September/October 2010

Cover Story

It's not all about the money. Should it be?

Annual salary survey indicates job satisfaction is high among automation professionals

Fast Forward

  • The average salary of all respondents combined is $84,371.
  • The average salary of an independent contractor is $4,337 higher than that of a direct employee.
  • The average work week for respondents consists of 44.4 hours, and the average vacation time is 3.2 weeks per year.
 
By Rick Zabel

Most people who work in the automation industry did not plan to enter this field. Like me and many others, we just stumbled upon it at one point in our schooling or careers. I learned about the automation industry when interviewing for a motion control applications engineering job as a college senior. I took the job because it was offered to me, but also because the whole prospect of automating machines and processes was cool. 

money1My starting salary was respectable, but nothing that was going to make me wealthy. I took the job for its technical merit and potential job satisfaction. I would say that things worked out pretty well because, after 20 years, I am still working in the automation industry. I would guess many of you have a similar story of how you entered the automation industry unexpectedly and how you are still there today. One might draw an analogy to the lyrics of the song "Hotel California" by the Eagles-"You can check out, but you can never leave." In actuality, we are still working in the automation industry because we enjoy the work. This is evident by the job satisfaction data from this year's annual InTech/Automation.com salary survey; 73.2% of respondents are satisfied with their job, with 24.1% of respondents being very satisfied, and 49.1% being 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. The feeling of accomplishment rated the highest with technical challenge, salary, good relationship with work colleagues, and pleasant work environment all falling closely behind, respectively.

While the salaries of automation professionals are respectable, I have always argued they are low when compared to the value that automation brings to a company. You automate, you analyze, and you optimize-all which ultimately translates into money saved for your company. With the latest technologies and products on the market today, there are numerous ways automation professionals can save companies more money. As the workforce shortage continues to grow, the demand for experienced automation professionals will increase. It is simple economics. Automation professionals should be able to demand a higher salary. That time is coming.

Quick snap shot

This year, InTech collaborated with Automation.com to publish the annual salary survey. The survey had 3,389 completed responses from automation professionals located around the world, with 55.7% from the U.S. The job function of the typical survey respondent was an Automation/Control Engineer, accounting for 27.7% of responses. The average age was 42. Nearly half (44.2%) of the respondents were college graduates-the largest percentage (26.8%) possessing a bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering. More than half (50.9%) have been with their current employer for less than five years; 24.8% have been with their employer less than two years. Salary increases were pretty much non-existent in 2009; 34.6% had no increase, and 28.8% were in the 1-3% increase range. 43% of respondents did not receive any commission or bonus last year. The average work week for respondents consists of 44.4 hours, and the average vacation time is 3.2 weeks per year. Now take a closer look at the data.

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Just the salary facts

The average salary of all respondents combined was $84,371. The largest percentage of respondents (17.9%) were in the $100,000 - $124,999 pay range. The second largest percentage (15.3%) was a pay range of less than $30,000, which is primarily made up of respondents from India. 76% of responses from India selected a pay range of less than $30,000-this certainly screws the overall average salary. By analyzing just the responses from the U.S., we determined the average U.S. salary to be $99,337.

The average salary of the largest percentage of respondents by job function (27.7%, Automation/Control Engineering) was $82,746. The top five highest paid job functions are listed below; it is no surprise that three of them are management positions. It pays to get into management!

  • Engineering Management - $109,236 (5.4%)
  • Safety Systems Engineering - $105,900 (0.7%)
  • General or Operations Management - $105,857 (2.1%)
  • Consulting Engineering - $100,458 (4.6%)
  • Facilities Management - $95,262 (0.6%)

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More than 83% of participants possessed a college degree or higher. The results show some evidence that those who attended at least some graduate school could command a higher salary. However, I am not convinced the results are compelling enough to justify the high cost of an advanced degree. The largest percentage of respondents received a bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering, pulling an average salary of $89,434. The other top five average salaries by degree are:

  • Chemical Engineering - $110,275 (6.5%)
  • Physics - $95,714 (2.2%)
  • Business Administration - $94,583 (3.3%)
  • Other Science - $92,833 (1.4%)
  • Mechanical Engineering - $88,114 (6.6%)

Participants of our survey work in 40 different industry segments. The largest number of responses came from the Engineering Services segment (15.9%) where the average salary is $86,550. It is interesting to note which industries are the biggest payers. The highest average salary ($142,000) is being paid to those who work in Management Consulting. The next five highest salaries are being paid to professionals in these industry segments:

  • Oil & Gas Extraction - $111,895 (6.2%)
  • Utilities - Combo (Nuclear/Fossil Fuel, etc.) - $108,286 (1.1%)
  • Utilities - Natural Gas - $104,375 (0.8%)
  • Petroleum Refining & Related Industries - $100,900 (6.5%)
  • Transportation - Aerospace - $100,313 (0.3%)

For a complete list of salary breakdowns by job function, degree, country, industry, etc., please visit: www.automation.com/salary_survey_2010.

