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.
Back to You
What’s really interesting when we do these surveys is that we get a chance to tune into the career psyche of our readers. We ask a range of questions that help us understand who you are and how you feel about your jobs. If you recognize yourself in the profiles described on pages 49 and 51, please don’t feel you are typical—even though the word is used to describe our average respondent. There is nothing “typical” about you or your process engineering colleagues in arms. When compared to the rest of humans on this planet there are so few of you who can actually do the things you do.
Your cumulative knowledge and experience is what helps the rest of us duffers get the energy, water, shelter, transportation and food we need to survive. Sheesh! Never in the history of man have so many owed so much to so few (thank you Winston Churchill).
Although our readers are predominately male, the women who responded really shined with most matching or besting the most successful career paths of the men. Kudos go out to the women in processing because there’s no doubt that they probably had to work just a little bit harder and a little bit smarter to get where they are today.
Diversity is still not a strong suit of the profession in the U.S., but survey responses revealed rainbow has most colors, even though some stripes or wider than others. Several who filled in the “Other” box for this question wrote in “human” which says something about the attitudes of some of your colleagues regarding race.
Domestically, 85% said they were married and there were fewer divorced than single (.5% vs. 10%). Considering the average age of survey respondents (over 40) those with a sense of humor might say that once you marry an engineer you’re stuck for life! Most also have kids. Fortunately, it looks like salaries are set to keep pace with college tuition hikes and the cost of Ipods. Perhaps some of our more prolific respondents will take solace in that.
Where You Work
Our readers responded primarily live in the U.S. and most every one of the 50 states was represented by someone. States with larger groups reflected the industrial regions and population centers with respondents from Texas and Illinois leading the numbers.
As mentioned in the profile, most respondents identified themselves as working in the chemical industry sector. Food & beverage came next with oil & gas trailing closely by respondents who indicated they work for instrument & controls suppliers. Helping the overall quality of the survey’s findings was the fact that respondents were fairly evenly distributed among the categories (pharmaceutical, textile, pulp & paper, chemical, oil & gas, energy, water & waste water, mining, metals, stone/clay/glass, plastics, independent engineering firms, instrument & control suppliers and other). Respondents checking “Other” could write in their affiliation; notable here was the number (about 1 in 10) indicating they worked in the automotive manufacturing sector.
Engineering design and construction was the description picked most by those surveyed (33%) followed by production and plant operations (19%). Plant maintenance personnel came next (17%) trailed by corporate management and research and development tying for fourth place (7%). About 14% checked “Other” and number of the write-ins identified themselves specifically as control/process systems engineers, consultants and titles that associated their job activities with that growing hybrid category that combines control systems management and IT.
Job Angst Abating
When we did the survey last year, there was a distinct undercurrent of resentment from respondents. Many of the comments received expressed ill-will against employers with warnings to stay away from the profession.
This year, responses were somewhat more positive. For instance, worries about job security and the economy’s effect on their jobs seem to be abating. This year 54% responded that they were not concerned about job security, an improvement over last year where just over half indicated they were concerned. How is the economy affecting your company? When asked, 39% responded their companies’ were hiring, 30% said more overtime was being laid on, while 25% said layoffs were still occurring. Twenty percent of the survey’s responders said their company’s were handing out raises—perhaps indicating those respondents’ organizations are feeling pressure to retain engineering talent by offering them more money.
The over 200 comments we received to our “Please chime in about any workplace issues or observations you may have, good or bad” query really let us know what was on your minds. Several distinct threads became apparent:
- Organizations are still trying to wring every last ounce of productivity out of overburdened, too-lean staffs. *Management has no idea what the technical people do. “You can lead a manager to technology, but you can’t make him understand it,” one wag wrote in with just a hint of sarcasm.
- Outsourced engineering creates more problems and more costs than it ever could create in productivity or quality value and cost savings.
- Younger engineers are lazy, arrogant and don’t know what they’re doing.
