Recently a story ran in Plastics News summarizing the results of the annual Salary Survey for the Plastics Industry. Gros Recruiters and the Society of Plastics Engineers again joined forces to deliver self-reporting surveys to more than 1,300 plastics professionals and tallied the data.
Given the hard work it takes to complete this survey, I appreciate Dennis Gros' work and the SPE in attempting to provide the industry with useful info. For me, I don't find the data useful for one reason: I don't believe it is an accurate representation for the overall worker population.
With an average salary in the plastics industry of over $96,000, this is highly misleading. Are line workers on salary earning close to $96,000? The shift supervisor? The shipping foreman? Forklift operator? Junior engineers with freshly minted degrees? Unlikely. And the overall compensation of $112,000 as well is deceiving. Sales and management professionals on commission and bonus incentives are often two times above $112,000. We don't see any indicators in the article's discussion of this potentiality. Is this information further flushed out in the survey not shown?
If this $96,000 average is accurate, this would mean that the entire plastics business is earning in the top 8 to 9 percent of Americans, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. If this income average is accurate, we would have a glut of excess workers, lined up around every plant from Erie, Pa., to Santa Cruz, Calif., applying for these high-paying jobs at the HR department window. But we don't. We have a shortage of skilled workers, and there is no line at all.
The comments in the article from Mr. Gros and Mr. Broome, while I love their optimism for growth about the hiring prospects and suggestive growth, there also appears to be wide-eyed optimism of a better land over the mountain. Many more of the article's quotes are opinions and guesstimates of why the survey shows different data than prior years. Why are we guessing when the data is supposed to be in the survey? We don't know the average age of the surveyed? We don't know years of experience? We don't know what their role is?
For a survey to be useful and not confusing to leaders in the plastics industry, the data has to have context and construct around it. Averages don't mean a darn thing in a capitalistic society when CEOs need to hire the best talent and need data to determine the best offer and compensation structure. Anybody can print "averages" or take a reasonable shot at a data set if one knows the industry.
SPE is a fine organization, I am the first to admit. And I also believe that if those of us that work in the plastics arena, we need to insure we deliver an accurate and compelling message to potential newcomers to the industry, as well as understand what we really need to pay people to keep them motivated and well-paid so they remain.
As a fellow search professional and psychologist in the plastics industry, I believe the market will dictate what a company needs to pay for the level of talent the CEO or hiring manager deems to fit. Averages and odds are great to have in your pocket in Las Vegas. In business, I will make decisions on real time data and measure skills against income and make sure the two align.
Russ Riendeau is a partner with Jobplex/DHR International who has been doing search work in the plastics industry since 1985.