Nearly Nine out of Ten Drug and Device Packagers Prefer to Stay Put

Enjoying increasing compensation and appreciation, most packagers at medical device and pharmaceutical firms are finding it beneficial to stay with their current employers. However, as companies consolidate or streamline operations to remain competitive, employers are tying compensation to advanced technical knowledge, challenging employees to adapt to automation, computerized control, and other new technologies.

by Daphne Allen, Editor

To borrow the words of one respondent to Pharmaceutical & Medical Packaging News's second annual salary survey, today's healthcare packagers are being "paid to stay put." Just as we uncovered from last year's survey, packaging professionals are enjoying a good labor market—their employers need their expertise and are willing to pay to keep it. As a result, only a small fraction of this year's respondents, 13%, are actively looking for new jobs.

Surprisingly, such stability exists in a market rich with mergers and acquisitions. While a number of respondents indicate that buyouts will affect their personal compensation, many expect the effect to be positive. Despite the downsizing that typically occurs, only four respondents indicated that such transactions could result in some sort of duplication of personnel when they answered an open-ended question about what industry trends may affect their personal compensation. Other respondents spoke of increased responsibilities or the need for more-advanced knowledge or skills in order to keep up with multiple packaging lines or locations falling under one company's new identity.


 

A few respondents reported that such increased responsibilities could lead to higher salaries. For instance, one respondent wrote that "consolidation could change my level of oversight to multiple locations, increasing responsibilities, with perhaps a salary increase." Enterprise resource planning and outsourcing, solutions that many large companies rely on for efficiency, may contribute to a more profitable company and make more money available for incentives, others wrote.


 

To handle such added responsibilities, as well as to demonstrate their value to their employers, healthcare packaging professionals are finding that they need to continue their education by keeping up with new technologies and by learning to operate in an increasingly computerized environment. Wrote one respondent: "My ability to keep pace with changing technology while constantly satisfying market demand for smaller, cheaper, but better devices will probably have a direct impact on my net worth to the company and thus impact compensation directly."

Survey respondents reported a mean annual salary of $73,700, up nearly 4% from $70,900, the average salary indicated in last year's survey. Half of the respondents earn $70,000 or more, and only 5% earn less than $40,000. This year 90% of the respondents received raises averaging 6.3%; last year the average increase was 5.9%. To help readers compare salaries in the packaging industry by job function, region, and other factors, we present the results using charts and figures. We've listed by region the average salary, raise, number of hours worked per week, and length of time at current employer.You'll also find average salary comparisons by type of organization, company sales volume, primary job function, years in industry, level of responsibility, number of employees supervised, and decision-making influence. On the following pages, we've listed results for each of three job functions—production/manufacturing/QA/QC; R&D/package design; and engineering.

Information on the survey design, sample, and methodology can be found at the bottom of this page. This year's results are based on the responses of 466 packaging professionals who indicated that they work full time for either a medical device, pharmaceutical, or other healthcare product manufacturing firm.

STAYING PUT

Job satisfaction among this year's respondents appears to remain as high as it did last year, and for good reason. The average annual salary and the average salary increase for healthcare packagers, $73,700 and 6.3%, respectively, are much higher than those for packaging professionals in general. According to the results of a salary survey conducted in 1999 by Packaging World magazine, the average salary for packaging engineers from all industries was $62,900; the average salary increase was 4.2%.

Interestingly, the majority of the raises in healthcare packaging are not tied to promotions or changes in job responsibilities. Of the 420 respondents this year who received raises from their current employers, only 78, or 19%, of them received raises as part of a promotion or increase in responsibility. Two conclusions could be drawn from such circumstances: either the other 322, or 77%, are being paid more for meeting or exceeding the expectations of their current employer, or their employers are paying them more just to retain them. As one respondent sees it, healthcare firms are paying to retain "top performers." (Twenty survey respondents who reported raises did not indicate whether they were the result of a promotion or increase in responsibility.)


 

Another way to determine whether healthcare product packagers are satisfied with their current employment is to look at their tenure, both in the industry and at their current company. On average, respondents have been involved with healthcare packaging for 11 years and have been at their current organization 8.4 years. Nearly 9 out of 10 professionals are not actively looking for new positions.

Other reasons for staying put include incentives based on company profits, stock options, and additional rewards. By indicating a rating of 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale where 5 equals very satisfied and 1 equals not at all satisfied, about two-thirds of the respondents expressed a high level of satisfaction with their current positions.

DEMAND FOR HIGH-TECH PERSONNEL

Even though only about one-fifth of the survey respondents indicated that they received raises as a result of a promotion or increased responsibilities, it is clear from the responses to the open-ended question that compensation in healthcare packaging depends greatly on increasing knowledge and skills. Several respondents spoke of the need to adapt to automation, complicated packaging configurations, complex regulations, new technologies, and new controls—all of which demand a more sophisticated packaging professional.

Automation was cited by a significant number of respondents as affecting personal compensation. Filling and packaging operations, motion control, production, records, and other processes and systems are all being automated, requiring packaging professionals to study emerging technologies like robotics and advanced computer control. Said one respondent: "Packaging equipment and systems will involve more programmable logic controls and computerized controls; therefore, technical skills will be required to support the equipment and process." Such skills will translate into higher wages. As another respondent explained, "Further automation and more-complicated packaging configurations should increase compensation due to the amount of knowledge and experience necessary to implement such complicated systems."

