Overhead view of manufacturing plant
Sollina Images—Getty Images
By Martha C. White
May 12, 2016

You might not be surprised to learn that the technology and finance industries have pretty good benefits. Big companies in both Silicon Valley and on Wall Street are legendary for throwing money, perks, and whatever it takes to keep the best and the brightest on payroll and working hard.

But in job review site Glassdoor’s new analysis of benefits by industry, one anomaly stands out: Trailing a close third in the overall benefits ranking, just behind IT and finance, is manufacturing.

Manufacturing also came in third when it came to high-quality 401(k) benefits, just behind finance and education, and even nabbed a top-three spot when it comes to free food, a perk more associated with sprawling high-tech campuses than factory floors.

The big difference is that manufacturing jobs have historically been unionized, and although the percentage of American workers represented by a union in the private sector has dropped considerably over the past few decades, this legacy is still reflected in the relatively solid benefits these workers can get. In its report, Glassdoor referred to manufacturing’s union-driven “famously high-quality retirement benefit packages.”

Think of it as a function of demand, explained Glassdoor chief economist Andrew Chamberlain. While high tech, finance, and manufacturing might seem on the surface to be very different, “These three industries have one thing in common,” he said. “Workers have great bargaining power.” When it comes to finance and tech, this is a function of the competitiveness of both fields and the highly specialized nature of the skills companies are seeking.

“In manufacturing, workers have similar bargaining power because the industry is heavily unionized,” Chamberlain said.

The survey also revealed some equally surprising—if not as encouraging—results about jobs in the “professional services” sector. Specifically, if you’re planning to start a family soon, you’ll want to choose your employer carefully: Glassdoor found that maternity and paternity benefits for people in this category of work were nearly equal to those benefits for people who work in retail, which is notorious for haphazard, inflexible schedules that can make taking care of a family daunting.

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“The business services industry captures a wide range of employers and jobs,” Chamberlain explained. In other words, while it encompasses highly-compensated consultants and management professionals, it also includes lots of contract or part-time workers who don’t get offered the same kind of benefits. Companies have been relying more heavily on freelance workers to keep costs down, and even for full-time workers, heavy travel schedules and long hours can make work-life balance more of an employee-handbook concept than a reality.

“Workers that make up this industry have more varied satisfaction levels with the benefits they’re offered because the benefits they’re offered vary,” Chamberlain said.

It’s a good example of why research into the availability and quality of benefits is an important part of the job-seeking process, he said: “Having information about not only the types of benefits offered, but also how satisfied workers are with their benefits packages can help you make a better decision about where to work.”

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