Our first salary survey is about more than just the money. The survey also offered us a look at how you like your jobs and what you expect from your companies, your bosses and yourselves. You overwhelmed us with your responsiveness! In all, 1,790 food industry professionals took the web-based survey, sharing with us (and our 65,000 readers) information so private you probably don't even share it with your coworkers.
Although most workers declared themselves to be at least "somewhat" satisfied with their jobs, a quarter of respondents openly expressed their complaints. Some of those words should serve as harsh warnings to those at the top. Nearly every complaint included a pay gripe, and lack of respect showed up often.
The Department of Labor reports the average hourly earnings of production workers in food manufacturing were $13.48 as of April this year. That's only about 78 percent of the average of $17.20 for nonsupervisory production workers in much of private industry, although the range runs from $10.75/hr. for the apparel industry to a few pennies shy of $30 for auto workers.
One other recurring theme emerged: More work is being dumped onto fewer people. As one commenter indicated, that's when quality suffers and leads to the beginning of the end.
The juicy part
Let's get right to it: what you and your colleagues make annually. Respondents to our survey fall into a sort of double-bell curve. Overall, 14 percent average $36,000-$50,000 per year, 21 percent average $51,000-$65,000 and 23 percent average $66,000-$85,000. There's a dip at $86,000-$100,000, then the second curve swells with the swells, with 21 percent averaging $101,000-$500,000 per year.
Taking each job category individually, Corporate Management is, unsurprisingly, the best compensated group: their mean is $164,348 and the median is in the $86,000-$100,000 range (two respondents who make more than half a million bucks a year skew the computations). Those in corporate management also self-identify predominantly as Caucasian (91 percent) and male (73 percent).
The Marketing/Sales squad came out second, although they also had the biggest variations in income. While the mean was $138,983, this group also had three people making less than $15,000 -- and 47 making more than $100,000 (but no one making more than $500,000). Their median was right at $85,000. They're better represented across the sexes, with 36 percent female. Also mostly Caucasian (87 percent), they've done their homework -- more than three quarters of this group have college degrees, 22 percent beyond a bachelor's level.
Next was the R&D crowd, with $119,404 being the mean and the median being in the $66,000-$85,000 range. Interestingly, there were just as many lab coats making above $100,000 (79) as in that median range. This group is both the best educated, with 90 percent college-degreed (12.5 percent with doctorates), and the most evenly represented across gender, at 59 percent male and 41 percent female. The Plant Ops/Engineering posse, nearly all male (90 percent) and Caucasian (85 percent), report compensation that averages $102,316. Their median also is $66,000-$85,000.
Purchasing agents are at the bottom(our apologies), with average compensation at $83,563, but the median being only about $51,000. This could be a function of education level -- only a little more than half (55 percent) have college degrees. Thirty percent are women. Purchasers are the most heavily imbalanced when it comes to race - 95 percent label themselves as Caucasian.
However, there was a large group (283 respondents) of "others," who defied our five main job classifications and averaged just $75,081 with a median income in the $51,000-$65,000 range.
A roller-coaster economy, a shrinking middle class and the demise of the single-income path to prosperity means a job has to offer much more than an annual salary. The good news is, most processors offer more. Not always much more, but at least more.
Nearly eight in 10 respondents get a raise every year. For two-thirds, it's only 1-3 percent of their salary. "The 1-3 percent annually we get doesn't even keep up with inflation, so I'm actually losing ground," says one plant ops engineer for a Midwestern confectionary company. "So, technically I haven't received an actual raise in 8 years. I am living proof of salary compaction."
Just above the cost of living adjustment line are the 28 percent who receive a 4-6 percent raise. But two-thirds also receive a bonus or profit-sharing -- though not much. Sixty percent of this segment gets just 1-9 percent of salary. Nearly 30 percent get 10-20 percent over their salary this way. More than 10 percent add the equivalent of 21-50 percent or more to the top via bonuses and profit sharing.
