Become a Controls Engineer: Education and Career Roadmap

Mar 05, 2020

In this article, you'll find out how to become a controls engineer. You'll see the education requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in engineering.

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  • 0:03 Controls Engineers
  • 0:49 Earn a Bachelor's Degree
  • 1:17 Find Entry-Level Work
  • 2:00 Attain an Engineer's License

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Controls Engineers

Controls engineers develop, test, and implement automation, control, and processing systems, such as those used for electrical or water control. They may review blueprints, meet with contractors, and resolve issues to ensure that a client's project is correct. These engineers usually work in a comfortable office environment, but they occasionally have to travel to worksites to address problems in person. They also usually work during regular business hours, though extra hours might be required to meet project deadlines. According to, controls engineers are paid a median salary of $76,301 as of February 2020.

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field Engineering, electrical engineering, or other closely related discipline
Licensure Licensure as a Professional Engineer (PE) is encouraged for some positions
Experience At least 2-5 years of experience required for most positions
Key Skills Attention to detail as well as communication, teamwork, and active-learning skills; knowledge of field-specific software, operating systems, and analysis; ability to use related tools, such as signal generators and other electronic equipment; familiarity with reading blueprints and other engineering techniques
Median Salary (2020)* $76,301

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net Online, *

Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Prospective controls engineering candidates may consider bachelor's degree programs in electrical or mechanical engineering. These programs typically last 4-5 years and include general education courses in English, social science, and the humanities. Circuit theory and digital processing topics are common in electrical engineering, while mechanical engineering programs may include coursework in materials, thermodynamics, and heat transfer.

Find Entry-Level Work

Entry-level controls engineers often begin learning the field by drafting project estimates, writing operational descriptions, and providing general technical support. Some employers may train employees on systems troubleshooting, control systems design, and performance compliance. New hires may assist experienced engineers with using programming systems to integrate additional manufacturing machines into existing production lines.

Once some experience is gained, controls engineers may also be called on to evaluate, update, or improve current systems and operations. Other duties may include installation specifications and coordinating end user support.

Attain an Engineer's License

Some control engineers, such as those who do government work in electrical engineering, can benefit from licensure. The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying grants engineering licenses and generally requires the completion of an ABET-accredited program, four years of work experience, and the passing of a state examination. Graduates typically pass the first part of the state-licensing exam, Fundamentals of Engineering, and are then classified as engineers-in-training (EITs). After attaining four years of documented experience, they're qualified to take the second licensing exam, Principles and Practice of Engineering specifically for control systems. Upon passing, individuals are called professional engineers.

In summary, the road to becoming a controls engineer includes earning a bachelor' degree, finding entry-level work, obtaining licensure, and being granted the official designation of a professional engineer.

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