Dec. 29 2006 10:57 AM

This is our 15th year of conducting the Mailing Systems Technology Annual Wage & Operations Survey, the only comprehensive study of the mailing industry one against which you can judge your own operation. Over that 15-year period, we have seen the impact of good economic times, automation, bio-threats, Postal program changes and a stagnant economy. Regardless of the challenges you as mail managers have faced, you have continually improved the professionalism of the mail industry as the survey has demonstrated year after year.


Yet, this year seems to be the most challenging in continuing forward progress. Four years of a weak economy eventually takes its toll. But not all is gloom and doom; managers have made improvements, albeit slight in some areas of mail center operation.


But before we get on with the results, the staff of Mailing Systems Technology sincerely thanks those who took the time to fill out and return the survey, which appeared in two spring issues. We analyzed 362 mail center operations and 13,583 mail center workers from across the nation. With this input, we are able to provide you with this two-part article. In this issue, we delve into the wage section of the survey. And in the November - December issue, we reveal the results of the operational component of the survey.


Not Such Good News

In an industry which has been playing catch up on wages since its beginning, this year proved to be less than bountiful. Managers' wages only increased by 2%, and staff entry-level wages didn't increase at all, on average. Supervisors faired the best with a 6% increase. During healthy economic times, managers were able to boost wages to attract workers in a low unemployment era. Now, retention of workers has steadied with high unemployment; the cost, wages have stalled.


Last year, only 16% of managers hoped to layoff workers. Unfortunately, staff size was reduced at 20% of operations. There is bad news and good news on this front. The bad news; the number one reason given for reducing staff was because of budget cuts/layoffs (37% of those downsizing). Most layoffs are occurring in government and nonprofit agencies. The good news, as I promised, is that transactional mail centers (financial, insurance, telecommunications, utilities, health care) are decreasing staff because of greater efficiencies (38% of those businesses downsizing). More good news, lettershops are hiring because of increased volumes (34% are hiring). However, mail centers (10% of those downsizing) are losing employees because of increased outsourcing of mail. All-in-all, the best news is that for every position eliminated, five are created in the industry.


The economy is also taking its toll on incentive programs with a 1% reduction in those managers who offer incentives. Workers are also not being rewarded because of longevity, as high-end wages only increased by a cent from last year. Money is definitely tight as managers try to do more with less. Incentive programs are first based on performance but secondly on productivity, which was the third most used incentive last year, replacing company profits/sales.


Finding Good Workers

A constant challenge for managers everywhere is to find quality workers. The mail industry is no different, and although entry level wages have become more competitive with other industries, the struggle remains. And to help attract more applicants, managers have turned to the Internet. Last year, only 5% of managers used the Web as a source for hires; this year, the number has risen to 10% and the fourth most-used method. The preferred method by 29% of managers is still classified ads, followed by word-of-mouth (22%) and lastly, internal hires (11%).


Even with tightened budgets, mail center managers are investing more in training · programs for their staffs than in years past (48% had training budgets in 2003; 51% in 2004). Managers most likely realize that with fewer dollars to work with, it is better to invest in training to enhance productivity and performance than to recruit and train new employees (a very costly affair).


The Print-Mail Phenomenon

Breathing new life into the mail industry is the print industry. As we have long noted, most of what gets printed gets mailed, and the industry is now repositioning itself to improve efficiencies between the two functions. Printers are the number two industry to be increasing staff (21% of those increasing mail center staff are printers). Likewise, managers who work in printer mail centers realized the biggest increase in wages over last year.


Where Have the Women Gone

Of note this year is the rather drastic reduction in women in the mail industry workforce. When unemployment rates were low in 1999, women made up 42% of the workforce. Today, that number has dropped to 36% as the unemployment rate climbs higher. Inequity in pay continues to be a problem. In 1999, men earned only 3% more than female managers; that has soared to a 12% difference today. Full-time, male staff earn about 3% more than their female counterparts (part-time earn about 1% more). Also, women had outnumbered men in part-time jobs. Last year, women made up 55% of part-time workers; this year they account for only 44%. Once again, high unemployment seems to be having a negative effective on the gains made in the '90s by the mail industry.


Learn More in the Next Issue

Make sure to watch for the November - December issue which features Part 2 of the survey results. We will reveal which operational challenges managers find most daunting, what impact the USPS's Merlin has had, how much it costs to process a piece of mail, what equipment managers are investing in, what tools managers use to run best-in-class facilities and much more. Thanks again to those who took time to participate in the survey.