Companies may be adopting advanced technologies in order to become more efficient and therefore more competitive. For example, one respondent wrote that "automation and robotics will affect compensation because they could raise departmental efficiencies." Also, efficiency will be necessary as companies grow through consolidation. Explained one respondent: "Automation and computer-generated information will affect compensation due to the volume of data collected from each lab site."

Similar to last year's sample, respondents this year spoke of a shortage of personnel who can handle such advancements. For example, there is a "lack of experienced managerial personnel and those who can adapt to the changing industry and regulations," said one respondent. Added another: "Growth in the medical device industry is creating a greater demand for an already-scarce supply of experienced people in the quality, regulatory, and clinical areas."

The shortage, however, may benefit qualified individuals in terms of compensation, but not in workload. "As the market becomes tighter and it is harder to find quality personnel, that will tend to drive compensation up," wrote one respondent. Added another: "Industry consolidation may have a negative effect, but it will be possibly offset by a shortage of qualified candidates."


 

However, the qualified may be asked to put in more time training others. "I will be doing more training and education of our employees in areas such as GMPs, ISO 9000 standards, and safety," said one respondent. It is unclear whether the shortage of qualified packaging personnel requires those who are qualified to work longer hours. In both last year's and this year's surveys, respondents did speak of a personnel shortage and did work on average 48.1 and 48.9 hours per week, respectively. But no mention was made of whether the extra hours were spent on training or on juggling the responsibilities of more than one position. To really determine whether there is a correlation, responses from future survey samples will need to be monitored closely.


 

OTHER FACTORS

On average, packaging professionals who work for pharmaceutical manufacturing firms earn $12,600 more than their counterparts at medical device companies, according to survey data. Professionals who work for firms with sales volumes greater than $250 million can add about $5000 more to their paychecks than can those who work for firms with volumes less than $250 million.

As expected, obvious factors like increased responsibility, purchasing power, and length of time at job and in industry translate into higher compensation.

Engineering is still the lowest-paid job function, but not by as much as it was according to last year's survey sample. Professionals whose primary role is in engineering earn $71,200, up from last year's figure of $62,100. Packagers who are involved in research and development or package design lead the group this year with an average salary of $81,600, up 15% from $70,700. However, those who work in production, manufacturing, or quality assurance (QA) or quality control (QC) receive an average of $71,600, down by $4600 from $76,200. PMP News will watch for this downswing in future surveys to determine whether production, manufacturing, and QA/QC salaries are actually dropping.

There do appear to be strong correlations between salary and gender and between salary and race this year. Professionals who consider themselves white or Caucasian earn on average $6600 more per year than those who consider themselves another ethnicity, and males typically earn $14,900 more than females. Specifically, white professionals reported average annual salaries of $74,800; other ethnicities reported salaries of $68,200. Males earn average salaries of $76,200, while females earn $61,300. It should be noted, however, that other factors may be at play in determining the salaries of these different groups, such as education, length of time in industry and at job, and level of responsibility.

Interestingly, percentages of salary increases do not appear to be based on gender or race. In fact, ethnicities other than white reported raises of 7.4%, compared with raises of 6.1% for whites. Men and women are receiving nearly identical increases of 6.3% and 6.5%, respectively.

OUTLOOK

Healthcare product manufacturing firms are appreciating their packaging personnel more now than in the past. Just like last year's group, this year's spoke of the "higher visibility of packaging in organizations" and the "escalating role of packaging engineers."

Low unemployment and a strong job market are also making healthcare packaging an attractive niche. Said one survey respondent: There are many "opportunities in the packaging field, such as management and engineering."

As mentioned earlier, most healthcare packaging professionals are staying put, enjoying the increasing compensation and appreciation bestowed upon them by their employers. A few, though, may bank on the qualified personnel shortage and test the waters. Perhaps they will be as lucky as one respondent, who reported that his "last career move increased his salary by 20%."

SALARY SURVEY METHODOLOGY

The data for this year's survey were obtained during a mail survey of PMP News subscribers. The survey was designed jointly by PMP News and Readex Inc. (St. Paul, MN) and conducted March through May of this year. Surveys were mailed to 1000 subscribers who represent 8436 packaging professionals who work for manufacturers of medical devices, pharmaceuticals, clinical diagnostics, and vitamins.

The survey sample was limited to only those with one of these job functions: engineering, package design, production/manufacturing, QA/QC, and research and development. To ensure representation of key recipients only, known suppliers to the industry and those with job titles of administrative assistant, attorney, buyer, CEO, CFO, consultant, owner, president, purchasing, or secretary were manually omitted from the sample by the editors.

Out of the 1000 mailed surveys, 530 subscribers returned usable responses, representing a response rate of 53%. The results presented in this article are based on the 466 respondents who indicated that they are involved with healthcare product packaging and work full time for one of the types of manufacturers listed above. The margin of error for percentages based on 466 usable responses is ±4.4% at the 95% confidence level. The margin of error for percentages based on smaller sample sizes—males or females, for example—will be larger.

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