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By Steve Kuehn, Managing Editor
IS THERE A MORE apt sports metaphor for an engineer's professional life than golf? Granted, baseball and football fans may beg to differ, but there are few who can deny that the challenges of that game mirror well the trials and tribulations you face as you walk along the fairways and bunkers of your process industry careers.
Without belaboring the point too much, both golfers and engineers require specialized implements, fine and gross motor skills, specific training, constant practice and experience to be successful. Patience, stamina and good humor are key factors to winning, as well as a finely tuned set of senses to help overcome the challenges of whatever course you're playing on. It’s likely you’re getting the picture being painted here.
There are so many things that can affect your play and how well you do professionally, but like the par system in golf, there is a common measure to help everyone gauge how well they are playing compared to each other and that’s how much one earns.
On Par or Better
From this year’s CONTROL magazine 15th annual salary survey, we learned that respondents are earning salaries on par with current industry averages. According to EngineerSalary.com’s Engineering Salary Calculator, a person with a bachelor’s in chemical engineering, 15 years experience and a job as a chemical process/production engineer in a mid-sized company should be garnering a salary of approximately $80,000 annually. Of the more than 800 respondents, the majority earned salaries in that range or above with similar educational and vocational career paths. This echoes similar results from last year’s survey and reflects a continuation to the stability of salary levels over the last three to four years which, in retrospect, put an end to the salary erosion experienced by many during the last recession. The good news for professionals who are either beginning their careers or that are in the sweet spot ( with 10 or more years of experience), there is mounting evidence that demand for their skills is growing and that salaries they will command will rise as the Baby Boomer generation retires.
Compounding this trend is the fact that precious few are taking up the profession, further shrinking this pool of skilled labor.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article “Recruiters Bemoan Backlog of Openings for Engineers,” reporter Perri Capell cited the aging U.S. infrastructure, clean water needs, and general economic growth for creating strong demand for experience engineering talent. The article quotes several recruiters who say it’s almost as tough to find enough professionals now as it was during the peak of the last economic cycle. Engineers with water & wastewater project experience and EEs with instrument and controls experience on the power-gen side were among the professional disciplines cited as in high demand. Capell’s recruiter sources concluded that compensation for engineers is rising along with demand and that just in the last six months, salaries have risen as much as 10%. Noteworthy also is the 25% pay hike recruiters say is what it’s taking to get engineers to change their home course.
Jim Schwartz, a principal at Ashton Search Group (ASG) a prominent technical search firm that specializes in recruiting engineering professionals, confirms the trend. “In the last year or so we have seen a dramatic shift, a noticeable difference in the demand for process-associated engineering talent,” says Schwartz, a 19-year industry veteran with 11 years on the fairway with ASG. “Demand for EEs and ChemEs is particularly high, with experience implementing controls and production system software the among the hottest skillsets hiring managers are looking for.”
Schwartz explains that the effects of the last recession, which he says was far harsher on engineers than the two prior, are fast slipping away and that opportunities for advancement and better salaries have never been better. “The time is now,” says Schwartz, “there are more opportunities to choose from and engineers can really leverage their skills.” Especially relevant are project management and relationship-building skills, says Schwartz, whose firm is constantly on the lookout for well-rounded professionals that have a good balance between the soft “people” skills and technical competency.
A Shrinking Pool
The market for engineering talent is likely to get even hotter as fewer and fewer of America’s youth choose technical/engineering-based careers. As CONTROL’s editors have reported time and again, it’s high time the industry collectively stepped up its efforts to recruit new talent to the field and take steps to retain talent at existing facilities [“Expertise Lost”—April, p36, “C’mon, Vendors, Let’s Step Up!”—May, p11] before highly valuable institutional knowledge is lost forever. ASG’s Schwartz says engineering services outsourcing, which our survey confirms is a common practice, can only go so far before it will have a negative effect in the bottom line. “There’s nothing that can replace that onsite presence. Some is outsourcing is fine,” he says, “but there is no way you can do it all with remote or outsourced staff.
ControlGlobal.com is exclusively dedicated to the global process automation market. We report on developing industry trends, illustrate successful industry applications, and update the basic skills and knowledge base that provide the profession's foundation.