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Engineers paid well to handle changes

Packaging engineers earn a good income and many received a healthy pay raise last year, according to Packaging World's exclusive salary survey. But many feel their effectiveness is limited by perpetual crisis management, downsizing and unrealistic schedul
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Today's packaging engineer isn't complaining about his or her salary. But there are fewer of them collecting a paycheck than a year ago and the pressure is being felt by those who remain according to Packaging World's exclusive salary and job satisfaction survey.

Of 280 survey respondents 70 identified themselves as packaging production or project engineers which are combined into this "packaging engineer" category. In later reports purchasing and management titles will be profiled. For more details on how the survey was conducted see the main story p. 52.

Engineers earn a good living: roughly a third of respondents identifying themselves as packaging engineers earn in excess of $70 per year (Chart 2). Salaries for packaging engineers appear to be best in the pharmaceutical industry where almost 72% of respondents reported annual salaries of $55 or more. That figure was 68% for respondents in the food and beverage industries.

Company size also accounted for a difference in the size of packaging engineers' paychecks. At large companies (those employing over 1 people worldwide) 67% of engineer respondents earn $55 or more. Engineers at medium- to smaller-sized companies (1 or fewer employees) fared slightly worse: only 62% earn $55 or more. Of note nearly 70% of engineers that responded to our survey worked at large companies. Another 23% worked at medium-sized companies (250 to 1 employees). Only 7% worked at smaller companies with fewer than 250 employees.

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And whether it's the good economy a job well done or taking on a heavier workload most packaging engineers also reported a significant pay increase in the last year. All packaging engineer respondents but one received a raise and slightly more than 40% received a raise of 5% or higher (Chart 3 p. 62).

The salaries reported by our packaging engineer readers reflect their high degree of experience. Nearly half of these respondents said they have over 10 years' total experience in packaging. Overall more than three of four report at least six years' experience while just 4.3% have less than two years of experience.

As one might expect all this seasoned talent is reflected in the demographic information that respondents supplied on their ages. Over half of respondents are 40 years of age or older. A fourth are in their 30s while just 13% are in their 20s.

Packaging engineers are the most well educated of all survey respondents: four out of five have a college or post-graduate degree. An astonishing fact uncovered by our survey: There was almost no difference in salaries reported by packaging engineers with a 2-year technical degree vs those with a 4-year degree. However those with post-graduate education earned quite a bit more: 80% of them earned over $55 annually versus about 60% for engineers with 2- and 4-year degrees.

Packaging engineers tended to specialize in packaging education more than those respondents who hold titles in purchasing and management (Chart 4 p. 63). Over 20% of the survey's packaging engineers report at least some packaging-specific education versus 11% of all survey respondents.

Packaging engineering is still male-dominated at least among our survey respondents: 93% were men (Chart 6 p. 66). By contrast over 40% of purchasing agents who responded are women. Women make up almost 20% of department managers (including managers in packaging engineering production purchasing and maintenance departments).

A year of change

Packaging engineers have logged a lot of changes in the past year both personally and within their companies. As in many fields mobility is common today: Almost 20% were promoted changed jobs or switched to a new company in the past year (Chart 2 p. 61). And a quarter of these engineers say they've been in their current position less than two years.

Packaging engineers ranked higher in job satisfaction than most other respondents surveyed (Chart 5 p. 66). About half of the engineers say they're satisfied with their salary number of hours worked decision-making autonomy and overall job. On the other hand only 23% were satisfied with their potential for advancement the lowest-ranked job satisfaction criterion.

Not enough time

To solicit some feedback survey respondents were asked to comment on what they would do if they had more time as well as what limits their time. Like most respondents to this survey packaging engineers extensively criticized overly tight schedules project overload under-staffing and the constant crisis management that dominate their work lives.

For engineering departments this translates into completing more capital projects in less time. One engineer at a medium-sized food processor in the Midwest complains he is involved with no less than 16 active projects.

Agrees a 15-year veteran packaging R&D engineer at a medium-sized chemical company in the Southeast: "Need more help" he tells PW. "There are too many projects going on at the same time to concentrate on finishing one properly."

