Toy industry workers create, design, manufacture, and market toys and games to adults and children. Their jobs are similar to those of their counterparts in other industries. Some work on large machines, while others assemble toys by hand. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than half of all employees in the toy industry work in production. Most toy companies are located in or near large metropolitan areas.
History of Toy Industry Worker Career
Recreational games have roots in ancient cultures. For example, backgammon, one of the oldest known board games, dates back about 5,000 years to areas around the Mediterranean. Chess developed in about the sixth century in India or China and was based on other ancient games.
Dolls and figurines also have turned up among old artifacts. Some seem to have been used as playthings, while others apparently had religious or symbolic importance. More recently, European kings and noblemen gave elaborate dolls in fancy costumes as gifts. Fashion styles thus were spread through other regions and countries. Doll makers in cities such as Paris, France, and Nuremberg, Germany, became famous for crafting especially beautiful dolls. Over the years dolls have been made of wood, clay, china, papier-mâché, wax, and hard rubber, and they have been collected and admired by adults as well as children.
For centuries, most toys were made by hand at home. Mass production began in the 19th century during the industrial revolution. In the 20th century, one of the most enduringly popular toys was the teddy bear, named after President Theodore Roosevelt.
Toy companies generally devise their own products or adapt them from perennial favorites, but they occasionally buy ideas for new toys and games from outsiders. One famous example of this was a board game devised during the Great Depression by an out-of-work man in his kitchen. He drew a playing board on his tablecloth using the names of streets in his hometown of Atlantic City and devised a game that let him act out his fantasies of being a real estate and business tycoon. The game, which he called Monopoly, became one of the most popular games of all time.
The popularity of certain toys rises and falls over time. Some toys maintain their popularity with successive generations of children or experience a comeback after a few years. Computer and video games have boomed during the past decade and will undoubtedly continue to become more complex and realistic as technology advances. Still, it is very difficult to predict which new toys will become popular. Introducing a new toy into the marketplace is a gamble, and that adds excitement and pressure to the industry.
The Job of Toy Industry Workers
Taking a toy from the idea stage to the store shelf is a long and complex operation, sometimes requiring a year or two or even longer. Ideas for new toys or games may come from a variety of sources. In large companies, the marketing department and the research and development department review the types of toys that are currently selling well, and they devise new toys to meet the perceived demand. Companies also get ideas from professional inventors, freelance designers, and other people, including children, who write to them describing new toys they would like to see made.
Toy companies consider ideas for production that they sometimes end up scrapping. A toy company has two main considerations in deciding whether to produce a toy: the degree of interest children (or adults) might have in playing with the toy and whether the company can manufacture it profitably.
A toy must be fun to play with, but there are measures of a toy’s worth other than amusement. Some toys are designed to be educational, develop motor skills, excite imagination and curiosity about the world, or help children learn ways of expressing themselves.
Often manufacturers test new ideas to determine their appeal to children. Model makers create prototypes of new toys. Marketing researchers in the company coordinate sessions during which groups of children play with prototype toys. If the children in the test group enjoy a toy and return to play with it more than a few times, the toy has passed a major milestone.
The company also has to ask other important questions: Is the toy safe and durable? Is it similar to other toys on the market? Is there potential for a large number of buyers? Can the toy be mass-produced at a low enough cost per toy to ensure a profit? Such questions are usually the responsibility of research and development workers, who draw up detailed designs for new toys, determine materials to be used, and devise methods to manufacture the toy economically. After the research and development employees have completed their work, the project is passed on to engineers who start production.
Electronic toys, video games, and computer games have skyrocketed in popularity in the past decade. The people who develop them include computer engineers, technicians, and software programmers. Technical development engineers work on toys that involve advanced mechanical or acoustical technology. Plastics engineers work on plans for plastic toys. They design tools and molds for making plastic toy parts, and they determine the type of molding process and plastic that are best for the job. Plastics engineers who work for large firms may design and build 150 or more new molds each year.
To determine the best way to manufacture a toy, manufacturing engineers study the blueprints for the new product and identify necessary machinery. They may decide that the company can modify equipment it already has, or they may recommend purchasing new machinery. Throughout the engineering process, it is important to find ways to minimize production costs while still maintaining quality.
After selecting the equipment for production, industrial engineers design the operations of manufacturing: the layout of the plant, the time each step in the process should take, the number of workers needed, the ways to measure performance, and other detailed factors. Next, the engineers teach supervisors and assembly workers how to operate the machinery and assemble the new toy. They inform shift supervisors the rate of production the company expects. Industrial engineers also might be responsible for designing the process of packaging and shipping the completed toys.
