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Become a Controls Engineer: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a controls engineer. Research the education requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in engineering.

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Do I Want to Be a Controls Engineer?

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.

Job Requirements

These professionals typically have attained a bachelor's degree in an engineering field and have an engineering license. The following table contains the main requirements for being a controls engineer:

Common Requirements
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**
Computer skills Field specific software, such as those used for computer-aided design (CAD), operating systems and analysis***
Technical skills Ability to use related tools, such as signal generators and other electronic equipment; familiarity with reading blueprints and other engineering techniques***

Sources: *Job listings from Careerbuilder.com (January 2013), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ***O*Net Online.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Prospective 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. Both of these engineering programs include courses in CAD and use advanced CAD principles to create, analyze and review designs. High school students may consult with their career counselors to find an ABET-approved bachelor's degree program.

Step 2: 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.

Step 3: Gain Advanced Experience

According to January 2013 job postings from CareerBuilder.com, experienced controls engineers may be responsible for more challenging duties, such as designing, implementing and managing programmable logic controller and human machine interface systems. These professionals may use CAD software to create mathematical models and simulate machine, automation or system performance. 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.

Step 4: Attain an Engineer's License

Some control engineers, such as those who do government work in electrical engineering, can benefit from licensure, according to the BLS. 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 are qualified to take the second licensing exam, Principles and Practice of Engineering specifically for control systems. Upon passing, individuals are called professional engineers (PEs). Continuing education requirements vary per state board of engineering and should be researched.

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