Notable statistic

You will be interested to know professionals who are members of an industry organization pulled in higher salaries, on average, than those who belong to no organizations. Nearly half of all respondents (46.6%) were ISA members, and their average salary is $94,945. Compare that to respondents who do not belong to any organizations (41.4%) whose average salary is $71,166. Survey says: It pays to join and participate with organizations.

Not so surprising

The average salary of an independent contractor was $4,337 higher than that of a direct employee. The average salary increases as tenure with a company increases. In general, the average salary increases as the size of the company/division increases. The one exception to this rule was the company size between 50 and 99 employees, where the average salary was $81,303, which is comparable to the salary of those in a company with 1,000+ employees.

Putting off retirement

Over the past few years, there has been a lot of talk and concern about the imminent workforce skills shortage. While the average age of all survey respondents was 42, the average age is very dependent on geographic location. For example, in the U.S., the average age was 47. But in India, the average age is only 31.

When asked how many years of professional experience respondents had, the largest percentage (16.9%) was 31+ years. The second largest percentage (15.3%) was 21-25 years. There is no doubt the workforce is aging, but we can definitely confirm that many have decided to put off retirement for a while, for one reason or another. Maybe it is because retirement funds have been depleted. Maybe it is because companies have asked their experts to stay working longer. Maybe it is because automation professionals just are not ready to retire yet.

Less than 10% of respondents anticipate retirement in the next five years. 14.4% of professionals indicate they will retire in the 11-15 years range, and another 14.4% indicate they will retire in the 16-20 years range. It looks like the down economy bought manufacturers some more time to transfer that valuable workforce knowledge.

Remember those lyrics to the song, "Hotel California," "You can check out, but you can never leave"? Nearly 45% plan to work part-time or provide consulting services after retirement. While 32% of respondents were not sure what retirement would bring, almost 20% said they would check out completely and take up golf, fishing, travel, or something more relaxing.

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About those newbies

Many of those younger recruits (albeit they are few) who are joining the automation industry are missing some key skills. This is not surprising because, like you and me, they are also stumbling into the industry. Many young graduates are either learning about the industry from their parent(s) or from the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and FIRST Robotics programs that fortunately continue to proliferate in elementary and high schools. Because few recruits have access to applicable knowledge, the top skill missing with new automation professionals is the understanding of automated processes-37.1% of survey respondents selected this skill as missing. The second most lacked skill, coming in at 30.2%, was safety knowledge. There was a tie for third place with 25.5% of respondents selecting both basic engineering principles and business acumen as missing skills.

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Pressures to reduce cost

Last year's InTech/ISA salary survey indicated 81% of respondents felt increased pressure to reduce costs. For this year's survey, 64% said they felt increased pressure over the last 12 months, but another 33% said the pressure stayed the same.

Identical to last year, 65% percent of respondents said they felt more pressure to increase productivity, while 33% said the pressure stayed the same.

IT/automation like oil/water?

About as long as I have been in the automation industry, there has been a complaint that those "IT people" do not cooperate with us "engineering people." As it should, that complaint seems to be subsiding. With the pressures to increase productivity, it has become essential that business processes and manufacturing processes work together. Almost half (47.2%) of respondents said their IT and engineering groups operate separately, but they cooperate well. There are still some hold-outs though; 17.8% of respondents said their IT and engineering groups are separate, and they do not cooperate. To those I say, "Let's get with the program, guys!"

There is a fraction of companies (8.1%) that have taken the bold move to combine their IT and engineering groups. 5.6% of companies have combined the groups, and everyone reports to an engineering leader, while 2.5% have combined, and everyone reports to an IT leader. The remaining 26.8% 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).

Now you analyze the data

Because many of you are highly analytical, all of the results from the salary survey have been tallied and a number of tables, charts, and graphs are published on Automation.com for your analytical pleasure. As you can imagine, 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_2010 and enjoy!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rick Zabel is the vice president and publisher of Automation.com. His e-mail is rick@automation.com. A special "Thank You" goes out to Kia Weller and Stephanie Dwyer at Automation.com for all their help compiling the survey data.

RESOURCES