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Survey says salaries for plastics workers now top $100K

By: Jim Johnson

June 3, 2014

It’s a good time to be in the plastics business.

A newly released salary survey shows total compensation for salaried workers jumped 11 percent in 2013 to $122,300.

And isolating for just salary, the jump is still 9 percent to $104,000, according to Gros Executive Recruiters of Franklin, Tenn.

This is the first time that average base salaries for the industry topped $100,000, said Dennis Gros, president of the firm.

Gros Executive Recruiters teams up with the Society of Plastics Engineers to gather data for the annual survey that received 1,208 responses from individual workers this time around.

The survey seeks to quantify wages and total cash compensation, which includes bonuses and commissions, for salaried employees in the industry. Hourly workers are not included.

“I think salaries were stonewalled for a number of years for very solid reasons and now is somewhat of a time of catch up,” Gros said. “Plastics companies can see greater business opportunities in front of them. They feel a little more confident, and they are endeavoring to take care of their workforce.”

“Eleven percent is a huge number,” he said. “To my knowledge, this is unprecedented.”

Gros first surveyed salaries in 2004.

While 2013 worked out quite well for those earning salaries in the plastics business, 2014 also holds potential.

This could be another year with healthy salary improvements. But don’t count on a carbon copy of last year, the executive recruiter said. “I’d not gamble on another 11 percent. I think what we’ll see is a period of catch-up,” he said.

Like Gros, Russ Riendeau is an executive recruiter and serves the plastics industry through East Wing Group Inc. of Barrington, Ill., where he is senior partner.

“I don’t want to imply that anybody is playing with numbers,” Riendeau emphasized. “I’m just very skeptical that every high wage earner must have gravitated to the plastics industry. There must be a tent base camp set up here.”

Riendeau said his experience placing people in the industry leads him to believe the new numbers are too high. “When was the last time you rounded down when somebody asked you how much money you made? I don’t think I ever have, unless I was talking to the IRS,” he said.

Riendeau said the wide range of positions of a survey sample also can be challenging. “When you create an aggregate of so many different people in so many different job functions, the average doesn’t mean much,” he said.

He also qualified his statements by saying that he only reviewed information about the survey shared with him by Plastics News and had not seen the entire survey results.

Total cash compensation for senior executives last year averaged $177,000. That figure was $138,000 for those in plant engineering and maintenance, and $124,000 for folks in sales, marketing and customer technical support. Workers in design and development earned total cash compensation averaging $113,800, and those in finance and the supply chain earned an average of $104,500, according to the survey.

 Manufacturing workers averaged cash compensation of $89,790 and tooling workers earned more than $85,000, according to the survey.

The dramatic jump in compensation last year follows a dip of 2.7 percent in 2013 to $95,428 in average base salary and a dip of 1.8 percent to $110,325 in total average cash compensation.

“We’ve had periods in which our workforce has been very patient in understanding of a fragile economic situation in our industry. We’ve come through that now,” Gros said.

A vast majority of managers who responded to the survey, 84 percent of them, indicated they planned on giving out raises of between 1-6 percent this year. And 73 percent of the employees who responded also said they expect raises falling in the same range this year.

“I think our industry is blessed in that we’re not dealing with a lot of acrimony here. It’s a very healthy relationship among managers and professionals and workers in the plastics industry. We’re at a time right now where we are productive, we’re smiling, we’re feeling good about who we are and what we are doing and where we are going,” Gros said.

SPE, which partnered with Gros Executive Recruiters, said the survey results bode well.

“The plastics industry continues to be a strong force in the U.S. economy, and companies are rewarding their employees with pay increases,” said Willem De Vos, CEO of SPE, in a statement. “Growth opportunities for the industry, and for employees, look bright over the next few years.”

SPE plans to provide more coverage of the issue in its July/August issue of Plastics Engineering magazine.