It should be intuitively obvious that take-home pay is a measure of the value an employer puts on the work being done at this place and at this time. In the macro economy, it boils down to the balance between the number of people willing to do some job and the number of employers having a need for the skill level being offered. The balance can be fluid, changing from year to year. Every town once had several shoe repair shops. How many do you see now?
Salary surveys are commonly used by both sides of the hiring table. Many times, though, someone ignores the caveats. The survey depends on statistics, which raises questions about the margin of error; population size, sample size and the number of respondents; and whether they were randomly or self-selected. In the latter case, there’s a tendency for only those making a good buck to respond; the others don’t want to admit they’re getting only chicken feed.
In the ideal world, we’d find a salary survey completed within the past month to better reflect the current economic realities out there. It would be based on a population of multiple thousands and use a truly random sample size sufficient to guarantee a very low margin of error. The respondents would be totally open, truthful people who perform exactly the same work that you’re performing. The questions asked would be of a sufficient quantity and quality that would allow you to apply a multiple regression analysis to yield a meaningful personalized comparison to the numbers printed on your pay stub.
Because such ideality doesn’t exist, we’ve got to gather and digest as many inputs as possible. That’s why this month’s dive into the digital morass we call the Web is in search of practical, zero-cost, noncommercial, registration-free wage and salary resources that might come in handy one day. Remember, we search the Web so you don't have to.
The big picture
If you want a high-level view of the maintenance pay issue, you can take a look down on “Upward mobility,” a 900-word article by Bob Vavra, which is found at www.plantengineering.com/article/CA6519485.html. It offers an executive summary of the results garnered from 1,200 maintenance professionals who participated in a salary survey. Unfortunately, the information here isn’t granular enough to reveal how regional differences, job title and other relevant variables affect the reported pay scales.
On the other hand, in 1996, Sandy Dunn, who lives in Como, Western Australia, got fed up with the lack of industrial maintenance resources he needed to improve things at the plant where he worked. So, in 1999, he launched his own online venture, the Plant Maintenance Resource Center, intending to aggregate links to the materials that plant maintenance professionals need to succeed. As you can imagine, the site has grown during the past nine years and, of course, he conducts a salary survey each year. It’s open to maintenance workers worldwide, but most of the participants come from the United States, a demographic factor that could suggest that the information presented reasonably reflects pay rates where you live. Freely available at www.plant-maintenance.com/survey.shtml, the results include the raw data and are sorted by industry, country, job function, educational level and work experience. You can open the files sequentially to identify trends to help get a better idea of where you stand in the economic arena.
For the West Coast
Those seeking employment need easy access to solid market intelligence about the job situation in the location where they’re searching. The logical place to get that localized intelligence is at the library, or so thought Mary-Ellen Mort, M.L.S., from the Bay Area Library and Information System. This thinking resulted in the online Job Star Central, where Mort is the project director. Although the site has its primary focus on jobs in the metro areas around San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego, you’ll find some content that applies to the rest of the country. Pay a visit to the Internet’s West Coast at http://jobstar.org/index.php to explore the “Profession-Specific Salary Surveys” covering more than 50 broad job categories, ranging from accounting to warehousing. Most categories are further subdivided, perhaps by job title, perhaps geography. If you’re dissatisfied with your current compensation or are simply curious about how a career change might affect your take-home pay, you could explore the earnings potential in many other fields of endeavor. Check out winery workers listed under the agricultural category.
Closer to home
One salary survey appears to be focused on the domestic plant maintenance and engineering function. You can find it at www.mt-online.com, where you should click on “Articles” in the top left corner. Then, plug the keyword “$alary” into the search feature. Don’t forget to use the dollar sign as the first character. Your reward will be “2007 $alary $urvey,” a 900-word summary article by Amanda Martyka, assistant editor at Maintenance Technology magazine that appeared in the December 2007 issue. The piece features six graphics that depict the distribution of income, as well as average income as a function of age, education, facility size, industry and job function. The graphics won’t enlarge to a truly readable size when you click on them, so you’d best have eagle eyes or a magnifying glass.
Data mining at the BLS
The data coming out of this next Web site are based on the most recent Occupational Employment Statistics survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Thanks to Jay Verdoorn from Wheatland, Calif., you won’t need to comb through countless pages of numbers to learn what our hired hands in Washington know about the real job market. Instead, you merely need to pay a visit to www.salaryteller.com and enter your criteria. You can find the results in either of two ways. Using the top section of the screen, you can select the nearest major city in your state and any of 22 main job classifications. The next screen requires you to select from a list of job subcategories before you see results. On the other hand, you can use the lower half of the screen to select a state on the first screen, the city on the second, occupational group on the third and occupation on the fourth. In either case, the results are an estimate of the number of people performing that job function and the 10th, 25th, 50th, 75th and 90th percentile salaries.
