Chemical industry starts to shine through clouds

In its third year, Chemical Processing’s online salary and job satisfaction survey results provides reasons for optimism. The record 1,830 survey respondents’ answers indicate salaries, raises, bonuses and job satisfaction are all moving in a positive direction.

By Ken Schnepf, managing editor

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In just one year, the dark clouds over the chemical industry have cleared up and the sun is beginning to shine again, according to the respondents of the 2007 Chemical Processing Salary and Job Satisfaction Survey. Salaries, raises, bonuses and job satisfaction have significantly improved compared to last year’s survey results.

Over the three years that the online survey has been offered, the average salaries reported have steadily climbed [to avoid using increase so much in graf] from $85,234 in 2005 to $89,690 in 2006 and to $90,038 this year (Table 1). Average pay increases were 3% in 2005, 3.84% in 2006 and are now 4.28%. The average bonus received has risen from $4,534.31 in 2005 to $4,794.50 in 2006 and today is $6,069.12.

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The number of participants in the survey also has steadily increased with 1,830 for this year’s survey versus 1,258 in 2006 and 1,205 in 2005 the first year the survey was available. Chemical Processing readers were invited via e-mail, electronic newsletter or at www.ChemicalProcessing.com to participate in the online survey.

Perhaps the survey respondents sum things up best. “The future of an engineering degree appears to be brighter than ever,” says one participant. “The U.S.A. will continue to need bright and dedicated individuals to apply their technical skills and knowledge to solve ongoing problems for many years. Therefore, I would tell an individual that if they have an interest in things technical, an engineering degree will open many doors, and provide a fruitful and fulfilling career.”

“Good opportunities lie ahead,” comments another participant.

“Stick with it. Engineering is a challenging field, but the rewards are worth the time and effort spent,” says yet another.

Further delving into the survey results reveals the average age of respondents has dipped to 46.3 this year, compared to 47 in each of the prior surveys. The top three annual salary ranges for respondents are between $95,001 to $100,000 (128 or 7.3%), followed closely by the $125,001 to $150,000 category (127 or 7.2%) and then the $90,001 to $95,000 (119 or 6.8%) range.

For wage increases, 1,066 (61.6%) of respondents say they received a raise of between 2.5% to 5%. Another 319 (18.4%) say they received a less than 2.5% raise, while 135 (7.8%) got 5.1% to 7.5%. Additionally, 88 (5.1%) or respondents garnered more than 10% while 27 (1.6%) received a pay cut. More people reported having received a salary increase in less than one year (1,215 or 69.7%) compared to 2006 respondents when (770 or 63.5%) said the same.

Does the job bring satisfaction?

Not surprisingly, along with salaries, bonuses and raises, respondents’ overall job satisfaction also improved (Figure 1).

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A slightly greater number of respondents called themselves satisfied, 87.3% versus 85.6% in 2006, but more were highly satisfied. Last year, 87 (7.3%) of survey participants said they experienced a very high level of job satisfaction compared to 136 (7.9%) of this year’s respondents.

Another 658 (38.3%) of this year’s respondents say their job provides a high level of satisfaction, which is an increase over last year’s 429 (35.8%) reporting a high job satisfaction rate. This year, 706 or 41.1% of respondents say they are somewhat satisfied with their jobs which is just short of last year’s 509 or 42.5% who said the same.

One respondent undoubtedly speaks for many: “Job satisfaction is based half on the job and half on the environment of the job. The environment includes the value of your salary (can you afford the things you need and want at the job location?), the location of the office (is it in or close to an area you want to make your home?), can you pursue your extracurricular activities (If you like mountain climbing, Iowa may not be a good job location), and do the pros always outweigh the cons when you look at your life,” job included.”“I initially chose my current employer because of a narrow area of interest,” says another survey participant. “My success led to other opportunities in the company, and now I am doing completely different work than I had expected. The dynamic opportunities suit me well and provide constant challenges.”

Fewer respondents reported a poor level of job satisfaction (178 or 10.4%) than those who reported the same in the 2006 survey (136 or 11.4%).  There were also fewer respondents (41 or 2.4%) who say they have very poor job satisfaction compared to 36 or 3% in that category last year.

“I like my job. I feel I'm adequately compensated — sometimes the work becomes very rote and I don't like that,” says one respondent. “I also don't have many/any advancement opportunities and creating your own in a company that values sales over production [is] difficult when you’re on the production side.”
Lack of recognition troubles respondents most about their jobs (Figure 2). This year, 662 or 41.2% of survey participants and in 2006, 475 or 43.2% most often identified lack of recognition as what they disliked about their jobs.

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“I don't like the fact that people paint the industry with a brush that was created in the ‘60s and ‘70s with respect to pollution and safety when, in fact, we are one of the cleanest and safest industries around,” says one respondent. “Also, the fact that people classify ‘chemicals’ as bad even though everything is made up of chemicals is very frustrating.”

The hours and workload was selected by 488 or 30.4% of participants as what they dislike most about their jobs. This was closely followed by the company work environment which concerened 469 or 29.2% of respondents most. “As an older chemist, I've found the core work remains exciting and challenging, but there seems to be much more ‘extraneous stuff’ that has nothing to do with what I'm really excited about,” explains one participant. “What I mean is there seems to be more attempt to control and measure the output of technical workers. This is demotivating and stifles creative processes.”

Split on public perceptions

Half of this year’s survey respondents say that negative public perception of the industry bothers them, while the other half say that it does not (Figure 3). The same was true for those who responded to the 2006 survey.

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“There isn’t much I can do to change the public's perception of the chemical and oil industries,” says a respondent. “It’s certainly more exciting to the visual and print media to show explosions, derailed trains and fires rather than explain to the public what they get from these industries versus what their parents or their grandparents had. The amount of free time people have now is much greater than it was 50 years ago. The chemical and oil industries have played a big part in this happening indirectly.”

Job security

Chemical engineers remain confident about their job security (Figure 4).

Most respondents (875 or 51.6%) believe there is either no chance or a very slight chance that they will be laid off within two years. Another 437 or 25.8% believe the chances of a layoff are slight, with 290 or 17.1% saying there is a moderate chance, 60 or 3.5% believing it is likely and just 34 or 2% who say it is very likely. However, respondents’ comments show a bit of uneasiness about the future.

“I like the work I do, but there is a great many things that could be improved,” says a participant. “With the decline in manufacturing and increased international outsourcing, I worry about the work environment our children will face.”

A number of survey participants say, in various ways, that the industry is losing too many jobs overseas and that they would not advise younger people to get into the field. Several respondents identified concerns about China taking jobs away from the U.S.

“It is difficult to have longevity with a single employer anymore,” says a respondent. “The business climate encourages many to ‘do more with less,’ so companies often let good employees go because they need a quick change to their bottom line. Individuals have to remain aware that loyalty and service to a company doesn't guarantee that they'll be kept if reorganization occurs.”

Still, based on this year’s survey results, things are brightening up.

Winner of iPod

Vincent Vellella, president, Veletec Corp., Moon Township, Pa. is the randomly selected winner of the 30GB video iPod offered by Chemical Processing for participating this year’s survey. We appreciate all the respondents’ answers and comments.

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