If you're looking for skilled employees for plastics processing-related jobs, good luck. Unemployment rates of less than 5 percent in many regions of the United States continue to fuel a worker shortage for positions across the board - from entry level through engineering jobs. In spite of demand outpacing supply, however, wages will remain fairly steady.
In a good news/bad news scenario for business owners, labor costs during the second quarter of 1995 slowed nationwide, a trend that will hold through mid-1996, according to several economic reports. The bad news is that finding qualified workers is becoming more difficult.
Small to midsize companies in particular are worried about a worker shortage. Company owners expressed concerns about having to pay as much as $7 per hour for entry-level employees, to compete with fast-food restaurants. Lack of qualified workers remains the single-biggest concern among processors.
Manpower Inc.'s Employment Outlook Survey for the first quarter of 1996 shows that manufacturing, of both durable and nondurable goods, offers the most optimistic outlook. Of the more than 15,000 employers surveyed across the United States, 26 percent of those in the durable goods sector said they will recruit more workers, and 10 percent said they expect to trim payrolls. Strength in this segment is greatest in the Northeastand Midwest.
Of manufacturers of nondurable goods, firms in the Northeast, Midwest and South plan considerable staff increases: 22 percent plan increases, and 10 percent plan a decrease.
Dennis Gros, a plastics industry recruiter with Gros Executive Search in Brentwood, Tenn., said a tight market has many company owners broadening their criteria to get more candidates. And companies are more willing to waive certain requirements or make tradeoffs, such as foregoing a college degree for extra work experience if a candidate is available immediately.
``That's an indication of the health of the [recruiting] business,'' Gros said. ``In lean times the searches tend to be very industry- and job-specific, but when we start getting more generic job descriptions, that's an indication we've got more jobs than people.''
The window of opportunity to get a good person is very narrow, Gros added. If a company believes it has a good applicant, it better make an offer because chances are that person will not be available tomorrow, he said.
Ronald Eliason, vice president and plastics recruiting specialist with Midland Consultants in Cleveland, said he can't get enough good people to fill all the open positions.
Particularly hot areas right now include product design, mold and tool design with Pro-Engineer software experience, and all areas of engineering. Eliason attributes this demand to large companies that eliminated these in-house functions through downsizing and look to their molders to take up the slack.
Other areas with good pay possibilities include molding technicians and maintenance mechanics. Eliason said that agood maintenance mechanic's wage has doubled during the past couple of years, to $14-$16 an hour. And a good molding technician can get a job almost anyplace immediately.
``Last year was a great year for most companies,'' said Eliason, ``and I've got employers crying the blues over trying to get good people.''
However, Gros and Eliason agree that in spite of the demand level, wages are not booming up as could be expected in this climate. Gros said this applies to both sides of the coin. ``Candidates are reading the market and not asking for a whole lot more, and employers are holding the line internally and not offering a whole lot more,'' he said.
Gros added that another phenomenon in today's market is a quick ascent of earnings from just-out-of-college or entry level to about the midrange of compensation for a particular job. After that, there's not much difference in the compensation of someone with five years of experience or someone with 15 years of experience.
``They'll stay in that range for a surprisingly long time,'' Gros said, ``until they move into management.''
Employees should not expect much in the way of pay raises this year either, in spite of the fact that manufacturing had an excellent 1995. A survey of 1,811 companies nationwide by Hewitt Associates in Lincolnshire, Ill., showed that salaries should increase by only about 4 percent. The level of salary increases has fallen every year since 1990, when they rose 6.1 percent.
Eliason said compensation offers to candidates during the past year are averaging only 5-8 percent over current salaries, or are lateral offers.
``Employers are not laying the money out to attract the people,'' he said. ``Candidates are being told to take it or leave it.''
Consequently, recruiters are seeing more stability in the job market. Also, they said, companies are doing more to retain their skilled employees, realizing that replacements are tough to find.