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Employees report: Doing more with less Is mandatory

Article-Employees report: Doing more with less Is mandatory

Packaging professionals in the pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturing industries are feeling the effects of constrained budgets, smaller staffs, and more responsibilities, yet job satisfaction runs high. Are these professionals challenged by the task of doing more with less, or just thankful they are still employed full time?

Packaging professionals in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries are earning healthy salaries, bringing home an average annual salary of $115,000 boosted by an average raise of 3.5%, report respondents toPharmaceutical & Medical Packaging News’s 2014 annual salary survey. Respondents working for a pharmaceutical manufacturer on average earn $115,100, whereas those working for medical device manufacturers earn an average of $116,900. Respondents working in research & development/package design functions earn $128,000 on average; those in engineering, $107,000; and those in production/manufacturing, $103,800.

Survey respondents are sticking with the same employer, with nearly half (48.7%) working for the same company for 10 years or more. And about half (49.5%) are satisfied with their current position; an additional 19.8% are very satisfied.

Only 15% of respondents are actively looking for a new job outside their company. Just over 50% are not even considering a job search.

But there’s increasing pressure on pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers and in turn on packaging teams. Could the growing pressure on packaging professionals be why 34% of respondents, while not actively looking, are considering a job search?

Survey respondents describe experiencing “increased capacity, reduced staffing,” as well as “restructuring, lack of hiring, downsizing, more work with less people.” In some cases, survey respondents describe having “no direct reports” at all.

The stress is apparent in survey respondents’ verbatim comments.

“Doing more with [fewer] resources is mandatory,” reports one professional.

Such a skeleton approach to packaging is taking place at a time when some companies are experiencing what respondents describe as “a rapid pace” of growth.

Packaging departments are having to “change how [the] team thinks and works,” because today’s approach is “lean, lean, lean,” says one professional.

PMP News asked managers among the survey respondents about the effect of the economy on their experiences, and many spoke of a negative impact.

There’s “no approval for overtime at all,” wrote one manager.

Another is “coping with keeping staff motivated during a time of retention uncertainty and limited vision.”

Nonetheless, some managers report that it is “hard to find adequate engineers,” and one reports that “we continue to add head count.”

Reports another: “With the economy picking up and our companies [sic] use of temporary head count, I have noticed that it is harder to find great employees.”

And another manager speaks of “managing resources globally” and “hiring replacement positions abroad.”

Another respondent describes “working more [globally] as we transition work to other areas of the world from the US.”

There is good news for those experienced packaging professionals looking for a position: “FTEs with good 
experience are more expensive to hire.”

But employees describe the current situation as “difficult; it has been a time of uncertainty due to escalating regulatory challenges and acquisitions.”

They speak of “very, very small raises,” “annual merit increases and bonuses reduced,” “reduced compensation, increased responsibility,” “travel budget constraints,” and “more work as employees are not being replaced.”

One employee states that “I am much more concerned about staying employed as the recession really brought home the fear of being let go.”

That fearful employee is not alone: “Suddenly managers attempt to motivate through fear of unemployment,” said another respondent.

And another describes circumstances that have “increased my level of stress over concerns I may lose my job.”

As a result, “job opportunities have remained stagnate, as have salaries. Unable to replace roles that have been vacated, putting the burden of more work on already over burdened employees, with little if any increase in salary,” says one survey 

Still, others report that the economy has had “no effect,” with one stating that it “has not affected our company. We are growing at a rapid pace; sales projected to double in 2014.”

And one respondent reports “more volume at this site.”

Companies “are tending to hire consultants from temp agencies more than ever rather than bring on permanent employees,” explains a survey respondent.

One reports that “if a direct report leaves” one particular company, “they are not automatically replaced. I have been forced to use more contractors.”

Says another: “We don’t hire FTEs, hire contractors.”

Such responses seemed to echo discussions I had recently with consultants who serve on PMP News’s Editorial Advisory Board. Originally employed by leading pharmaceutical or medical device manufacturers, these professionals are now consulting for the industry on a range of packaging challenges.

John Bitner, president of Bitner Associates Inc., reports that “staffs have been and still are being reduced. Companies are now realizing the consequences. They no longer have extensive technical expertise and must look for external resources. Packaging engineers are far more willing to say, ‘Help me!’ ” And in many cases, these companies are “getting assistance for a single project,” he adds.

D. Bruce Cohen, principal of PackTechPlus LLC, too, says that “there’s not enough resources to get the work done, so they end up calling contractors and consultants.”

Curt Larsen, principal of Spartan Design Group, reports that “a lot of large companies are finding that some of their acquisitions do not have packaging expertise. Instead, these smaller companies have depended on test labs and suppliers for guidance.”

Apart from straining the remaining staff, could there be other consequences to leaner packaging departments?

Lean times may be impacting packaging decisions. “There is definitely an emphasis on cost cutting with packaging and packaging components as well as an emphasis on reducing the costs of new packaging development,” reports one survey respondent.

