2013 US Ethanol Industry Salary Survey

The latest salary survey includes data on everything from total plant payroll, previous job experience of employees, the most important factors in job satisfaction and more.
By Holly Jessen | May 15, 2013

In the years since Ethanol Producer Magazine conducted its last salary survey, which was carried out in 2009 and published in early 2010, readers have repeatedly asked when it would be updated. Wait no longer. The results of the 2013 U.S. Ethanol Plant Personnel Compensation & Job Satisfaction Survey are in.

More than 2,000 emails were sent out to U.S. ethanol plant employees and 367 responded, a nearly 20 percent increase from the number of respondents in 2009. The online survey, which was open for about two and a half weeks, closed April 10. The survey was comprised of 38 questions. Respondents who said they are corporate management or general managers were directed to a separate set of questions regarding the plant as a whole, such as total payroll for the plant and the best methods for filling open positions at the facility. 

The data was self-reported without random sampling techniques. While this means the results may not be representative of the ethanol industry as a whole it does provide an interesting snapshot of the ethanol plant employees who answered the survey.

Who Are They?
The survey reveals some basic demographic data about respondents. Nearly 39 percent—the highest percentage reported—work at midsize facilities with capacities of 40 to 59 MMgy. Another 37 percent work at 100 MMgy or larger plants. In contrast, the 2009 survey showed 47 percent were at midsize plants while only 28 percent were at 100 MMgy or larger plants.

The highest percentage of respondents, or 77 percent, report that the ethanol plants they work at are operating at 90 to 100 percent of capacity. Only 5 percent, or a total of 17 survey takers, say the plant they work at is currently idle. Another 3 percent, or just nine people, say the plant is shut down.

A full 97 percent of the respondents work full time at a U.S. ethanol plant. Male employees are much more prevalent, coming in at 77 percent of the total. The 23 percent of women respondents holds fairly steady from the 24 percent of women in the 2009 survey. Of current women respondents, 62 percent are lab managers, lab techs or environment health and safety workers. No female maintenance managers, plant managers, lead operators, operators or maintenance technicians responded to the survey. 

More respondents, or a total of 41 percent, are college graduates than any other education category. More than 14 percent went on to do post-graduate work or completed post-graduate degrees. Another 30 percent have post-high school vocational/technical training or have taken some college courses and 13 percent have completed a high school degree or GED. Just four survey takers, or 1 percent of the total, had completed only some high school education.

Looking at years worked in the ethanol industry, the categories of 7 to 9 years and 5 to 6 years are tied for first place, with 27 percent of the total reporting each one. Another 17 percent have worked in the ethanol industry 10 to 14 years. Only 3 percent have worked in the industry 20 to 29 years and 1 percent 30 years or more. On the other end of the spectrum, 1 percent have worked in the industry less than one year.

The majority of respondents, or 68 percent, say they have only worked at one ethanol plant. Another 18 percent say they have worked at two ethanol plants in the past 10 years. In answer to a question about in what industry they had received the majority of their experience, more respondents (36 percent) say the ethanol industry than any other category. The agriculture industry comes in behind ethanol, at 19 percent of the total. When management answers that question for the plant as a whole, the agriculture industry is the clear winner, with 66 percent saying their employees received the majority of their experience in the ag industry before taking a job at an ethanol plant.

Let’s Talk Dollars
Undoubtedly, information on salary, benefits and bonuses draws a lot of attention. This year, for the first time, EPM asked survey takers with positions in management to report on total plant payroll, including benefits. Of the 29 corporate or general managers who answered, all but one report payrolls in the millions, with 20 of them saying it is in the $2 million to $3.8 million range. Two say total payroll is $10 million or $10.5 million. The lowest total payroll is $125,000. It’s unknown if that figure is for an idled plant with a limited staff or perhaps a mistaken entry in the survey. The next lowest number is $1.5 million.

Managers reporting for the plant as a whole also gave salary ranges for 15 job titles. For some positions, there is a salary range that came out as a clear winner, with at least 40 percent or more managers reporting the same salary range for the job and the remaining answers spread out among the other categories at much lower percentage totals. The numbers show most managers report that boiler technicians, operators and lab technicians are paid between $40,000 and $49,999. Most environmental health/safety employees and lead operators are in the $50,000 to $59,999 category. Lab managers are most often put in the salary range of $60,000 to $74,999. Maintenance managers and plant engineers are most often in the $75,000 to $99,999 range. General managers fell into the $100,000 to $149,999 salary range.