Grass is greener in summer
If you decide that now is the time to move on to bigger and better things, you’ll need to deal with salary negotiations. A realistic pay rate is a function of geography, organizational size, your age, your gender as well as the gory details about the job itself and perhaps, even, several other relevant and irrelevant factors. Beware the embarrassment of a potential employer proving beyond any reasonable doubt that your idea of your own value in this world is ridiculously inflated. What we need here is to have thousands of people from all over the country report their salaries and reveal the myriad factors surrounding their backgrounds and jobs. You could then use that database to negotiate from a position of strength. Or, you could simply explore the other side of that metaphorical fence using www.payscale.com/mypayscale.aspx and its “Find Out What You're Worth” feature. PayScale Inc., Seattle, the site’s owner, claims to have the world's largest database of individual employee compensation profiles. If you want to answer the question, you’re going to need to reveal much about yourself as you go through the online process and a seemingly endless set of questions. This is as close to a personalized analysis as I’ve seen, assuming that the questions aren’t red herrings from the Land of Oz. You be the judge.
From the government
By all means, you really should investigate what our hired hands in Washington have to say about wages as detailed at www.bls.gov. Be forewarned that there’s so much job and salary information on the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics site that I’d recommend you explore it on your own. Be sure to allocate plenty of time when you do it. In the interest of getting you started, though, the highlights I’d recommend begin with “Wages, Earnings and Benefits” on the left side to access “Wages by Area and Occupation.” Here is where you can view tables of national wage data and subsets segmented by region, state and metropolitan area. Also, check out the link to “Compensation Research.” This option is where you’ll find an assortment of scholarly works that delve into facets of the economics of employment. Next, drop down and click on “Occupations” to get into the “Occupational Outlook Handbook.” Enter the word “maintenance” in the search box at the top right to gain access to information about the job outlook for how you earn your daily bread.
Cogitate and calculate
The fact that you’re reading this column probably means that you have some curiosity, perhaps concern, about your financial future. You’re not alone; most people in a capitalistic economy have money on their minds. For most of us wage slaves, that periodic paycheck is the glue that keeps body and soul firmly connected to house and home. Maybe an obsession with wages is unfounded. Fortunately, almost everything financial yields to the iron will of mathematical analysis. While you worry about your earnings, you might want to bring structure to your musings with the financial tools provided by the Cable News Network (CNN), Fortune magazine and Money magazine. Anyway, tote your moneybag to http://money.cnn.com, where you should grab the drop-down menu behind the “Real Estate” link near the top center of the page and click on “Calculators.” This will reveal, among others, eight online calculation routines related to retirement and 14 more that address financial planning issues needed to get to that venerable status. Hopefully, these two sets of mathematical wizardry should show you the power of the salary you already have.
How much is enough
It’s probably a universal truth that everyone would prefer pay raises that keep up with some benchmark from the macro economy. The problem is that the economy has many benchmark values, some of which are internally inconsistent or simply can’t provide a valid comparison to pay scales. Then, there’s always the concept of marginal utility, which says that the same $10 has much more value to a minimum-wage worker than it has to a corporate CEO. To help answer the question of worth, I direct your attention to Measuring Worth, a Web site developed by Lawrence H. Officer and Samuel H. Williamson, both economics professors. Pop over to www.measuringworth.com and you can estimate the worth of the effort the pair put into their site. You’ll get calculators for annualized growth rates, relative values, purchasing power, savings growth, inflation rates and stock growth rates. You’ll be able to access time series data sets for gross domestic product, consumer price index, daily Dow-Jones Industrial Averages, the price of gold and interest rates. Gather up your old 1040s and track your success against the United States as a whole.
You should be jealous. There’s at least one subset of the U.S. population that has been getting guaranteed annual increases since 1975. That group, which is, by the way, growing by the minute, consists of retirees who are living on Social Security checks. Automatic cost-of-living adjustments (COLA), as well as the sheer number of people to be served, continue to push the cost of this government entitlement program to dollar amounts far beyond the comprehension of mere mortal intellects. So, it makes perfect sense that, if the government acknowledges COLA, your salary history ought to be doing the same. The increases the government decreed are available from “Social Security & the Cost-of-Living Adjustments,” a page posted at www.socialsecurity.gov/cola. At least you now have a target growth rate that might lead to the stratosphere.
E-mail Executive Editor Russ Kratowicz, P.E., CMRP, at email@example.com.