- Corporate management hoards all the perks and keeps the bonus money for themselves.
OK, so it’s not all a bed of roses. Remember though, these kinds of virtual chat sessions invite the disenfranchised. Regardless, what’s heartening is there were several who wrote in very positive things about the profession and their workplace. Here are a couple of samples: “Our company owner is very open about financials driving this company. Everyone in the company shares that information and feels part of it. That has lead to very little turnover or dissent.” Another commented “I work for a company with very flat management that trusts employees and does not nitpick their every move. Mistakes are encouraged. The attitude is ‘if you are not making mistakes, you are not doing anything.’ It is a great environment.” And one more. “Great place to work. Lot’s of growth. Lot’s of new projects and opportunities.” But even when things are really going great there’s always somebody who can lever out a complaint: “I live in Nirvana, but it’s boring right now …” Ah well, you can’t please everyone, but hey it’s a living.
On the Process Industry Fairway
Stats Reveal Typical Control Professional
Annual Salary -- $71-$80,000
Hours per Week -- 41-60
Vacation -- 3 Weeks
Bonus -- Yes
Degree -- Bachelor’s
Field of Study -- Electrical Engineering
Years in Process Control -- 11-20
Industry -- Chemical
Job Description -- Engineering, Design and Construction
Years at Present Employer -- 11-20
No. of Jobs During Career -- 2
Age -- 46-55
Gender -- Male
Domestic Status -- Married with Children
CONTROL’s annual salary survey revealed no surprises in the general profile of our readers who responded to our survey. Just under 95% of our respondents are men. Salary averages remain solid, most do not work too much, and just about everybody gets a bonus and a decent a vacation. Educationally, EEs lead the pack, but in the “Other” category mechanical engineers identified themselves the most.
Ladies On Par With the Men
Forty-Three Women Responded, Here’s a Snapshot
Annual Salary $81-90,000
Hours per Week 41-60
Vacation 3 Weeks
Field of Study Chemistry
Years in Process Control 11-20
Industry Chemical/Food & Beverage
Job Description Corp. Management/Production-Plant Operations
Years at Present Employer 2-5
Domestic Status Married with Children
Granted, 43 respondents checking “female” as their gender isn’t a huge amount and represents a little more than 5% of the total. Fourteen identified themselves and as individuals, their credentials and track records in the industry were extremely impressive. Most said they earned salaries higher than the average for the industry (about $80,000) and one said she made more than $100,000 with a big bonus. Yes, the process industries are as male-dominated as ever, but the survey provides evidence there are women making great careers for themselves out there. Educationally, there were nearly as many responding with master’s degrees as bachelor’s and one said she holds a doctorate. Anecdotally, these women seemed to have more focused career paths—meaning a specific high-level degree, and then holding a job in a specific area of the industry such as quality control or R & D, involving that field of study (i.e., chemistry) and a job that requires it (i.e., petrochemical or food & beverage-oriented company).
Although the majority responded they had 10 or more years on the course, most said they had less than five years at their present job, indicating a recent change and perhaps more willingness to change jobs for better opportunity compared to their male counterparts.
Under $30K -- 1%
$30 to $40K -- 3.%
$41 to $50K -- 8%
$51 to $60K -- 12%
$61 to $70K -- 16%
$71 to $80K -- 17%
$81 to $90K -- 15%
$91 to $100K -- 12%
More than $100K -- 16%
Outsourcing Is In
Does your company outsource professional/engineering services?
Yes -- 65%
No -- 35%
If Yes, any change in the volume of this activity?
More -- 29%
Less -- 13%
About the same -- 59%
How Do You Spell Job Satisfaction?
Challenging Work -- 47%
Job Security -- 10%
Salary/Benefits -- 18%
Opportunity for Advancement -- 6%
Appreciation -- 19%
The Economy’s Effect
How is the economy affecting your company?
Hiring -- 39%
Layoffs -- 25%
More Overtime -- 30%
Promotions/Raises -- 20%
Other -- 21%