Sponsored By
Clare Goldsberry

June 26, 2016

4 Min Read
Plastics industry salary survey reveals surprising drops, and a few hikes

The 2016 Plastics Salary and Trends Survey left Dennis Gros, President of Gros Executive Recruiters (Franklin, TN), which  jointly conducted the survey with the Society of Plastics Engineers (Bethel, CT), rather befuddled. “This year’s results are not a pretty sight,” said Gros. “We are unable to find a definitive explanation. There’s no reason to believe that employed plastics professionals suffered an actual decrease in base salaries. I think it’s psychological—household expenses are going up while salaries are probably stable. Workers feel like they’re earning less. And that’s how they responded to the survey.”

The 1,291 respondents were asked about their compensation in 2015.  Average total cash compensation, which includes bonuses, incentives and commissions, decreased roughly 5% in 2015, according to the survey.


Most groups by position type saw a decrease in their total cash compensation. Average total cash compensation (salaries plus bonuses and incentives) decreased from $119,576 in 2014 to $113,588 in 2015. Tooling, quality, finance and supply chain are the exceptions.

Image courtesy Stuart Miles/

Average total cash compensation for moldmakers/tooling rose by $1,938 to $86,815. Quality positions saw an increase in total cash compensation rise by $1,987 to $77,403. Finance and supply chain personnel who participated in the survey saw the largest increase, up by $10,104 to $111,562.    

Average commission incentives took a major hit, dropping over 26%. Total cash compensation for sales/marketing and customer tech support personnel responding to the survey fell by $8,097 to $120,261 for the 373 respondents, by far the largest drop of any of the position types in the survey. Executive management (219 respondents) saw average total cash compensation fall by $7,255 to $157,072. Manufacturing personnel experienced a drop in total cash compensation of $6,984 to $86,336; plant engineering and maintenance saw a drop of $3,775 to $97,865. Design and development personnel saw a slight drop in total average cash compensation, down $1,651 to $105,923.

Base salaries were down for two groups: Manufacturing and sales/marketing/customer tech support reported decreases in base salaries between the 2015 and 2016 surveys. Sales/marketing and customer tech support positions saw a drop in their average base salary of $5,069 to $104,321. Manufacturing personnel responding to the survey saw a drop of $4,300 to $81,110. Base salaries for executive management were up $2,306 to $136,772; design and development personnel base salaries rose by $2,854 to $100,074; plant engineering and maintenance saw base salaries rise by $6,922 to $89,343.

Base salaries for moldmakers/tooling positions rose by $2,321 to $81,890 according to the 2016 survey (82 respondents). Quality positions saw an average base salary rise $4,458 to $74,550. Finance and supply-chain positions saw the largest increase between 2014 and 2015, up by $7,776 to $103,713.

All groups except finance and supply chain reported a decrease in bonus/commissions, with plant engineering and maintenance taking the biggest hit, falling $10,697 to $8,522 from the 2015 survey reporting bonuses for this position of $19,219. At the other end of the spectrum, tooling positions took the smallest hit, down $383 to $4,925. Finance and supply shain personnel saw bonuses rise by $2,328 over the 2015 Survey to $7,849.

When asked about expectation of future earnings, the response is equally pessimistic. Only 24% of survey participants expect their 2016 incomes to increase more than 3%. Meanwhile, 76% expect to conclude 2016 with raises of less than 3% or none at all, said the survey summary.

In a contradictory response, 64% of participants reported receiving a raise in the last 12 months, and job satisfaction remains fairly steady: 60% of survey participants indicated they were either “extremely happy” or “mostly happy” with their current job. However, more than 18% reported they have definite plans to look for a new job, or are currently seeking new employment.

Over the previous 10-year stretch, base salaries, total cash compensation and growth expectations have generally risen. Data from past salary surveys show average base salaries have increased 15% in a decade.

Russ Broome, Managing Director of SPE, told PlasticsToday that while on the surface of the survey, “salaries may look like they are dropping, there are more people in the industry retiring and those positions are being filled by younger people with not as much industry experience.” Therefore, starting salaries, bonuses and commissions are not as high as the long-term employees’ compensation would be. “Year to year there’s always change in this survey,” Broome said.  “We’re certainly happy to see that plastics is faring much better than other industries in many respects. We’re seeing as we travel to schools and industry events that it’s all positive and people are looking to fill jobs.”

Gros added, “While the downturn we saw this year is disheartening news, the overall industry trends favor growth. I expect 2016 will close on a more optimistic note. In the meantime, we welcome all theories for this current slump.”

A detailed report of the full survey will be available in an upcoming issue of Plastics Engineering magazine produced by SPE. Members of SPE can obtain a copy of the 2016 survey, with detailed information, by logging into their accounts at http://www.4spe.org.

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

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