The remaining job titles fell into more than one category of salary ranges. For instance, the salary of maintenance technicians is fairly evenly split between two categories, ranging from $40,000 to $59,999. Controllers/chief financial officers and operation managers also don’t fall into a clear salary range, instead the majority of managers report salary ranges for both jobs are spread across three categories, starting at $60,000 and topping out at $149,999. Finally, the most common salary ranges of commodities managers and plant managers lie across two categories, ranging from $75,000 to $149,999.

Going back to questions asked of all survey takers, 22 percent of respondents say their salary ranges from $100,000 to $149,999, the highest percentage total of all the categories. The ranges of $75,000 to $99,999 and $60,000 to $74,999 follow at 21 and 18 percent, respectively. Only 9 percent, or a total of 28 survey takers, have salaries of less than $40,000 and only 3 percent, or 10 survey takers, have salaries of $200,000 or more. The 2009 survey takers report somewhat lower salaries overall. At that time, the largest percentage of respondents were paid between $60,000 and $74,000 and another 17 percent were paid less than $40,000.

The majority of this year’s survey takers work between 41 and 54 hours a week. The categories with the two highest percentages are 33 percent working between 45 and 49 hours and 20 percent working between 50 and 54 hours. Only 12 percent work between 55 and 59 hours and another 6 percent work 60 and 69 hours a week. Notably, 71 percent of survey takers say they are not compensated for overtime. Only 19 percent say they are paid time and a half for overtime.

Overall, the survey shows that 64 percent of respondents feel they are compensated about right for their work. In comparison, 32 percent feel they are compensated too little. Notably, 2 percent, or 7 people, admit they are compensated too much.

Despite difficult times facing the ethanol industry, 68 percent say they have received a raise in the last 12 months. Of those receiving raises, most, or 31 percent, received a 3 percent raise. Between 9 and 11 percent received raises of 4 percent, 5 percent or 6 to 9 percent. Only 6 percent received raises of 10 to 14 percent while another 5 percent received a raise of 15 percent or more. Notably, 85 percent received their raises without being promoted or any change in responsibility. The vast majority (79 percent) say salary reviews are offered annually. Another 13 percent say there is no regular schedule for salary reviews. One person, who checked the other category, comments that all workers get the same 2 percent raise once a year, whether it is deserved or not. The results of the 2009 salary survey also show that ethanol plant employees are receiving raises. At that time, 51 percent received a raise in the previous 12 months.

The most recent survey also shows that 69 percent of respondents received monetary bonuses in the past 12 months. About 40 percent say their bonus was between $1,000 and $4,900. Another 13 percent say they got bonuses between $5,000 and $7,499. Interestingly, the next highest category is a tie, with exactly 11.61 percent receiving a bonus of less than $1,000 and another 11.61 percent getting $10,000 to $14,999.

On the benefits side, the majority of respondents report receiving health insurance (96 percent), 401(k) packages (92 percent), dental insurance (89 percent) and life insurance (88 percent). Another 75 percent are offered disability insurance and 60 percent cell phones. The least commonly offered benefits are company vehicles, stock options and incentive pay, ranging from 11 percent to 6 percent.

When it comes to hiring, 59 percent of plant management answering for the plant as a whole say promoting from within is the most effective method of filling positions at their facilities. Another 34 percent say promoting from within is sometimes effective. Next in the lineup comes word of mouth, which 24 percent say is very effective and 62 percent say is sometimes effective. Managers had the lowest confidence in job fairs, with none considering them very effective, 7 percent considering them sometimes effective, 10 percent neutral and 3 percent usually ineffective.

Job Satisfaction
Setting the issue of compensation aside, the majority of survey takers report being happy with their jobs at ethanol plants. In all, 51 percent say they are very satisfied with their jobs and 17 percent are extremely satisfied. Another 23 percent are somewhat satisfied. The last two categories, very unsatisfied and unsatisfied, are made up of only 6 and 4 percent of the total.

Looking at what factors are most important in job satisfaction reveals that the No. 1 most important thing is job security, with 60 percent of the total rating it as very important. A positive atmosphere (49 percent rates this as very important), good benefits package (48 percent) and competitive salary (47 percent), follows close behind. A challenging work environment is also important, with 40 percent of respondents rating this category as very important.  A short commute is at the bottom, with only 14.8 percent rating this as very important to job satisfaction.

In all, 42 percent say they aren’t considering a new job, presently. Another 40 percent say they aren’t currently looking for a new job but would consider it, if a good opportunity came along. Only 11 percent are actively looking for a new job and 6 percent are strongly considering starting a job search.

Author: Holly Jessen
Managing Editor, Ethanol Producer Magazine