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Skilled labor is concerning but artificial intelligence not so much. According to our 2024 State of the Profession survey, respondents have other things on their minds besides AI.

They are less concerned about COVID-19 and legislation and more concerned about supply chain interruptions and the economy.

As in years past, Clear Seas Research conducted the study on behalf of Quality in order to look at trends in compensation, work hours, and job constraints; overall job satisfaction; and quality improvements, as well as provide a demographic profile of industry professionals. How does your work compare?

Let’s Look Closer

Since timing can make all the difference—consider a survey fielded in January versus March 2020—let’s get into the details. This year’s survey was fielded February 8-14, 2024. Each respondent that participated in the study received a $15 gift card.

The goal was to learn more about manufacturing professionals involved with their organization’s quality-related initiatives. It was sent to active, qualified subscribers of Quality with an email address on file. The survey had a response rate of 1.52% and received 202 responses.

Those responses are primarily made up of engineers and managers. Forty-two percent of respondents hold an engineering-related job function overall, including 17% in quality engineering, followed by 30% who hold a quality management role. Thirteen percent were from corporate management. In terms of involvement with quality initiatives, half of respondents reported being very involved.

It is an involved and very experienced group. More than half of respondents (55%) have been working in the quality industry for more than 20 years. In fact, the largest group (25%) has been in the industry for more than 30 years. Only 4% have been in the quality industry for less than five years.

With all of this time in the industry, 74% have a supervisory role. For more than half of respondents (55%), they supervise 10 people or less. Six percent supervise more than 30 people.

Seventy-two percent of respondents are involved with components/parts manufacturing or original equipment manufacturing. They manufacture products for various industries, with aerospace leading the way at 32%. Other top categories include medical equipment and supplies (25%), transportation (25%), motor vehicle (22%) and fabricated metal products (22%).

Company revenue was concentrated in the $1 million to under $25 million category or in the $100 million or more. The median company revenue is $31 million.

Two-thirds of respondents’ companies employ 500 or fewer employees inclusive of all locations. The mean company size is 5,066 employees, and the median is 250 employees.

Though quality team staff size remained mostly consistent last year, 29% of respondents expect their quality staff team size to increase in 2024. (We can always hope.)

Production facilities are scattered across the globe. The United States was the top location—44% of respondents’ companies have production only in the U.S.—followed by those who had locations in Mexico (30%) and China (26%). The average number of production countries or regions was four.

US production facilities by region

Job Satisfaction & Salary

And how are respondents feeling about their work? What are they concerned about now?

Skilled labor shortages (50%), supply chain interruptions (47%), the current economy/inflation (43%), and quality compliance initiatives (39%) are expected to be the top job barriers in the next 12 months. There are always things to worry about, but luckily some top concerns have faded. Concerns about COVID-19 restrictions/safety guidelines has dropped to 5%.

When only considering their top concern, skilled labor was still the greatest job factor impact, cited by 25%. As one respondent wrote, “Replacing older and experienced with new workers is not an overnight process.”

Another respondent wrote, “We are seeing the negative impact of using less qualified individuals in the skill positions.” Next up was supply chain interruptions at 18%, followed by the current economy at 12%.

As one respondent wrote, “Supply chains have been hard to pull back together after the COVID-19 pandemic. They have not seemed to reach full capacity.”

For respondents personally, it was the job overall (91%) that made the most difference in their job satisfaction. Other top factors were their company’s commitment to quality (83%), work environment (79%), pay for the job done (79%), and benefits package provided (76%). In other words, it’s not just about the money.

And how satisfied are respondents with their job overall? It’s nice to see that they are pretty satisfied. Seventy-eight percent are satisfied with their job overall, and around two-thirds are satisfied with their company’s commitment to quality (67%) and work environment (66%).

Respondents were less enthusiastic about corporate leadership (55%), benefits package provided (52%), and pay for job done (51%). Opportunities for advancement rounded out the list at 40%.

If you’re concerned about artificial intelligence, you’re in good company, but for respondents, it wasn’t the top of the list. Rather, things like workforce skill improvement, management support, salary, and economic conditions dominated the job-related concerns.

And speaking of salary, the average salary for respondents was $99,000. Of the nearly two-thirds of respondents who receive an annual bonus, the average amount is about $13,000.

Sixty-three percent of respondents saw their salary increase from last year, by an average of 5%. Along those lines, 63% expect a salary increase after their next performance review.

Companies are Recruiting

Recruiting is important, as seen in the 93% of companies who are currently recruiting. These companies are recruiting talent mainly through job search engines/boards, company websites, word-of-mouth, internal recruitment, and/or temp agencies/recruiters.

And with skills being so important, where are respondents turning for training? ASQ tops the list, with respondents also relying on SME, AME, AMT, NAM, ASNT, A3, CMS and others.

In true quality professional style, respondents said their companies should focus most on quality assurance/commitment over the next year. They also said labor shortages/hiring new labor, training/certifications/advancements, and sales/business growth should be a priority.

Embracing new technology is always a worthwhile endeavor, though sometimes it makes sense to wait until others have successfully adopted it. According to respondents, 44% prefer to wait until others successfully use it. Only 12% are willing to be on the leading edge.

New technology is always something to watch. If you’ve been to a trade show recently, you’ve no doubt seen a lot of new things. For respondents, more than half report that their companies are currently using cloud computing and/or automation, followed by more than two-fifths reporting use of additive manufacturing and/or robots. How does your location compare? We’ll keep tabs on this and see how that changes in the next few years.

Thank you to all 202 of you who completed this year’s survey. We couldn’t do it without you. Many thanks!