Half-full statistics can be deceiving

July 22, 2020
Control's salary survey results can be viewed from the flipside, too

Numbers don't lie, but they can be misleading when they're interpreted and emphasized one way or another. This is why it's important to investigate and report on context when presenting and analyzing statistical results. It's critical to express exactly what the numbers are saying about the reality of a situation, and do it dispassionately before drawing or jumping to conclusions about what those numbers mean.

Of course, every process control professional is well-aware of this requirement, especially as they strive to implement sensors and instruments that will generate data that's both precise and accurate. I've been repeatedly reminded that even the most sophisticated analyzer won't generate useful results if it isn't applied appropriately and within the specifications, parameters and conditions where it was designed to function.

So why am I raising these red flags now? Well, Control's 2020 salary survey and the close to 300 respondents contributing to this month's "Larger forces at work" cover article generated several atypical results that I thought could use some added explanation, and I wanted reassure everyone that I'd attempt to add context and interpret those results responsibly. And yes, I know that telling you ahead of time that I'm spinning your perceptions about the salary survey result still counts as spinning you. I'm just hoping to not make anyone sick to their stomach.

Plus, the e-stop for my analysis is that you can read the results of Control's 2020 salary survey in this issue, come up with your own conclusions, and tell me I'm full of it at any time. I won't mind. Similar to all journalistic types, I'm fine with getting cursed out about articles because it means someone took the time to read them.

Anyway, this year's respondents took the survey from March 24 to May 28, so most were likely far more stressed than in other years due to COVID-19 and its devastating impacts on all levels of healthcare, communities, business, industry, and the rest of our national and worldwide societies. At the same time, the pandemic has been joined by historically high unemployment, racial justice protests and a global economic recession. I know most process industries are at a slight distance from the eye of the COVID-19 hurricane, but their people and the families of those employees are often right in the crosshairs.

Consequently, it should be no surprise that worries about job security increased almost 10 percentage points to 44.4% in 2020 from a low of 35% last year. Meanwhile, just over 30% of this year's respondents add they're impacted by layoffs, which was more than double the 14% affected in 2019, while hiring dropped by almost half to 28.8% this year from 44% in 2019.

However, while these numbers are more dire than usual and can justly fuel some pessimism, they can been viewed from a more optimistic point of view, too. After all that's happened so far this year, it might be hopeful that less than half the respondents are worried about job security, and that less than a third have been affected by layoffs and reduced hiring. You know the drill. The glass remains half full even as it's half empty. It's just difficult to keep both perspectives in mind in our reflexive desire for certainty.

Similarly, given all of 2020's upheavals, I was kind of amazed, but still delighted, that so many process industry professionals were able to take the time to respond to our little, annual salary survey. I believe this jibes with my favorite Control salary survey statistic that its respondents always report valuing challenging work above salary and benefits. In fact, their lead was extended this year with more than 45% valuing challenging work most, compared to 41% in 2019.

I believe this is where the good news begins because process industry professionals must be fairly representative of the populations they come from. So, if you, your family and community are all facing unprecedented challenges, then you probably want someone with you who's hungry to take on challenges. This is why I'm not too worried, and maybe why remembering that strength can encourage others as well.

About the author: Jim Montague
About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control.