Packaging More, with Less
Salaries are increasing for professionals packaging pharmaceuticals and medical devices, but economy woes and industry trends are pressuring them to add to their workload.
by Daphne Allen
Salaries for packaging engineers and related positions in pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturing continue to be healthy. PMP News’s 2008 salary survey demonstrates a stable workforce generally pleased with their jobs and industry.
According to survey respondents, the average annual salary for packaging engineers is $90,000, while production/manufacturing/quality assurance and control professionals earn on average $100,000 and packaging designers, researchers, and developers make $109,000. Raises average about 4.8%. Only 5% of survey respondents have received no salary increase from their current employer. (For detailed snapshots of salaries and characteristics for specific positions, see the full-page figures in this article.)
Technology and market needs are driving innovation and rewarding professionals who perform. But healthcare product packagers are not immune to general uneasiness about the economy. A struggling U.S. economy and the upcoming presidential election are influencing the overall outlook of manufacturing industries—and packagers are feeling it in their compensation. “The economy downslide not related to industry will be the largest [influence] on compensation,” responded one packaging professional.
Roles are changing, too. Emerging concerns like “sustainability” and “electronic pedigrees” are challenging today’s drug and device packaging professionals to approach projects a little differently.
Thankfully, advances in automation and packaging materials and the ability to utilize them are giving packagers hope that they can meet industry needs and stay ahead of any swings in the economy.
COST CONTROLS DEMAND PERFORMANCE
Every industry is seeing rising costs, and healthcare product packaging is no different. Survey respondents point to rising resin, raw materials, freight, and energy costs influencing compensation. “Everything, at this point in time,” writes one packager.
Manufacturers are looking to control costs. An “increase in commodity pricing will pressure cost containment,” reports one professional. As a result, departments are feeling “increased pressure on head count expenses.”
The general economy is a factor. “Economic downturn negatively affecting sales may force trimming of increases,” one respondent laments.
Advancing skills and better technology can come to the packager’s rescue. “New technology that provides agility and improves operating efficiency” will affect salaries, shares one survey respondent. “People need to keep abreast with change, be more productive, and stay competitive in terms of technical knowledge, process understanding, and innovation.”
Performance is critical. “Productivity [must] increase as per forecast or no increase,” predicts one packager. “Corporate target for expansion must be met or no bonus.”
The industry is a well-educated one. Nearly 9 in 10 are college graduates, with 34% holding postgraduate degrees.
Some respondents do report a shortage of qualified professionals, which makes the available ones more valuable. “Shortage of experienced talent will result in above-average wage increases.”
Adds another: “Medical devices is still a strong industry, and engineering and program managers are an important aspect of that.”
Such education is put to the test, as workload may be building. “My compensation will marginally increase while responsibilities and timelines continue to become more rigorous,” says one packaging professional. “Pay is decreasing, really.”
Scaling up pilot programs to support pending electronic pedigree rules is on everyone’s mind. Manufacturers are relying on packaging professionals to support serialization on the packaging line. As a result, packagers are now dabbling in software, real-time coding, and data collection, among other new tasks.
Deadlines may be a few years away, but packagers are being asked to widen their expertise now to start developing programs. One survey respondent reports that his responsibility is to “stay abreast of pedigree legislation and determine how it affects our company, and ensure our compliance.”
“How well e-pedigree and other special-needs projects are researched and implemented will be key,” writes another survey respondent.
These days, healthcare packaging professionals are often “striving for more environmentally sustainable packaging,” writes one survey respondent. But the effort isn’t solely to protect the earth. “If the company can save money on [fewer] components for packaging, I will/should receive a nice raise.”
Conversely, some packagers understand that greener packaging may actually cost more, and that, too, could affect employee compensation. It “may cost me money for environmentally friendlier packaging,” says one professional.
Another respondent agrees that “sustainability” will affect personal compensation, but perhaps more in incentives. This professional is “identifying [such] opportunities and implementing [them] to meet department goals. Failure to meet goals results in poor review (performance) and lower merit increase at year-end.”
“More and more, design-oriented products, which means better-looking products, are going to sell better than the rest,” says one packager.
Of course, as beneficial as new technology will be to new projects, some existing product lines and their project managers may suffer. “In my company, I’m seeing more emphasis and resources being devoted to innovation and design, while the maintenance of the current marketed products is being neglected.”
The typical survey respondent has been in the healthcare product packaging industry for more than a decade, and one-third have been working in it for 20 years or more. Veterans are often involved in groups driving standards development and industry consensus, and their leadership is valued.
Newer professionals with talent are in demand to fill open positions, however, and their ability to glean knowledge from the veterans will be critical to industry consistency as well as progress. With recent trends favoring automation, item serialization, and sustainability, the challenge for both camps will be to work together to meet market demands and emerging regulations while upholding the principles of consistency and reliability—critical to package and process validation.
Perhaps as a sign of progress, nearly all respondents (97%) have used the Internet to perform their jobs in the last year. Nearly 9 in 10 have used it for research, with 79% researching suppliers. Forty-nine percent have purchased materials or equipment over the Internet.
Several respondents indicated that “outsourcing” could influence compensation, especially efforts to move operations overseas. One respondent pointed to “outsourcing to China, buying more products from China, and closing manufacturing operations.”
However, respondents largely handle packaging in-house. Only 16% indicated that half or more of their packaging responsibilities are outsourced to a contract packager. Twenty-six percent outsource no packaging functions. On average, 21.9% of packaging responsibilities are outsourced.
Interestingly, as much as respondents point to the economy’s negative influence on compensation, there are some bright spots. “As the U.S. dollar drops on the world markets, U.S. manufacturing looks more attractive,” points out one respondent.
Agrees another: “The value of the dollar is making U.S.-sourced goods more attractive.” However, outsourcing is affecting compensation. “The trend to move manufacturing out of the United States makes my salary look high.”
But other forces in the economy are buoying the industry. “Baby boomers retiring [creates] more visibility for the younger generation,” writes another.
And, of course, the aging of America drives demand for medical devices and pharmaceuticals, which some predict could boost manufacturing. The “health/medical industry [is] increasing about 10% per year with baby boomers aging,” says one packager. For this professional, “compensation with bonuses should mirror increased sales rate.”
Respondents therefore expect “increased production and increased demand for manufacturing and packaging.”
Some respondents await “healthcare reform” and expect that a “change in political leadership” will affect compensation. “Political aim toward reducing drug costs will likely reduce our profit and thus compensation,” writes one respondent.
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 May through June of this year. Surveys were mailed to 1200 domestic subscribers, representing 11,606 packaging professionals who work for manufacturers of medical devices, pharmaceuticals, in vitro diagnostics, and nutritional supplements.
The sample was limited to only those with one of these job functions: engineering, packaging design, production/manufacturing, QA/QC, and research and development.
Of the 1200 mailed surveys, 360 usable responses were returned, representing a 30% response rate. Because usable responses were received from less than half the survey sample, the possibility exists that those who did not respond might have answered differently than those who did. Survey results should be interpreted with this in mind.
The results in this article are based on the responses of 258 respondents who indicated that they are involved with healthcare product packaging and work full time for a medical device manufacturer, in vitro diagnostic manufacturer, pharmaceutical manufacturer, and/or nutritional supplement manufacturer. Statistically speaking, these 258 individuals represent an estimated 8300 industry professionals. The margin of error for percentages based on 258 usable responses is ±6% at the 95% confidence level. The margin of error for percentages based on smaller sample sizes—males or females, for example—will be larger.
The survey was conducted by Readex in accordance with accepted research standards and practices.