2013 Salary Survey: New challenges for an aging workforce

Manufacturing seen as more secure, but needing more young workers

By Bob Vavra February 13, 2014

In the last decade, through the Plant Engineering Salary Survey, we’ve watched our readers make their way through times of great productivity, great recession, and great recovery. They have taken each journey one step at a time, one year at a time.

In 2013, they crossed another threshold. They jumped into a new age demographic. The average respondent is now between the ages of 55 and 59. We’ve watched the aging of the plant workforce carefully over the past decade, and this year it takes another leap toward the far end of the spectrum.

In the 2013 survey, 43% respondents are over age 55; another 19% are over age 50. That compares with just 15% under the age of 40. In fact, there are more people over the age of 60 than under the age of 40. The issue here is far more than just statistical. The inability to infuse manufacturing with new talent threatens to undo the tremendous gains in productivity, safety, and quality realized in the past five years. Since the 2009 recession, manufacturing has been the shining light in the American economy, and the envy of the rest of the world.

The one warning sign on the horizon is the lack of new skilled workers and managers coming into the industry, and the 2013 Salary Survey shows that time to answer this signal is running short. It’s not that like the issue isn’t obvious to our read-ers, however. For the last decade, readers have recognized the lack of new skilled workers in manufacturing as the top issue facing the indus-try. In 2013, it was more than twice as popular as any other issue.

With the recession far in the rear-view mirror, manufacturing now must face its most urgent issue head on. That’s something Plant Engineering readers consistently are willing to do. Once again this year, it is the technical challenge and the feeling of accomplishment that drive readers to achieve manufacturing excellence.

It is that challenge that propelled manufacturing to pull itself out of the recession, and take the rest of the country along with it. That also is reflected in one of our most important questions: “Is manufacturing a secure career?” In 2013, a full 75% of all respondents answered positively. That’s 11 percentage points higher than the 2012 figure, and the highest level we have ever recorded. In 2006, by comparison, just 62% of respondents thought manufacturing was a secure career.

Manufacturing rediscovered its confidence in 2013, and reaffirmed its leadership role as the economic engine of the country. If we can take strides to address to workforce issue in the coming year, there may be no limit to the growth that could follow.

Who we are

The split between the generations of manufacturing could not be more profound. Compared to 2012 data, plant workers with various job titles over the age of 50 grew increased, while workers below the age of 50 decreased. There are 25% fewer workers in the 40 to 44 age bracket in 2013 than in 2012, and 38% are over the age of 60.

At a time when all of the other data tended to jump around, this was one of the only places where there were only minute changes. There were also no major changes in regional factors. If the issues surrounding plant management continue to swirl, the plant manager himself is staying put and building on the success of the past year.

What we make

After a big jump in overall compensation in 2012, pay leveled off in 2013. The average salary was fractionally higher at an average of $95,660, but bonus compensation slipped to an average of $11,678. That left overall compensation at $107,104; that’s 3.2% lower than 2012, but 7.4% higher than 2011.

What we think

Plant managers love their job. They are technically challenged by it, and personally enriched by it. They feel their job is secure at a level never before seen, and they believe their skills are valued within the organization. There is increased attention on safety in the workplace that extends beyond compensation. When asked what area their management emphasizes, 34% said operations and 25% said safety. When asked what area should be emphasized, 26% said safety first, as opposed to just 20% for operations.

Author Bio: Bob is the Content Manager for Plant Engineering.