Whereas a quarter of processors get the typical (though paltry) U.S. standard of two weeks paid vacation, most of you -- 60 percent -- are taking off for three to four weeks. Envious of the 13 percent who are hitting the beaches or ski slopes for a cushy five to six weeks? Then ask the 11 survey-takers getting more than six weeks paid vacation if there are any openings at their companies!
More than nine in 10 have paid medical benefits of some sort, and more than 80 percent get dental. Better than 78 percent get both life insurance and a 401(k) match.
On the other hand, some perquisites are not as readily handed out. Stock options are reported by only 18 percent of you, a company car by 8.5 percent and flex time by 15 percent. Profit sharing fared a little better, going to 21 percent. One-third get a pension and 43 percent can go back to school on the company's dime.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics records "the average weekly hours of production workers in manufacturing was 41.1 in 2006, well above the private industry average of 33.9 for production and nonsupervisory workers." This ties in closely with the average in our survey: 56 percent of respondents report they work 41-50 hours per week.
Who you are
Demographics can always generate intriguing thoughts. Two-thirds to three-quarters of respondents in all positions but two are male (typical of the national workforce overall). Plant Ops is by far the most male-dominated, at more than 90 percent. But for the lab coat set, the numbers moved nearer to half and half, with 59 percent male and 41 percent female.
The food and beverage manufacturing business also is somewhat monochromatic: 85 percent designated themselves as Caucasian. Although this is only 5 percent more than the national average (U.S. Census Bureau 2006 estimates), the number of respondents identifying themselves as Latin/Hispanic/First Nations was less than 4 percent compared to the national average of more than 15 percent. For those identifying themselves as African American, the numbers were about the same, that is, one-third of the population average with 3 percent in food manufacturing compared to almost 13 percent in the U.S. as a whole.
Over half of respondents were aged 30-49; more than a third fell in the 50-64 grouping. Four in ten are situated in the Midwest suburbs, 35 percent are urban dwellers scattered mostly among the New England/Middle Atlantic states, the South and the Southwest.
Folks in the food biz are a well-educated lot, with all but 15 percent having at least some college education. In fact, more than a third -- 34 percent -- went to college beyond a bachelor's degree. Your experience in the food business is long as well, with more than a quarter in processing or related fields for 6-14 years. An additional 50 percent have 15-34 years and 6.5 percent have put in more than 35 years. Very impressive!
One surprising factor to emerge is the number of folks working for large corporations. In a business where boutique food and beverage products are taking a growing chunk of the American dollar, nearly a quarter of you still work for "the big guys," companies with 5,000 or more workers. Only 13 percent work for companies with staffs of 100 or fewer.
I love my job
Sometimes, the best approach is the direct one. So we asked outright how you like your job. And two-thirds of you do - 68 percent say you're either somewhat or very satisfied. This is better than the national average. According to The Conference Board Inc. (www.conference-board.org), fewer than half of Americans claim to be satisfied with their jobs. The group says job satisfaction has been on a steady decline for 20 years.
The organization's most recent survey showed "Satisfaction levels among all workers, regardless of age, income or even residence, have deteriorated in recent years," writes Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board. The survey also found the older and better compensated a worker is, the higher the job satisfaction -- although not by much.
So, salary and benefits aside, what makes you keep coming back to your job (or has you surfing Monster.com during your lunch hour)? Surprisingly, least important to respondents is a low-stress environment. Looks as if only 3 percent of you can't stand the heat in the kitchen. But also, salary itself wasn't as important either. Only 23 percent see that as the most important part of their jobs.
Comments from respondents show job satisfaction is a holistic thing. And giant companies fared as well as small ones in providing satisfaction. "I took a pay cut to come and work for my company and it has been worth it," says Anne Troup, a quality assurance lab technician for Cargill Salt Inc. "I was under constant stress at a previous job and would get physically ill at the thought of going to work. Since working here, I feel as if I work for a family, and even though this company is much larger, the people in charge have hearts and souls."
