.

Age and experience go hand in hand, so only 2% said they were 25 and younger. Those aged 46 to 55 came in at 36%, while 36-45 year olds scored at 26%, and 56 and older was at 20%. The 26-35 year olds came in at 16%.


Staying or going?

With 20% of respondents saying they were 56 years old and older, the idea of Baby Boomers leaving the industry and taking their knowledge with them crops up. Or does it?

With so many people taking a hit with the global recession, the idea of retirement may be a bit further off, with 4% saying they were two years or less away, 6% said they were three to four years away, and 12% said they were five to eight years away. Last year, 5% said they were two years or less away from retirement, and 7% said they were three to four years away.

The survey also found those nine to 12 years away came in at 17%, 13 to 20 years away were at 27%, those 21 to 30 were 22%, and those 31 and more were at 13%.

"I have been in the industry for 32 years, and I am looking at going until they have to beat me out of here with a stick," Todd said. "I'd just as soon go until I am 70."

"I plan on working for five more years," Maupin said. "I will be 57 next month. The problem is I don't see young people coming in. There is no doubt I will work longer than I plan."

"I want to build up my nest egg to make up for last year," McAvinew said. "Part of it is monetary, and part of it is I still feel needed."

When folks do retire though, 45% plan to work in a part-time or consulting capacity, while 44% said they were not sure, and 11% said, no way, I am going golfing.

On the other end of the spectrum, 77% of respondents said engineers are not properly trained for doing automation-related work when they join they workforce, while 23% said yes they were ready to go. Those numbers are consistent with last year with the same percentages reporting.

Of the skills new automation professionals were missing, and where respondents could give more than one answer, 17% said safety was tops; followed by 15% saying business acumen; 14% saying networking and communication protocols; 13% said enterprise integration; 9% each for basic engineering principals and security; 8% wireless; and 6% for environment.

When hiring an automation professional, years of experience was the top choice with 54% responding in the affirmative, followed by having a college degree at 18%.

Hiring someone with experience is fine, but bringing in new professionals remains a challenge.


"At my plant, I think the youngest guy I have is 38," Todd said. "I just don't see that many young people coming in."

"That is a critical issue, especially in our craft," Todd said. "Very few people are coming in that area. They don't need to stay in the plant because their services are sought elsewhere, so they can follow the big bucks. The people that are coming in are the instrumentation people that are certified."

"When I started, it seemed I was in an apprentice program, but they don't do that anymore," McAvinew said. "I want to pass along the lore to the younger people. I just don't see a big swell of young people coming saying I want to be a control engineer."

Whether you are new to the profession or have been around the block, it is all about job satisfaction, and the survey found 17% of respondents are completely satisfied, while 53% are satisfied, 22% remain neutral on the subject, 6% are dissatisfied, and 1% remains completely dissatisfied.

As the old saying goes, if you enjoy what you do, you won't work a day in your life. McAvinew feels the same way. "I will retire at some point. I just turned 68 this year, and I am still working. I still enjoy what I am doing."


Gregory Hale (ghale@isa.org) is editor of InTech magazine.

Regulations, security hot topics

Complying with regulations remains a big issue in the automation environment with 39% of respondents feel greater concern over regulatory issues, while 57% said that level of concern remained the same over last year, according to the annual InTech/ISA salary survey.

Securing the system also remains a big topic of interest amongst automation professionals, with 38% of respondents saying they have an increased focus on network security, while 60% said the focus has remained the same over the past year, according to the survey.



Industry on edge

If you build it in ...

The last crusade

Bottom-Line Automation, 2nd Edition