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First-Line Supervisor Job Description, Career as a First-Line Supervisor, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training Varies—see profile

Salary Median—$21.51 per hour

Employment Outlook Poor

Definition and Nature of the Work

First-line supervisors are employed in all industries to direct production workers in the making or assembling of manufactured goods. Their chief responsibility is to ensure that the production process is carried out according to the goals set by their company's managers and engineers. Because they are responsible to both management and workers, they provide an important link between the two.

Specific duties of first-line supervisors vary according to the industry and the individual company. In the machinery manufacturing industry, for instance, the first-line supervisor not only oversees all workers on the production floor but also makes sure the equipment and supplies needed are available. In the printing industry, first-line supervisors of the bindery department may be called "chief bookbinders" or "bindery chiefs." They supervise all the workers on the production floor and oversee the assembly of books from large printed sheets of paper.

In whatever industry they work, first-line supervisors play an important role in carrying out a company's production goals, which directly affect a company's profits. If workers are producing at too slow a pace or are producing inferior goods, it costs the company money. First-line supervisors must see that production runs smoothly. To do this, supervisors must understand all the parts of the production process. Supervisors schedule what jobs need to be done and who does them. Supervisors also see to it that these jobs are done correctly. They make sure that people are working up to capacity and that they have a reasonable workload. In addition, supervisors teach workers new jobs and sometimes fill in for workers who are absent.

To do their jobs well, first-line supervisors must understand their workers and gain their respect. They must use tact and good judgment when correcting production errors or settling disputes. They help solve any problems that workers are having with their jobs. If workers are not performing well, production output is affected. It is important that supervisors have a close relationship with their workers and take care of day-to-day problems as they arise.

Supervisors act as communicators between management and production workers. They explain company policy to workers and enforce it if necessary. Supervisors praise and encourage workers who have done their jobs well. They advise management as to which workers deserve raises, promotions, or awards. When workers do not perform up to par, supervisors warn them or, if necessary, recommend that they be fired. In plants that are unionized, supervisors meet with union representatives to discuss work problems. In union plants, supervisors must abide by union contracts.

First-line supervisors manage workers who make or assemble manufactured goods. They also act as communicators between management and production workers. (© William Taufic/Corbis.)

Besides managing workers, first-line supervisors have other duties. They are responsible for the maintenance of equipment, directing workers to service or repair equipment, and for ensuring that workers follow safety regulations. Supervisors create work schedules, keep records and time sheets, and report to management. In most cases, their immediate superiors are the production managers. Some large plants have a shop superintendent or general supervisor who manages the work of a number of first-line supervisors.

Education and Training Requirements

The main requirements needed to be a first-line supervisor are a good work record, experience, and leadership ability. First-line supervisors must be able to get along with people and motivate workers. Many employers prefer people who are high school graduates, however, a few years of college or technical school training can be very helpful. Most first-line supervisors work up to their positions after several years of experience as production workers. Their work experience teaches them the processes needed to manufacture a product. It also familiarizes them with the concerns of production workers. Some supervisors get useful experience as union representatives. Many companies also provide training programs or training manuals that teach management skills to new supervisors.

Some manufacturing companies prefer to hire people who have some college or technical school training as supervisor trainees. This practice is most common in industries that have complex production processes such as the electronics or chemical industries. A background in business administration, industrial relations, engineering, science, or mathematics is valuable for supervisor trainees. The time taken before a trainee is a fully qualified production supervisor varies from company to company and from industry to industry.

Getting the Job

School placement offices may have information about obtaining a job as a production worker or entering an apprenticeship program. Those with some college or technical school training may find job listings for supervisor trainees. Private and state employment agencies may also have information about job openings in production work. Manufacturing companies often list openings for production workers and supervisors in newspaper want ads or on signs outside the plant.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

First-line supervisors can advance to a position as shop superintendent or general supervisor in which they coordinate the work of a number of other supervisors. In some cases, supervisors move into higher-level management jobs such as production manager. Some first-line supervisors advance by moving to companies offering higher pay and greater responsibility.

The employment outlook for first-line supervisors is expected to grow more slowly than the average through 2014. As the number of workers increases, the number of supervisors needed to oversee production should also increase. However, the automation of production lines should counterbalance this trend, as should the establishment of many manufacturing plants overseas. People who have a good work record, leadership ability, and several years of college or technical school training should have the best job opportunities. Supervisors are often not affected by layoffs during economic downturns.

Working Conditions

First-line supervisors have an important and challenging job. Their work can give them a sense of satisfaction and win them the respect of both workers and management. Sometimes, however, supervisors may feel tense and isolated in their position between their company's management and its production workers. Supervisors must be able to get along with all kinds of people. They should be able to praise or critique workers depending on the situation. They should also be able to follow the instructions of management.

Supervisors spend most of their time in the production area. Working conditions vary from industry to industry. For example, in factories in the metal trades, supervisors may be exposed to dirt and noise from the machinery and materials. In many plants in the electronics industry, however, they work near clean, quiet assembly lines. First-line supervisors generally work longer hours than production workers. Supervisors must be the first on the job and the last to leave. Sometimes they do shift work or put in some weekend hours. There are often reports and schedules to prepare after the other workers have left.

Where to Go for More Information

American Management Association International
1601 Broadway
New York, NY 10019
(212) 586-8100

Earnings and Benefits

The earnings of first-line supervisors vary from industry to industry. In 2004 first-line supervisors earned a median hourly wage of $21.51. Supervisors who work in the chemical manufacturing industry are paid the highest median hourly wage, while those in the apparel manufacturing industry are paid the lowest hourly wage. Usually, first-line supervisors earn significantly more than the workers under their supervision. Benefits typically include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesManufacturing & Production