What is an equitable salary for a Food Technology graduate?

A recent advert had come to my notice from a company in Cape Town wishing to employ a Food Technology graduate with the scope of the job seemingly way beyond the somewhat meagre salary range on offer and the requirement of 5 years of experience required. In this case, to rub salt into the wound, the post is a short-term contract. This is not the first time I have seen such from companies although, in my experience, it is not the norm. It may be that other job seekers have more experience with salaries versus job descriptions versus your 3-year (or higher) qualification. The question then remains: so what is a “standard” starting salary for a new graduate in the food industry generally? Some context is required before trying to give any hard figures.

  1. The first is that the labour market is a “free” system in which salaries are determined by the market as well as by the company concerned. The “market” relates to what the going rates are generally in industry and also the state of the economy (very broad issues). In terms of the company, one would expect that bigger companies are more able to pay equitable salaries than smaller ones, but this is a rule of thumb and also not necessarily the norm. There is no way that your alma mater can intervene in this since it is not our domain and we thus have very little (if any) business there.
  2. Secondly, it is a matter of choice whether you apply for the job or not. These are matters of personal economics, personal trust in the potential employer and the degree of desperation of some graduates to at least get a job in the first instance.
  3. Thirdly, there is also the supposed fact that salaries are generally better in Gauteng than down in sleepy old Cape Town and humid Durban (to name two industrial hubs out of quite a few). There is some truth in this but possibly not the whole truth i.e. multi-nationals and larger South African corporates would usually have a standard matrix in which salaries are determined. Again, I exclude medium to smaller companies from this statement.
  4. However, it may be that some employers use the above oft quoted “fact” (C) to lower their salary offers based on the premise that potential candidates will accept it at face value i.e. salaries are lower down here, irrespective of (A) above. This also has elements of artificially reducing salary expectations.

I suppose one could then also bring many other factors into the pot but let’s leave that for the purposes of this discussion. At this point it also becomes evident that the answer to the question in the title is not one that is easily answered except in very broad strokes. One indirect answer is that the salary attached to the original advert mentioned above is more reasonably suited to a 4-year qualification with 2 years’ experience i.e. the post and conditions offered is unreasonable and not in line with our general observation and experience.

Finally, and more importantly, this particular instance of low salary and high job demands (paragraph 1) is not the norm and should not be used to make judgements of the industry generally and the career path that is Food Technology (or related qualifications) in particular.

And the next question then arises: Who can push this agenda locally or nationally? Is it SAAFoST? Or Unions? How else do you increase your value to industry? This will be for another blog. But, while you are on the web, look at http://www.ift.org/CareerCenter/Salary-Survey.aspx for ideas.

Larry Dolley
Station Manager

 See our sister blog: www.cput.ac.za/blogs/foodtech