“Money is not as readily available for projects,” says another.

Manufacturers are struggling with “engineering and quality issues,” reports Bitner. “There’s not enough expertise in house or under one roof.”

And with “fewer resources, there’s no time for “what-ifs,” observes Cohen. In some cases, he says, there’s “no one left who knows what to do—there’s no one with company history.”

Larsen reports that he and fellow principal of Spartan Design Group John Spitzley are spending much of their consulting time helping companies “repair self-inflicted wounds.”

Explains Spitzley: “almost every issue is some sort of remediation issue, fixing a quality problem.”

In some cases, companies are “over testing” and experiencing some sort of failure in the lab, but there have been no problems with products on the market nor any field complaints, Larsen says.

“Many don’t know what they should be doing when testing or validating package designs. They may be over testing in climatic testing programs, testing a package for a week when the distribution cycle is only a couple days,” he says.

Manufacturers in this position may spend more time reacting to issues rather than preventing future ones. For instance, “if you have a recall from a leak you didn’t catch at production, you spend more money to fix the problem,” says Cohen.

He recounts having once purchased new leak testing equipment while working for a drug manufacturer. “We ran hundreds of leak tests and built up a database of data. We could even predict what containers would have shelf life trouble. In today’s manufacturing environment, I couldn’t bring forward such ideas. Now everyone is so focused on reducing costs.”

Quality problems often have serious consequences. “Even companies when first to file pack millions of commercial product then struggle when a foreign substance is detected in that product, like printing ink excipients that have transferred from that package. Or they discover cracked or missing tablets gone undetected on the packaging line until they reach their overseas destination,” Bitner says.

The solution is a better understanding of regulations and consensus standards. “Companies need to look at ISO standards and others and complete the necessary training. If you understand ISO 11607 and ISO TS16775, for instance, it all makes sense,” says Spitzley.

Adds Larsen: “A lot of problems are the results of misunderstandings and assumptions.”

Fixing problems instead of preventing them may also be draining resources. “So many resources are dedicated to remediation; no one is investing in new packaging development,” says Larsen. “Packaging development is often left to new product development teams, and some aren’t developing any new packaging.”

And the pressure on today’s packaging teams could be increasing. Manufacturers need “faster/longer runs,” says Bitner, with an emphasis on productivity.

“The dichotomy is, at the same time, clients and their markets want shorter, diversified production runs requiring changeovers and higher component prices,” he continues. “Less-expensive packaging or innovative design, both priorities confronted with a shortage of skilled/well-trained personnel.”

Helping companies navigate industry challenges may demonstrate both the value of packaging along with the value of a particular packaging team.

“More development will bring more challenge and possibly more pay raise,” hopes one packaging 

Bitner advocates a “philosophy change” in which packaging professionals work with “R&D and lab techs on the bench at the birth of an idea and match that idea with what packaging engineers are capable of doing on the manufacturing floor.”

Such a change requires packagers to “become more involved, contributing at all levels of management, with many disciplines,” Bitner continues. “Packaging is a compromise, but it is getting away from us. When packaging technology interacts directly with research, marketing, and sales, all parties benefit. Ultimately the company as a whole thrives, and the patient survives. Packaging must take its position in marketing, sales, research, discovery ... the early stages of product/market conceptualization/development. Millions of dollars are lost and opportunities for patients sacrificed because of late-arriving catastrophes.”

Packaging professionals must develop the “ability and interest to see ahead,” Bitner concludes.

But survey respondents do worry that other issues will have an impact on future compensation.

Several survey respondents mention the influence of the Affordable Care Act, with one stating that the “medical device tax is hurting our profits.”

One respondent says that “changing healthcare trends may reduce sales.”

And yet another respondent reports that “more intense material cost reductions from hospital purchasing groups will squeeze 

Larger issues may have an impact, too. One respondent points to “performance, labor market and economy,” while another to “whether U.S. manufacturing gets a favorable bump, or whether more manufacturing is moved offshore.”

Finally, “merger and consolidation of large companies results in downsizing. Products going off patent result in less overall money to spend, which means [fewer] project kick-offs, smaller bonuses, and restricted travel,” says one 

Data and verbatim responses were obtained during an online survey of Pharmaceutical & Medical Packaging Newssubscribers. A total of 7,967 individuals were invited via e-mail to complete a Web-based survey from June 2, 2014, to July 7, 2014. The survey was closed with 134 total responses, a 1.7% response rate.

The results presented in this article are based on the 113 respondents who indicated that they work full time at organizations best described as one of the following: a manufacturer of medical devices, pharmaceuticals, in vitro diagnostics, or nutritional 

Respondents who appeared to work outside these organizations were manually removed from the results before final tabulation.

Respondents were allowed to skip certain questions; in this article, we have provided the number of respondents answering certain questions.

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