How Happy are Manual Material Handlers with their Careers?

DSC_6717There have been a lot of changes over the past five years, and material handling has been an interesting industry to follow. Warehousing and manufacturing experienced some setbacks with the recession, but they have had a comeback in the last couple of years – and with politicians rooting them on. The time of layoffs and hiring freezes is over, and now the struggle is exactly the opposite. Manual materials handling needs more employees, and the qualified ones are tough to find. Additionally, material handling is preparing to employ the oldest workers in history; the baby boomers are working later into their years. This does keep experience present in the field, but it also presents some unique challenges. So what kind of satisfaction can someone expect if he or she enters the field?

Modern Materials Handling (MMH) conducted their sixth annual salary survey, and the results are quite positive. Of the 735 respondents, 91% said they like their jobs and would recommend the material handling profession to others. If that weren’t good enough news, 55% said they intended to complete their careers with their current employer. This overview of the survey is amazing. It accounts for a wide variety of industries and experience. The respondents work in: food, beverage, and tobacco; automotive and transportation equipment; wholesale trade; retail trade; chemicals and pharmaceuticals; industrial machinery; and third-party logistics. More than half of the respondents have been in the field for over 20 years, and 17% have over 30 years in the field.

Keep in mind that material handling is also one of the three professions that report the greatest number of injuries and illnesses per year – and still 91 percent like and recommend the field to others. Let’s look at some of the other statistics the survey uncovered.

One of the first questions people ask about a field is how much money can be made in it. According to the survey, manual material handling professionals make quite the decent living, especially comparing their average salaries to the average of all professions. The national average wage index for 2012 was $44,321. The average salary for material handling was over $89,000 in 2012 and over $94,000 in 2013. According to MMH, “Those with supervisory responsibilities can expect to earn 30% more than their non-supervisor colleagues… Those with budgetary responsibilities will earn about 40% more than those without.” Experience plays a large role in salary, too, and most of the respondents were around 51 years old. That doesn’t mean that someone just starting in the field won’t make a livable income, though, and after a short time, they, too, will see a big hike in pay. “In 2009, 25% of the survey’s respondents reported earning base salaries of six figures or more. In 2013, that number rose to 32% with 10% earning $150,000 or more (up from 8% last year)… On average, those who have been in the industry less than five years can expect to earn $55,000. But, their next five years could see a 27% increase to an average of $70,000.”

Job stability and resilience in the economy may factor into the high satisfaction as well. In the last 12 months, companies experienced the following:

  • 56% were hiring – up 10% from 2011
  • 30% saw reduced overtime
  • Only 29% saw a reduction in benefits
  • Only 27% experienced a hiring freeze in the last year
  • 26% experienced layoffs compared to 37% in 2011
  • 25% experienced pay cuts or salary freeze compared to 36% in 2011.

As for the actual statistics on career satisfaction, the numbers look great. Only 3% of respondents were either not very satisfied or not at all satisfied. 24 percent were only somewhat satisfied, and a whopping 56% were very satisfied with their careers. All of these numbers were better than the previous two years except for those extremely satisfied. 17 percent made up those respondents for this year compared to 20 percent in 2012 and 2011.

Survey participants cited a couple of things outside of pay that factored into their happiness: “Materials handling professionals report they feel more valued in their roles as their organizations recognize the value of the supply chain to the bottom line and customer satisfaction. A consistent theme throughout the survey’s short answer section is that each day brings a new challenge.”

Looking at the recent trends in manufacturing, like lean and just-in-time, one wonders if they correlate with the overall high job satisfaction and salary.

Thinking back to the high risk for injury in the field, it is also possible that ergonomic improvements, safety programs, and automated equipment accounts for a rise in productivity, profit, earnings, and morale. The survey also collected data on what makes people look for other jobs.

With 21% of respondents passively looking for new jobs, and 5% actively looking, it’s worth knowing why. The major theme is stress level. Forty-four percent of participants said their jobs were either “very” or “extremely” stressful. This seemed to either be the same or more stressful than two years ago. Their complaints included:

  • Workload
  • Not enough people
  • Balancing home and work life
  • Questionable management decisions
  • Working with outdated technologies

It looks like the major problems in the field still resonate with the issues that industry representatives are currently trying to tackle: hiring and improvements to operations. The good news is that developments are made on those fronts, and some are very aggressive. Schools are amping up their material handling-related programs. The manufacturing industry is working hard to raise awareness and enthusiasm for the career. Technology is ever evolving and becoming more affordable. Awareness, reward, and participation in ergonomic improvement programs is ongoing and growing. All of these factors should help to relieve several of the issues described above. And what happens if these main items are resolved? It seems that material handling may just be the most ideal job in the world.

Load Movers Inc. is a company that builds quality power tugs that reduce injury and increase productivity in manual material handling. They are popular with companies who switch to lean, green, and just-in-time operations; they are reported to spare employees of injury and improve productivity significantly. Their applications vary immensely. For more information on Load Movers, search this site, email info@loadmoverinc.com, or call 952-767-1720.