Yes, Ben, there really is a great future in plastics

Most of us who've been in the plastics industry for at least the last two decades have probably heard this comment many times: "Did you see The Graduate?"

Yes, we've either seen that iconic movie that helped to put the plastics industry on the map, or we've heard about it. Dustin Hoffman plays the young man Ben, who's just graduated from college, and can't seem to decide on what to do with his life. At a party, Mr. McGuire pulls Ben aside and tells him that his future lies in just one word: Plastics.

"There's a great future in plastics," said Mr. McGuire to Ben.

And surely that must be true given that so many of us have made our livings in this industry. Gros Executive Recruiters, in collaboration with the Society of Plastics Engineers, released a salary survey for plastics industry jobs, and truly there's a great future in plastics.

Average base salaries in the plastics industry surpassed $100,000 for the first time last year, with average total cash compensation exceeding $122,000 in 2013. That 11% rise in total cash compensation is the highest one-year jump in total cash compensation since Gros Executive Recruiters conducted its first salary survey in 2004.

In addition, the 9% increase in base salaries to $104,000 is the largest for the plastics industry since 2005-2006 when base salaries raised annually at about 5%, said the survey summary. The rise in wages continues a resurgence that began in 2009 after base salaries dipped to $90,656 and total cash compensation shrunk to $103,522 in 2008.

"Pay is up by a whopping 11%, according to our survey responses. That is a giant stride forward," said Dennis Gros, president of Gros Executive Recruiters. "It's also time for employees to say 'pay up!' This is fascinating - 11% more managers said they are likely to confer pay raises in 2014 than employees are to request them. So my advice to employees is this: 'Ask and it may be given to you!"

But whether 2014 raises will be as high in 2013 is unclear. "2013 was a catch-up year for salaries and 2014 could be another catch-up year," Gros noted. "But don't expect an 11% increase again because financial reality and corporate profits don't support it."

The compensation survey also found that employees were optimistic about their own future and the future of their companies. More than 77% of those surveyed were very confident that their job will exist 12 months from now - the highest ever reported by the survey and a dramatic departure from 2009 when just over half - or 50.7% - of those surveyed were very confident their jobs would still exist in 12 months.

In addition, 56.5% of managers - the highest amount ever - believe their companies will add jobs in 2014 with only 6.6% - the lowest ever - expecting the number of jobs at their company to decrease.

In my humble opinion, I think all of the talk about reshoring - and actual movement of manufacturing that has become more than just anecdotal - is providing the basis for this job confidence. The doom and gloom moaning and groaning that we've heard over the past decade regarding offshoring has pretty much subsided. That may be reflected in this survey.

The salary survey also showed that there is a healthy pay structure from top to bottom in the plastics industry as the gap between executive pay and average worker cash compensation is nowhere near as pronounced as in other industries where CEO pay can often exceed workers' sages by a margin of 200-to-1, noted the survey summary.

The average total cash compensation of senior executives in the plastics industry in 2013, according to survey results, was $177,000, compared to $138,000 for those working in plant engineering and maintenance. For individuals in sales, marketing and customer technical support, cash compensation totaled $124,000; $113,800 for those working in design and development, and $104,500 for people in finance and the supply chain.

The average cash compensation for manufacturing workers in the plastics industry was $89,790, with workers in tooling earning just over $85,000. What's more, added the survey summary, compensation is fairly similar across all 23 segments of the plastics industry surveyed with only a difference of $13,000 in cash compensation between the highest paid segment (construction/building materials) and the lowest (automotive).

If you haven't seen The Graduate, you might just watch it some evening when there's nothing else to entertain you, and be glad that you chose "plastics" as your future.

Note: A detailed report of the survey will be available in the July/August issue of Plastics Engineering magazine produced by the SPE. SPE members can obtain a copy of the 2014 survey, with detailed information, by logging into their accounts at

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