Controls Engineering - An Essential Guide to a Fast-Growing Specialty

Control Engineering - An Essential Guide to a Fast-Growing Specialty
Paige Atkinson

5 minutes

Controls Engineering - An Essential Guide to a Fast-Growing Specialty

Engineers work at the forefront of the world’s most complex challenges. In this guide we delve into what Controls Engineers do and how you can become one.

Engineering is the backbone of modern business, driving advancements that propel industries forward. Engineers work at the forefront of the world’s most complex challenges, from designing sustainable infrastructures to developing advanced technology. 

Among the diverse branches of engineering, Controls Engineers are in a unique and indispensable position. The growing field of Controls Engineering is projected to add thousands of jobs in the next decade. With expertise in developing and implementing control systems, Controls Engineers are crucial to maintaining the stability and performance of applications ranging from manufacturing plants to autonomous vehicles.

Bartech Staffing is passionate about connecting talented professionals with rewarding careers in engineering. We understand engineers' pivotal role in shaping the future and driving innovation globally. This in-depth guide spotlights the critical importance of Controls Engineering to help potential candidates transition into this exciting specialty.


What is a Controls Engineer?

Controls engineering, also called control systems engineering, is a discipline focused on designing and implementing systems to control dynamic processes and machinery. By ensuring systems behave predictably and optimally, Controls Engineers are essential to the manufacturing, aerospace, automotive, and energy industries. Controls Engineers use mathematical modeling, simulation, and advanced software tools to develop algorithms that regulate these systems' behavior.


What Does a Controls Engineer Do? 

Day-to-day job functions for Controls Engineers vary by industry and individual roles but generally include:

  • System Design: Developing control systems for various processes and machinery.
  • Simulation and Modeling: Using software to simulate and model control systems to predict behavior.
  • Implementation and Testing: Installing control systems and conducting rigorous testing to ensure functionality and reliability.
  • Optimization: Continuously improving control systems for better performance, efficiency, and safety.
  • Troubleshooting: Diagnosing and fixing issues in control systems to maintain optimal operation.


Essential Basic Qualifications and Skills That Controls Engineers Need

When hiring Controls Engineers, employers look for a mix of the following education, technical skills, and soft skills:

Educational Background

  • Bachelor’s Degree: Typically, a degree in controls engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, or a related field is required.
  • Advanced Degrees: For higher-level positions, a master’s degree or PhD in controls engineering or a related discipline is often preferred.

Technical Skills

  • Mathematics and Physics: Strong understanding of advanced mathematics and physics principles.
  • Software Proficiency: Familiarity with software tools such as MATLAB, Simulink, LabVIEW, and various CAD programs.
  • Programming: Knowledge of programming languages like Python, C++, or MATLAB for algorithm development and system simulation.
  • Analytical Skills: Ability to analyze complex systems and data to develop effective controls strategies.
  • Programmable Logic Controller (PLC): Experience programming, troubleshooting, and optimizing PLC controls systems in design, implementation, and maintenance, especially with solutions including Siemens, Allen Bradley, and Rockwell.

Soft Skills

  • Problem-Solving: Ability to troubleshoot and solve complex technical problems.
  • Communication: Strong verbal and written communication skills for collaborating with multidisciplinary teams and documenting system designs.
  • Attention to Detail: Meticulous approach to designing and testing control systems to ensure precision and accuracy.


What are the Applications of Controls Engineering?

Controls engineers work in and are indispensable in a wide array of industries, including:

  • Manufacturing: Designing automated control systems for production lines
  • Aerospace: Developing controls systems for aircraft and spacecraft
  • Automotive: Creating advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and other vehicle control systems
  • Energy: Optimizing controls systems for power plants, renewable energy sources, and smart grids
  • Robotics: Implementing control algorithms for robotic systems in various applications


What is the Salary of a Controls Engineer?

The salary1 of Controls Engineers can vary based on factors such as education, experience, industry, and location. Here’s an overview of typical salary ranges:

  • Entry-Level: At the start of their careers, Controls Engineers can expect salaries ranging from $65,000 to $85,000 annually.
  • Mid-Level: Controls Engineers with up to five years of experience can earn between $85,000 and $90,000 annually.
  • Advanced: Controls Engineers with five to ten years of experience can earn up to $106,000 annually.
  • Senior-Level: Experienced Controls Engineers, especially those in leadership or specialized roles, can earn upwards of $150,000 annually.


