The recession officially ended in June 2009. It would be quite an understatement to say things didn’t exactly bounce back right away, but we are hearing from more and more professionals in the plastics industry who haven’t gotten a really good raise in those five years. With corporate profits at all-time highs, and US companies sitting on an estimated $2 Trillion in cash, why have average raises been in the 2-3% range now for years?
Sure, it’s not a simple question. There are considerations like technology, off-shoring, employment costs other than wages (i.e. healthcare), the shift from a manufacturing economy to a service economy, but I’m going to give it to you straight. The way that most professionals get sizeable increases over the course of their careers is changing jobs. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, good or bad, or something we should even accept as a society in the long term, but I am saying that is the way it is right now, and you deny it or ignore it at your own peril.
The reasons for that are not simple either, but consider this: What you are paid typically reflects what you are worth to the person paying you. If you think of the millions of businesses, large and small, your worth is clearly not the same to each of them. I had a friend who was drafted as an offensive lineman in the NFL. In his second year the team got a new offensive coordinator and drafted a top quarterback, and their offense began to rely more on the passing game; in fact it became one of the best in the NFL within a couple years. The problem for my friend was his strength was in power blocking for the running game. He got cut because he wasn’t good for that style, but he got picked up by a team that featured the running game and he had a nice career with them.
If you are an experienced professional in plastics manufacturing or polymer technology, you need to know that unemployment for that group of people is just about zero. In some niches of the industry the unemployment is negative, meaning there are more jobs than people qualified to do them. I don’t have a crystal ball, but it certainly looks like we are entering a period of accelerating growth supported by low interest rates, solid corporate earnings, and tons of cash. Things are changing rapidly in the plastics industry too, for example Wal-Mart’s ‘Made in the USA’ campaign, the increasing demand for light-weighting in transportation, and new polymer technologies that have the potential to obsolete competitive materials within a decade. The next few years could be the most important of your professional career, and you should keep your eyes and ears open.