The results of IndustryWeek's annual salary survey are enough to make you scream. It's a cry of aggravation, but not one prompted by evidence of dismal pay or dissatisfied employees.
Indeed, the exact opposite is true. According to results of the 2015 IndustryWeek Salary Survey, the average salary for U.S. manufacturing management is up over last year. Moreover, last year's average was up over the previous year's. In 2015, the majority of respondents also saw pay raises, again a mirror of the previous year's results.
In addition to good news on the pay front, the vast majority of survey respondents say they are satisfied with their choice of manufacturing as a career path, which -- you guessed it -- is not breaking news.
And stepping outside the bounds of compensation for a moment, the news for U.S. manufacturing also is good. Economic activity in the manufacturing sector expanded for the 25th consecutive month in January, according to the latest Manufacturing ISM Report on Business, issued by the Institute for Supply Management. The overall economy was up for the 68th consecutive month.
So why the scream? Because, despite all evidence to the contrary, manufacturing as a career choice continues to elicit negative reviews by the American public. For example, the latest in a Public Perception of Manufacturing series conducted by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte showed that only 37% of respondents would encourage their kids to pursue a manufacturing career – this despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans rank manufacturing as important to America's economic prosperity.
Who wouldn't scream given this wide gulf between perception and reality?
Bridging the Perception Gap
Here is the reality: U.S. manufacturing management earned an average salary is $114,615, according to the 2015 IndustryWeek Salary Survey. This compares with the previous year's average of $111,480 and represents the third consecutive year in which the average salary has climbed above the $100,000 threshold. The median salary is $96,000.
More than two-thirds (69%) of respondents reported a boost to their salary over last year, while fewer than 4% saw their base pay drop.
In addition, 59% of respondents said they received a bonus on top of their base salary. The bonus amounts varied widely and in some instances exceeded base pay. The average bonus among those who reported a dollar figure (versus a percentage) was $25,000, although several ventured well over $100,000.
"I'm quite satisfied with my role and my level of compensation. Enjoy my co-workers and the many challenges/demands of my position," commented one survey respondent, an R&D/product development manager in the plastics and rubber products industry, living in the Middle Atlantic region and earning $120,000.
"Our company offers a very attractive compensation and benefits package," writes a sales and marketing manager in the automotive/transportation vehicles & equipment industry, earning a base pay of $133,000 and living in the North Central region.
Of course, not every manufacturer is sharing equally in that prosperity. For example, Deere & Co. recently reported a drop in quarterly sales, as well as job layoffs, and the oil price crash is taking a toll on manufacturers feeding that sector.
"We are experiencing a slow economy in the agriculture field," commented one salary survey respondent, a quality manager in the industrial machinery industry, living in the North Central region and earning $75,000.
Adds a manufacturing/production director in the metals industry, living in the South Central region and earning $195,000: "Working for a global company means that slow economic growth in Europe hurts the U.S. operations."
On a more personal level, "I have not had a pay raise since October 2002," says a manufacturing/production manager in the metals industry and earning $40,560.
Where the Money Is
Manufacturers are a diverse group of industries, from makers of washing machines, toasters, and chemicals to builders of automobiles, medical devices and packaging equipment. Their average salaries are equally diverse.
Manufacturing management in the chemicals industry earned $137,344, well above the industry average of $114,615. At the other end of the spectrum, managers in the wood products and furniture industry earned $82,585, which is just 72% of the industry average.
Age is a significant factor in pay. For example, manufacturing managers between ages 21 and 29 earn an average salary of $70,480. It jumps to $90,530 in the 30 to 39 age group and reaches $136,084 for managers who are age 60 or above.
That said, survey respondents between age 21 and 29 comprised only 2% of the total, and respondents age 39 and under were 10% of the survey pool. Are these low percentages indicative of an industry that is failing to make its case to younger workers?
Manufacturing Provides a Challenge -- and Satisfaction
Ask Craig the previous question, and his personal response will be "no." Craig is in the 30-to-39 age range, with a degree in industrial engineering and eight years in manufacturing. For this continuous improvement manager "growing up in the Midwest, seeing family members creating things -- making products -- seemed more exciting than working in the digital world."
The challenge of manufacturing is attractive, he says. "I would recommend manufacturing as a career," he says. "It's always exciting. Every day, every week, every year there are new things to work on to make our teams and our company more efficient."
I've been very happy with my career. There are always problems to solve."
— Andy Britt, 33-year manufacturing veteran and senior process engineer
The challenge manufacturing presents, in fact, is a huge part of its appeal, according to the 2015 IW survey. Indeed, "challenging/interesting work" tied with "job stability" as the factor that mattered most to respondents about their job. Both garnered a 19% share. Base salary was a close second, with 17% of respondents identifying it as the top priority.
Many of the 2015 IW Salary Survey respondents appear to share Craig's career reflections. "Manufacturing offers the best challenges because it always changes directions. That's where the excitement comes from," writes a manufacturing/production manager in the plastics and rubber products industry living in the Middle Atlantic region and earning $104,000.
Perhaps manufacturing's biggest selling point is this: Those who are engaged in it, enjoy it.
"Overall it's been a very wonderful experience," says Brian Barnes of Alliance Machine Systems International, which builds machines for the paperboard industry.
Today Barnes is vice president of manufacturing but when he entered manufacturing 34 years ago, it was as a second shift mechanic in an entirely different industry sector. His introduction to the management side of manufacturing occurred in 1986, when a manager said to him, "You complain enough about how things should be done; I'm going to make you a supervisor."
"It's challenging, but it's rewarding," adds Antoinette Brahm, executive vice president of Clean Air America Inc., a Rome, Ga.-based manufacturer of industrial air filtration systems. Business is good, she says, due in part to the strength of the automotive industry, which serves as a major customer base. While all manufacturing occurs in Georgia, approximately 35% of the company's business is to export markets.
"I've been very happy with my career," says Andy Britt, a 33-year manufacturing veteran and senior process engineer. "There are always problems to solve, and I've got to work with really smart people over the years." Of course, he adds, "it can be aggravating."
The expressions of career satisfaction aren't isolated comments. Fully 85% of salary survey respondents told IndustryWeek they were satisfied with manufacturing as a career choice, with 43% of those identifying themselves as "very satisfied."
Such high percentages align with a second finding of the Manufacturing Institute/Deloitte Public Perception of Manufacturing series. That finding: Americans with high familiarity with manufacturing held more favorable perceptions of manufacturing as a career choice than those without. Moreover, they were twice as likely to encourage their children to pursue manufacturing as a career.
That's good news because finding manufacturing talent is an ongoing concern. Clean Air America's Brahm says finding engineering talent in the U.S. has been a challenge for her company, and she's not the only one. A corporate/executive manager in the automotive/transportation vehicles and equipment segment issued this warning: "Manufacturing's largest challenge in the years to come will be its ability to develop a large enough talent pool to support domestic manufacturing growth."
What's the takeaway? While manufacturing has a big challenge ahead of it -- filling the manufacturing workforce pipeline -- it should be populated with the right people to manufacture a solution. And they have a good story to tell.