Positive comments focused predominantly on things other than money. This remark by an R&D expert for a large, national grain foods development company is typical of the job environment kudos: "Great group of people who support others to full extent. Company is committed to growth and doing so effectively."
Other examples include: "sense of belonging," "challenging work," "less stress, great working environment, good people," "appreciation, job security, opportunity for advancement" and "good work environment, close to home, management is fair and reasonable." In fact, "good" and "hands-off" management is the most common thread running through the positive job satisfaction comments.
One Kraft worker comments that hers "is a great place to work. The people are very helpful and are eager to aid you in career development if you reach out. Work continues to challenge me and this is important. I am not intimidated by my job because I have so much help."
Learning and growth play well too. Companies with positive and proactive approaches to training for promotion are lauded by respondents. "I work for a company that is great about training and certifications," says Cargill's Troup. "If there is a class I feel would improve my worth to the company, they are behind me 100 percent and give me the time and financial assistance to get the training I need."
A woman at a small beverage processor finds her work "very dynamic when I have the ability to wear more than one hat. It's challenging, fun to learn other areas of beverage development, such as application, purchasing, logistics and manufacturing."
The final word on what makes for job satisfaction is best and succinctly phrased by Adam T. of White Rock Distilleries: "I am trusted and not micromanaged. I am given increasing levels of responsibility. My opinions are valued." Adam, we couldn't have said it better.
I hate my job
True, most of you love, like or are at least ambivalent about your job. Still, 13 percent of you are somewhat dissatisfied, and a handful of you (3 percent) are very much so.
What makes it hard to get out of bed in the morning lands is mostly management woes, office politics and one of the most frequent complaints: more work to do and less time to do it in. "Upper management gives the facility very little support and then penalizes us when we can't keep up," is how one respondent at a large food packaging company states the situation.
"Understaffed, under-resourced. Little capital investment to improve technology; high management turnover; poor understanding/appreciation of process by new management, says another, working in R&D at a Midwest beverage plant. Part and parcel to this was the often-repeated "lack of appreciation." As any reader of the comic strip "Dilbert" can tell you, for some illogical reason time-crunch always leads to more wasted hours, not fewer, due to the dreaded meeting. "Meeting request conflicts have become ridiculous -- triple and quadruple bookings are commonplace."
Although only 16 percent find their jobs somewhat or very dissatisfying, the fact that job security has 41 percent of you concerned means there are some anxious people on the line. Layoffs, closings, pay cuts, plus raise and hiring freezes send shivers through more than a quarter of respondents (27 percent). Outsourcing plays at least some part in it, as only four in 10 say their company does not outsource.
Still in all, 34 percent report no effects at all on their company from the economy. Most of our survey-takers point optimistically to the economy as positively affecting their companies.
The good thing is, the food and beverage industry is a fairly stable one -- after all, people will always need to eat. Also, the trends in processed products toward healthier ingredients and simpler formulations promise to be constant stimuli for increasing consumer comfort and reliance on processed foods. In other words, most of us can take an optimistic outlook when it comes to career security.
This web-based survey was sent as a e-mailed link to all food and beverage processors who subscribe to Food Processing and provide their e-mail address. The nearly 2,000 responses were automatically assigned an identifying number for anonymity during analysis. Answers were collated as a comprehensive total as well as across several categories. All responses are kept confidential. Product categories in which respondents work the majority of their time: fruits and vegetables (5.8 percent), dairy products (7.8 percent), baked goods (6.6 percent), beverages (9.3 percent), confectionery products (4.8 percent), meat/poultry/seafood (20.9 percent), grain products/milling (4.6 percent), snacks (4.5 percent), further-processed & packaged foods & specialties (incl. frozen foods, meals, pet foods, sauces & condiments) (12.3 percent), value-added ingredients/powder mixes (4.7 percent) and other (18.7 percent).