Are Controls Engineering Jobs in Demand?

The demand for Controls Engineers has never been higher, driven by rapid technological advancements and the growing complexity of industrial processes. For all occupations, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports substantial projected growth2 for engineering jobs compared to other fields. Specifically, there is an estimated 3% growth rate3 over the next decade for Controls Engineers, resulting in thousands of additional opportunities. 

One of the primary factors contributing to the high demand for Controls Engineers is the rise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and smart manufacturing. As factories and production facilities adopt more sophisticated automation technologies, the need for professionals to develop and optimize these systems will continue to grow. Controls Engineers are leaders in this transformation, integrating sensors, actuators, and control algorithms into cohesive systems that enhance productivity, reduce downtime, and improve overall operational efficiency. 

Another driving force behind the increased demand for Controls Engineers is the push for sustainability and energy efficiency. Industries are under immense pressure to reduce their carbon footprint and operate more sustainably. Controls Engineers can help achieve these goals by developing advanced control strategies and management systems that optimize energy use, integrate renewable sources, minimize waste, and ensure compliance with environmental regulations. 

The complexity of today's technological landscape also necessitates the specialized skills of control engineers. From aerospace and defense to pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, many industries require precise control over complex processes and systems. By modeling, simulating, and controlling dynamic systems in high-stakes environments, Controls Engineers ensure that critical operations function seamlessly and safely.


How to Become a Controls Engineer

With a growing demand for automation, system optimization, and process control expertise, pivoting to a controls engineering career can be a strategic and rewarding move. Controls engineering jobs offer a unique blend of theoretical knowledge and practical application, making them intriguing options for engineers looking to leverage skills in a dynamic and impactful way. Professionals from a related engineering discipline, a technical background, or an entirely different industry can all develop clear pathways to a successful transition.

First, acquiring the necessary education and technical skills is paramount. Controls engineering requires a strong foundation in mathematics, physics, and engineering principles. Candidates with a background in electrical, mechanical, or chemical engineering generally possess these fundamental skills. Additional specialized knowledge in control systems, automation, and signal processing can be gained through targeted certifications and online courses focusing on control theory, PLC programming, and real-time system analysis.

Practical experience is also crucial for transitioning to a controls engineering role. Hands-on experience with control systems, whether through internships, project work, or involvement in industry-specific training programs, can help candidates apply theoretical concepts to real-world scenarios. Engaging in projects that involve designing and implementing control systems, troubleshooting existing systems, and optimizing performance can build confidence and competence. Many industries, from manufacturing to aerospace, offer opportunities for practical experience that are instrumental to a career transition.

Networking and mentorships are another key aspect of a successful move. Connecting with professionals in controls engineering can provide valuable insights, guidance, and potential job opportunities. Attending industry conferences, joining professional organizations like the International Society of Automation (ISA), and participating in online forums and discussion groups can help build a network of contacts to offer support and advice. A direct mentor with experience in control engineering can be a significant asset who can provide personalized guidance, encouragement, and help navigating challenges.


Explore Opportunities in Controls Engineering

Controls Engineers are vital to the efficiency and safety of systems and processes across various industries. With the right qualifications and skills, prospective Controls Engineers are in a prime position to build rewarding careers with competitive salaries and opportunities for growth and innovation.

Bartech Staffing is dedicated to supporting the career growth of Controls Engineers and enabling the essential contributions this field makes to industries worldwide. Through specialized recruiting services, we match talented candidates with leading companies that value their skills and expertise. With access to unique opportunities, industry insights, and a supportive network, Bartech offers a powerful resource for anyone looking for a successful career pivot. 

Contact us today to learn more about the advantages of working with a dedicated staffing firm like Bartech Staffing when pivoting to a new engineering specialty or transitioning from another field. We’re committed to helping exceptional people succeed at any stage in their careers.

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1 Data curated through third-party market research tools and the Impellam database



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