One packaging engineer at a large Midwestern manufacturing firm "want[s] more time to develop projects vs implementing decisions made by others which are often poorly thought out." More "up-front engineering time" is necessary agrees a Midwestern plant engineer at a large food company. An engineer from a Midwestern chemical company says that "optimization of current operation" is what he'd prefer to focus on. "Instead I'm working on schedule and installation projects."

For packaging research & development compressed schedules means designing an ever-greater number of packages in a shorter amount of time. "New packaging overrides performance enchancement projects" says an engineer based in the Midwest at a large pharmaceutical company.

Decimated by downsizing

In the midst of this project squeeze packaging departments across the country have been hit hard by downsizing just in the last year according to respondents. Over 27% of the survey's engineers report packaging staff cuts in the last year. "A cut in staff forces me to work on more day-to-day tasks [rather than] focusing on the future" says a packaging department manager at a large food and personal care manufacturer based in the Southwest.

Others complain that smaller staffs limit their effectiveness. At a medium-sized cosmetics company in the Northeast a packaging engineer lacks a "mechanical staff to test or improve processes" as well as "clerical staff to organize data."

Budget cuts are also debilitating. Nearly 23% of packaging engineers say they've experienced packaging budget cuts over the last 12 months. "Budget constraints prevent me from securing the proper equipment and systems to improve line flow" complains a packaging department manager at a Southeastern plant of a large food company. Other respondents agreed that they'd like to purchase newer faster more efficient equipment but report they are constrained by the budget.

One of the first casualties in leaner times is training a loss bemoaned by several respondents. "I would [like to] spend more time on personal development" a project engineer in the Mid-Atlantic region at a large food manufacturer tells PW. "I go from project to project [without having the time] to develop my department and myself" he continues. "It's all on-the-job training here."

A packaging engineer at a medium-sized Midwestern pharmaceutical company concurs: "Employee training suffers due to our plant's operational needs." Still another engineer based in the Midwest at a large chemical company writes that he wishes he could spend more time "concentrating on operator training and ownership of the packaging process."

More satisfaction?

What would packaging engineers do if they had more time?

"Almost 99 out of 100 engineers that I talk to wish they could do more with cost savings because they get more job satisfaction out of it" Jim Jeselnick told PW last year in our Packaging 2000 series. (See PW Nov. '96 p. 77.) Jeselnick is president of Quality Search a recruiting company that specializes in packaging personnel. "But these engineers are so busy troubleshooting that oftentimes cost savings [projects] get pushed further and further down the list of priorities" Jeselnick added.

Those remarks were prescient. "If we had more lead time to research sources we could perhaps find more cost savings" wrote a 15-year veteran packaging department manager at a large food company in the Northwest.

Others agreed: "I would spend more time trying to improve the big picture rather than putting out fires" said a packaging engineer at a medium-sized food manufacturer in the Northwest. "Long-range planning researching more/better ways to do things" would be at the top of his wish list.

"Responding to non-priority requests prevents me from working more on value-added activities" says a packaging engineer based in the Southeast at a large food company.

Other frustrations cited by packaging engineers involved financial and accounting restrictions. One packaging engineer at a medium-sized Midwestern food company complained about having to "write capital proposals to many accounting and financial people who do not know anything about manufacturing."

An engineer at a large Northeastern manufacturer says "The company has unrealistic pay-back expectations which prevents savings improvements in material and labor areas."

In the final analysis there appears to be somewhat of a contradiction. Packaging engineers are mostly satisfied with their jobs and pay based on the statistics. But when asked to comment on how they'd prefer to spend their time at work engineers list ample frustrations. Partly this could be because we asked them to complain and part of it could be human nature to gripe.

But much of it may have to do with the accelerated times we live in. A year ago we reported in Packaging 2000 that packaging engineers must learn to cope in a relentlessly paced ultra-competitive future. Judging by the content as well as the tone of remarks by engineers responding to our survey it looks like that future has arrived. c

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