What Is a Controls Engineer (+ How to Become One)

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This article explores the role of a controls engineer and what steps you can take to become one.

[Featured Image] A controls engineer examines his computer in front of a wall of mechanical diagrams.

A controls engineer goes by several names. You may hear someone refer to them as a control systems engineer or simply a control engineer. No matter which title you prefer, the role remains the same. A controls engineer ensures that an organization can create high-quality products in the most efficient manner possible. The article below examines the career path, pay, and responsibilities of a controls engineer. 

What is control engineering?

Control engineering (or control system engineering) is the process of designing, analyzing, and optimizing a control system. A control system is a set of devices that regulates the behavior of other devices or systems. It can comprise mechanical devices like machinery, electronics such as computers, or a combination of the two. There are many different types of control systems, but each one serves the same purpose: to control outputs. 

An air conditioner is one example of a control system you might encounter regularly. It controls the output of hot or cold air depending on the temperature setting you input. This process often involves the control of several different devices. For example, most air conditioning systems involve an air handler, a condenser, and a thermostat. 

Control engineering jobs

The list below provides three examples of industries (and companies within those industries) that employ controls engineers [1]. 

1. Aerospace: Companies in the aerospace industry design, develop, and manufacture advanced aircraft and other aerospace products. Boeing is one of the top companies hiring controls engineers. 

2. Automobile: Businesses in the automotive industry specialize in manufacturing, wholesaling, and maintaining motor vehicle components. In this industry, General Motors is a top employer for control engineers. 

3. Manufacturing: Manufacturing is a broad term used to describe the large-scale production of goods. It has many branches, such as industrial machinery manufacturing and transportation equipment manufacturing. A top employer for controls engineers in the manufacturing industry is GE.

4. Oil & Gas: The Oil & Gas Exploration & Production industry refers to a sector of the petroleum industry that focuses on the exploration, development, refinement, transportation, and distribution of oil and gas. In this industry, Chevron is one of the top companies employing controls engineers. 

Controls engineer salary

The average yearly pay for controls engineers in the US as of July 2022 is $103,216 [2]. This figure can be broken down into two categories:

  • Average salary for controls engineers: $85,326 per year

  • Average additional pay for controls engineers: $17,890 per year

Additional wages may include profit-sharing, bonuses, or commissions. 

Read more: Controls Engineer Salary: How Much Can You Make?

Job outlook for controls engineers

Controls engineers belong to the occupational field of architecture and engineering. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), architecture and engineering jobs are projected to grow 6 percent between 2020 and 2030 [3]. This statistic translates into about 146,000 new jobs. 

Controls engineer job description

As a controls engineer, you will supervise and analyze the systems involved with equipment production. Your primary goal is to optimize the design, layout, and device placements. The ability to adhere to quality and safety standards is crucial. A controls engineer can expect to manage the following responsibilities:

  • Leading engineering and automation teams through concept planning, configuration, and development

  • Testing and troubleshooting various mechanical and electrical systems

  • Providing technical support and instruction to organization members

  • Developing technical documentation of projects and maintenance

  • Monitoring system performance and functionality

Controls engineer responsibilities

Control engineers are integral to company operations. Most commonly, they work full-time, on-site positions. Although some of their work is independent, control system engineers work to improve cross-departmental processes. This responsibility requires them to collaborate with stakeholders and various organization members regularly. 

Essential skills checklist for controls engineers

Control system engineers are technically proficient in several disciplines, including project management, mechanics, and engineering. A few critical technical skills for controls engineers include:

  • Knowledge of algorithm design and programming logic

  • Familiarity with Root Cause Analysis (RCA) and Corrective Action (CA) methodologies

  • Experience working with automation, control, and monitoring systems and software

  • Ability to install, configure, troubleshoot, and maintain mechanical systems and electrical equipment

  • Understanding of standard operating procedures, engineering documentation, and electrical diagrams

Workplace skills to build for this position include:

  • Interpersonal skills 

  • Proficient problem-solving capabilities 

  • Leadership

  • High-level written and verbal communication skills

  • Strong organizational skills

  • Professional Project Management (PMP)

It can be intimidating to step into an engineering role that also requires people management. Those who don’t yet have experience managing engineering projects may consider taking an online course in Leadership Development for Engineers

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How to become a controls engineer

You can obtain an entry-level controls engineer role with a four-year degree. Control engineer employers typically require a bachelor’s degree in engineering or a relevant engineering-based field. For senior-level positions, a Master’s degree and several years of experience in the field are likely to be required. The following sections will cover relevant degrees, certifications, and job-seeking tips for aspiring control systems engineers. 

Earn a degree and choose your specialty.

As mentioned above, many organizations cite engineering-based degrees as a qualification for employment. However, your desired industry could play a role in the type of specialization you pursue. For instance, if you want to work in the information technology (IT) industry, you may consider a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. In contrast, someone who wants to work in electrical and electronic manufacturing might pursue a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering.

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Enhance your resume.

Earning a Professional Certificate is an excellent way to demonstrate your abilities to potential employers. You can also use Professional Certificates to fill gaps in your experience or expertise. If you are unsure where to start, consider browsing job listings for positions that interest you. Learning about in-demand skills from employers that are currently hiring can help you find an area of focus. For example, controls engineers who want to enhance their project management skills may consider earning a Professional Certificate from Rice University in Engineering Project Management.

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Ready to take the next step towards becoming a controls engineer? Start today and enroll in your first Master of Engineering in Engineering Management course through the University of Colorado Boulder. 

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Related articles

Article sources

1. Glassdoor. “Top Companies Hiring for Controls Engineer Jobs, ​​https://www.glassdoor.com/Explore/browse-companies.htm?overall_rating_low=3&page=2&occ=Controls%20Engineer.” Accessed June 8, 2022.

2. Glassdoor. "Controls Engineer Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/controls-engineer-salary-SRCH_KO0,17.htm." Accessed July 22, 2022.

3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Architecture and Engineering Occupations, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/home.htm.” Accessed June 8, 2022.

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