Annual plastics industry survey shows salaries, hiring rising

Optimism continues to prevail among upper level employees in the plastics industry, as average base salaries in the U.S. grew 0.7% from 2013 to $104,722 in calendar year 2014. Job confidence and growth expectations have remained high for both managers and non-managers, according to the latest Plastics Salary and Trends Survey conducted by Gros Executive Recruiters (Franklin, TN), a headhunter firm serving companies and individuals in the plastics industry, and the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE; Bethel, CT).

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The 2015 survey of 1,250 plastics professionals, which tracked earnings during the full 2014 calendar year, showed a continuation of a five-year trend of confidence in both the plastics industry and individuals' personal job security.

Salaried professionals surveyed included those personnel such as designers, process engineers and C-level managers on up. "In the 2014 survey, 75% of survey participants expected their employers to deliver a salary increase, with most expecting a raise of 1 to 3%," said Dennis Gros, President of Gros Executive Recruiters. "The 2015 survey shows a slight increase in 2014 base salaries, so at least some employers gave raises. Total compensation, however, was down by about 2%."

The reason for the decrease is that average cash compensation—which includes base salary plus incentives such as bonuses and commissions—fell by 2.2% from the year before. In 2014, participants reported $122,301 total cash compensation, but the figure in the 2015 survey was $119,576.

Nonetheless, optimism prevails. "An overwhelming 85% of managers surveyed said they expect compensation to rise for calendar year 2015, as did 77.2% of employees," Gros stated.

Along with optimism about salaries, plastics employees are confident of their job security. Of this year's respondents, 76% said they were "very" confident that their jobs would exist in 12 months, and another 19% were "somewhat" confident. This positive perception of job stability began in 2010, following the 2008 recession.

Gros noted that job confidence expands into job loyalty. "Only about 7% described their job situation as ‘unhappy,'" he said. "Managers can expect challenges in finding new employees, because only 16% expected to be active in looking for a new job. For managers this means ‘keep the ones you've got!"

This year, once again, employees surveyed said they expect pay raises of 1 to 3%, or more.

Of managers who responded to the survey, 55% expected their companies to increase the number of full-time employees this year.

Willem De Vos, CEO of SPE, commented on the survey: "There will be a continuation of growth opportunities over the next several years within the plastics industry. This year's polling again shows improvement in the perception of job stability, and anticipation of higher earnings. We should continue to see a healthy turn in the plastics industry, especially in the United States," predicted De Vos.

Seniority pays: 65+ demographic earns almost double 21-to-34 bracket

Age and education level are factors in compensation, and the survey found that respondents in the 21 to 34 age group reported an average base salary of $71,394. The average jumps to $99,319 for the 35 to 44 age group, and continues to climb to well over $100,000 for the 45+ age groups, reaching a maximum of $131,587 for those over 65. Total cash compensation reflects an even higher gap by age, with the 21 to 34 age group reporting $76,911 on average compared to the 65+ age group reporting almost double at $149,375.

Education plays a significant role in determining pay. Respondents with a post-graduate degree reported an average base salary of $115,873 and average cash compensation of $131,847, whereas those with a high-school level education reported an average base salary of $77,557 and average cash compensation of $92,500. The survey didn't ask those with a high school diploma about additional technical training through plastics industry resources that might have an impact on their salary and total cash compensation.

Respondents in executive management reported higher base salaries and total cash compensation than all other job titles. The average total cash compensation for job titles grouped as Executive Management was $158,489, followed by job titles grouped as Sales, Marketing, Customer Support at $137,734.

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