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Salary survey: Even in packaging, it's all about the economy

Article-Salary survey: Even in packaging, it's all about the economy

Given global economic troubles, packaging professionals in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries are feeling the effects of cutbacks and layoffs. But some are finding opportunities by meeting emerging healthcare needs.

No big shocker here: pharmaceutical and medical device packagers are worried about the economy. “Cost cutting and expense controls will minimize or eliminate raises, bonuses, etc.,” wrote one respondent in this year’s salary survey conducted exclusively for Pharmaceutical & Medical Packaging News. “Staffing will be reduced, so everyone does more or works longer.”

Salaries remain stable, though, and they are increasing. The average annual salary for respondents this year is $107,000, and they report an average raise of 4.8%. (In last year’s survey of a separate group of packaging professionals, the average salary was reported to be $100,000 with the same raise rate of 4.8%.)

Survey respondents, however, expressed “concern that [the] poor economy will affect overall compensation. I expect a reduction in benefits, such as 401(k) match, not salary.” Added another respondent: “employee contribution to healthcare costs will increase and/or  benefits will be reduced.”

Despite the frustrations over diminishing benefits, respondents are largely staying put. On a scale from one to five with five representing “very satisfied,” survey respondents selected an average of four. Only 6% of respondents are actively looking for new employment, whereas last year 10% were looking. And a solid majority of those seasoned professionals with more than 15 years’ experience in the industry—73% of them—are not considering a new job search.

As one respondent indicated, companies and their employees may be going through a “retrenchment from [the] economic downturn.” Many companies are going back to product development, and talented employees that can innovate will help their companies survive the downturn. Said another respondent: “Years of service, skill sets, and an increase in the pipeline” will determine personal compensation during the next year.


Mergers and acquisitions are certainly clouding the outlook of packaging professionals. “Between mergers and buyers [sic], many people in my company may find themselves unemployed,” writes a respondent. “Don’t expect any large increase in compensation.” Several other respondents echoed the concern, with one pointing to “company merger and resulting shake out” and another waiting for “consolidation [to] stop.”

“We had a salary freeze this year and hope the economy improves,” said another.

Despite the gloom and doom, respondents did point to some hopeful industry developments. The “general medical device market should be stable or increasing,” expressed one respondent. “So far, orthopedic and spinal markets are not taking the financial hit as other medical device fields are, so I think we’ll progress nicely,” said another.

“In-home care and more-compact and portable devices will help our industry,” wrote one surveyee. Another pointed to “adoption of alternative delivery devices.”

And there are opportunities for packaging professionals with an eye on both  innovation and the bottom line. “[We] need to differentiate packages while staying within profit margin,” wrote one respondent. “Most of the work here is research and development,” added another professional.

The “aging of America” may also present economic opportunity, said one professional.

Many respondents spoke of pending FDA applications as well as products in pipelines. Once those products make it to market, sales will be the determining factor. “Sales will be the main factor for raises in the coming year,” said one staffer.


Research and development and package design professionals continue to be the top earners in the pharmaceutical and medical device packaging industries. The average salary for these developers/designers is $118,000, compared with $108,000 for production/manufacturing/QA/QC professionals and with $95,000 for engineers. All groups received raises averaging 4.8%, with 70% receiving raises that were not tied to promotions or responsibility changes.

Many packaging professionals earn more than general industrial manufacturing professionals. According to Industry Week magazine’s 2009 salary survey, “the average annual salary of manufacturing managers in the United States dropped by 9.7% over the past year, from $105,581 in 2008 to $95,248 in 2009.”

Education and experience may very well contribute to the well-paid salaries in healthcare product packaging. The median salary for a professional with post-graduate study or a degree is $107,000; this drops to $85,000 for college graduates who have not continued formal education, research analysis shows.

The average annual salary for respondents who have spent more than 15 years in the industry is $127,000. This income is $30,000 more than that earned by respondents with 5 to 14 years in the industry, who earn on average $96,000.
The decision makers bring home the most. The average salary for those respondents who authorize or approve purchases is $132,000, and the average salary for managers with five or more employees is $135,000.


The typical respondent has worked in the pharmaceutical or medical device packaging industry for 12 years and has worked for their current employer for 9 years. The average work week is 47.7 hours overseeing 4.8 employees.

Money may have little to do with job satisfaction and the inclination to look for new work. The average salary for those staying put is $109,000, just $4000 more than that of those looking, who earn an average of $105,000.

Workload may also have little to do with undertaking a job search. There was little difference between the average number of hours worked per week: 47.4 hours for those looking, 47.5 for those content with their positions.

Use of the Internet may be helping professionals streamline some of their workload. Ninety-two percent of respondents have gone online for research, with 84% researching suppliers. Fifty-one percent have purchased materials or equipment, but only 4% have held auctions for materials, machines, or services. And 18% are going online to design packages.

Some of the Web’s newer functions may be utilized more slowly. While 63% are logging on to interact with colleagues via e-mail or social networks, only 9% read blogs or use Twitter.

On average, 20% of the packaging responsibilities given to respondents are outsourced to contract packaging companies. Only 6% outsource all packaging operations, while 29% do not outsource.

Respondents to the 2009 Salary Survey

The economy affects day-to-day packaging operations. “General cost reduction due to economy trends affects all areas of manufacturing sales, services, etc.,” expressed one respondent. Another is feeling the inability of “institutions to spend on capital equipment.”

But there is hope, especially for packaging professionals. “The development and integration of new technology to provide competitive advantage” will affect compensation in the coming year, reported one professional. Another strong influence is “the healthcare industry’s decisions to buy quality over quantity.”


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. and conducted March through May of this year. Surveys were mailed to 1200 domestic subscribers, representing 10,743 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 five job functions: engineering, packaging design, production/manufacturing, QA/QC, and research & development.

The years of experience of survey respondents

Of the 1200 mailed surveys, 386 usable responses were returned, representing a 32% response rate. Survey results should be interpreted with this in mind.

The results in this article are based on the responses of 285 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 285 individuals represent an estimated 7900 industry professionals. The margin of error for percentages based on 285 usable responses is ±5.7% 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. 

Below are statistics for respondents in production, manufacturing, and QA/QC:

Below are statistics for respondents in R&D and package design:

Below are statistics for respondents in engineering:

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