Show Me the Money: MH&L’s 2018 Salary Survey

Feb. 20, 2018
Our annual salary survey reveals that the typical material handling and logistics professional earns $93,697.

“The single biggest challenge facing the industry is lack of qualified workers in all aspects of logistics.”—corporate/executive manager with a transportation/warehousing company with 36-40 years of experience, living in the North Central region and earning $137,000

“My position in this company is underpaid and I believe most people in this job will agree. The impact this position carries in manufacturing is undervalued and recognized.”—purchasing/procurement manager with a manufacturer of building equipment with 21-25 years of experience, living in the South Atlantic region and earning $36,00

“Companies should realize that their own survival depends on not only hiring new talent to aid with the Wild West of burgeoning e-commerce companies, but also retaining their existing workforce through internal promotions and employee development to avoid key employees from leaving, especially those who know the recipe to the ‘secret sauce.’”—engineering manager with a 3PL with 3-5 years of experience, living in the South Atlantic region and earning $81,500

“I would like to see more support and recognition. Due to my lack of support, I tend to get bogged down by clerical tasks, and I cannot push to improve our operations.”—import/export manager with a chemical manufacturer with 26-30 years of experience, living in the Middle Atlantic region and earning $68,000

“Although material handling is not considered a glamorous role, it is a vital part of the organization. It sometimes feels as though it is not part of the end-to-end supply chain and not well respected.”—inventory/materials manager with a food & beverage manufacturer with 26-30 years of experience, living in the Middle Atlantic region and earning $107,000

“The amount of change we will see in the next five years will blow your mind. Hang on!”—sales/business development manager with a 3PL with 26-30 years of experience, living in the South Central region and earning $75,000

What matters most to you about your job? We ask that question of our readers every year, and dating back at least to the days of the Great Recession in the previous decade, the answer has always come back: job security. As the economy has been going like gangbusters for over a year now, job security has become quite a bit less of a factor to material handling and logistics professionals. As the results of the MH&L 2018 Salary Survey indicate, the size of the paycheck has become almost as important. “If you really value me here at this company,” many of you are saying, “then prove it. Show me the money.”

A year ago, 28% of survey respondents said job stability was the most important thing to them about their jobs, with base salary coming in a distant second at 16%. Not so this year: While job stability was still the top response (24%), base salary was right at its heels (22%).

And maybe the reason for that is glaringly obvious: Average salaries took a hit over the past year, despite an improved economy, with the average dropping nearly $4,000 from $97,526 to $93,697. The demographic makeup of the survey respondents didn’t change dramatically from last year to this year, so the obvious explanation—though certainly not a definitive explanation—is that we heard from more lower-salaried people this year than we have in the past. Whatever the case, this is the second year in a row that the average salary level dipped (in 2016, the average salary reached $98,440, which remains the high-water mark to date).

And what does this “typical material handling and logistics manager” look like? If we put together a composite portrait of the most frequent responses to our various questions, the average manager is a white male in his 50s, living in the Midwest with 21-25 years of experience, and working for a manufacturer of material handling equipment. He has a C-suite position in corporate management, has worked at his current company for 16-20 years, has a four-year college degree, received a cost-of-living raise of roughly 2% last year and expects about the same amount of a raise this year, and did not receive a bonus last year.

Minority Report

We haven’t seen the hashtag #MaterialHandlingSoWhite used yet, but just like the uproar over how few non-Caucasian actors seem to be nominated for Academy Awards, so too is there a definite paucity of minorities represented in management roles within the material handling and logistics field. Since last year, in fact, the situation has worsened, as the percent of white/Caucasian managers increased from 76% in 2017 to 84% in 2018.

Material handling and logistics doesn’t seem to have gained much in popularity with females, either, at least not in management roles, as male managers outnumber females by a startling amount: 89% vs 11%. That compares unfavorably to last year, when the disparity was slightly better: 85% vs 15%. Where the insult turns to injury, unfortunately, is in the discrepancy in pay: Males in 2018 will earn more than $20,000, on average, than females: $95,791 vs $75,413.

Ageism does not seem to be a problem for the material handling and logistics profession, however, as fully two-thirds of all respondents are at least 50 years old. If anything, it’s proven to be tough for young people to climb the corporate ranks to managerial roles until they hit at least their 30s; only 2% of survey respondents are in their 20s.

The Nature of the Job

One of the questions we get most often from our readers is: What can I do to make more money? The standard answer is: “Get as good at your job as you can,” which translates into getting as much formal education as you can (a college degree is a definite door-opener, and salaries tend to rise with the higher degrees); taking on as much responsibility as possible (corporate executives of course make the most, but supply chain managers and directors are also compensated at a higher level than those with responsibility over a single area); working for big companies (salaries at mid-range and large companies were significantly higher than at smaller companies); and sticking with the job for as long as you can (those with the most experience tend to make the most money).

But still, we get asked, what else can we do? For instance, are there specific industries that tend to pay better than others? As our accompanying chart, “Average Salary by Industry” (page 11), illustrates, the answer to that question is, “Yes, but…” In 2018, the top-paying industry vertical for material handling and logistics managers is aerospace & defense, followed by the pharmaceuticals/healthcare industry, and consumer goods/durables. In 2017, though, the three top-paying verticals were pharma/healthcare, computer & electronic products, and chemicals. So based on that evidence from the past two years (and the sample sizes of each vertical are fairly limited), pharma/healthcare seems to be the place to go if a higher salary is what you’re after. That’s assuming you’ve got the regulatory background to succeed in that industry, of course, as well as the necessary skills a specific company might be seeking.

Another frequently-asked question is: Where are the highest-paying jobs located? If you don’t mind the heat, then the survey says that the South Central region is the place to go, since that area has the highest average salaries in 2018 and had the second-highest salaries (after the Pacific region) in 2017. However, keep in mind that only 13% of all material handling and logistics manager jobs are found in those states (and most of those are in Texas), so while there are good-paying jobs there, they are somewhat hard to come by.

On the other hand, if what you really need is just a better job (most people don’t really leave their jobs so much as they leave their boss), then your best opportunity would be to look in the North Central region (aka the Midwest), since that’s where more than a third (36%) of all jobs are located.

Satisfaction (Almost) Guaranteed

With the average salary of a material handling and logistics manager seemingly frozen in place at best, and with the traditional brick-and-mortar retail industry in particular threatened by the likes of Amazon and omni-channel distribution strategies, you might think that 2018 is a tough time for people in this industry. But that’s just not so, according to the survey respondents, the vast majority of whom are quite happy with their jobs and situations.

When we asked them how satisfied they are with their current jobs, 73% percent said they were either satisfied or very satisfied, which was a gain of 1% from a year ago. And when we asked how satisfied they are with material handling and logistics as a career path, 82% said either satisfied or very satisfied, a 7% improvement on the 75% who said the same thing in 2017. That’s pretty remarkable, that more than 8 out of every 10 material handling and logistics managers are pleased with their profession, and while they might grouse about how much they’re getting paid and the level of respect they feel their company affords their role, they very much enjoy the job itself. Clearly, being at the center of the supply chain has its perks, especially when it comes to providing the peace of mind of the people who are charged with managing it. 

The Method to Our Madness

The MH&L 2018 Salary Survey was conducted online via e-mailed invitations to a select group of subscribers. The survey took place in December 2017-January 2018, with 242 responses. Respondents were not compensated, but were offered the opportunity to share their opinions and insights related to their jobs and their industry. All responses were anonymous.

About the Author

Dave Blanchard | Senior Director of Content

During his career Dave Blanchard has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeek, EHS Today, Material Handling & Logistics, Logistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. He also serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.