As toys are being built on the assembly line, quality control engineers inspect them for safety and durability. Most toy companies adhere to the quality standards outlined in ASTM F963, a set of voluntary guidelines the toy industry has developed for itself. The toy industry is also monitored by the Consumer Products Safety Commission and must adhere to various federal laws and standards that cover the safety of toys under normal use and any foreseeable misuse or abuse.
Finally, getting the toys from the factory to the store shelf is the responsibility of sales and merchandising workers. These employees stay in contact with toy stores and retail outlets and arrange for toy displays and in-store product promotions.
Factory workers on assembly lines mass-produce practically all toys and games. The manufacturing processes can be as unique as the toys themselves. Workers first cast pieces of plastic toys in injection molds and then assemble them. They machine, assemble, and finish or paint wooden and metal toys. They make board games employing many of the same printing and binding processes used for books. They print the playing surface on a piece of paper, glue it to a piece of cardboard of the proper size, and tape the two halves of the board together with bookbinding equipment.
Toy assemblers put together various plastic, wood, metal, and fabric pieces to complete toys. They may sit at a conveyor belt or workbench, where they use small power tools or hand tools, such as pliers and hammers, to fasten the pieces together. Other toy assemblers operate larger machines such as drill presses, reamers, flanging presses, and punch presses. On toys such as wagons that are made on assembly lines, assemblers may do only a single task, such as attaching axles or tires. Other toys may be assembled entirely by one person; for instance, one person at one station on an assembly line may attach the heads, arms, and legs of action figures.
The manufacture of dolls provides a good example of the various manual and mechanical operations that can go into the making of a single toy. Plastic doll mold fillers make the head, torso, arms, and legs of the doll in plastic-injection molds. Other workers cure and trim the molded parts and send them off on a conveyor belt. The doll’s head may go to a rooter operator, who operates a large machine that roots or stitches a specific quantity of synthetic hair onto the head. After attaching the hair in the form of a wig, a doll wigs hackler combs and softens synthetic hair by pulling it through a hackle, which is a combing tool with projecting bristles or teeth. Then, a hair finisher sets the hair in the specified style by combing, brushing, and cutting. A toy assembler puts together the doll’s parts, and a hand finisher completes the doll by dressing it in clothes and shoes. An inspector examines the completed doll to make sure it meets the original specifications and then sends it on for packaging and shipment.
Toy Industry Worker Career Requirements
You should obtain your high school degree for any job in the toy industry. Some positions, such as industrial engineer and software programmer, also require that you complete postsecondary education. If one of these jobs interests you, be sure to take a college prep curriculum. If you are interested in production work, you will probably not need formal education beyond high school. While in high school, be sure to take shop classes that teach you how to use machinery. Family and consumer science classes in which you learn about sewing, using patterns, and picking out materials may also be helpful. Other classes to take include art, basic mathematics, and English.
Because of the wide range of jobs in the toy business, people with a variety of educational backgrounds are employed in the field. Those in supervisory, research, and design positions may hold bachelor’s or graduate degrees in various fields, including art, electronics, engineering, architecture, psychology, business, and the sciences. Those working in production positions, such as rooter operators and toy assemblers, typically learn how to do their work during on-the-job training, which lasts anywhere from several days to a few weeks.
Many toy industry workers belong to the labor union International Union of Allied Novelty and Production Workers. Production workers need patience and the ability to do repetitive work. Good hand-eye coordination is required for those doing detailed tasks, such as painting designs on toys. The ability to be creative and to understand the consumers’ wants are especially important for toy designers. Those operating machinery, such as rooter operators, must be able to complete their work quickly and accurately. Many positions also require that the worker have a good sense of color.
Exploring Toy Industry Worker Career
One way to find out more about toys and the toy industry is to become familiar with the consumer, that is, children. If you have a younger brother or sister, observe what toys he or she plays with most and try to determine why. Think about what toys you enjoyed as a child and figure out what was appealing to you. Spend time at a neighborhood day care center or a children’s hospital ward or babysit to learn more about what kids like to play with and why.
Read industry magazines to learn more about trends in the business. Playthings magazine, for example, is one such publication. It also has a Web site (http://www.playthings. com) featuring the latest news.
You can also get part-time or summer work at a toy store. This will give you the opportunity to see what new toys are on the market, how companies advertise and promote their toys, and what types of toys parents and children buy.
If there is a toy manufacturer in your area, apply for a summer or part-time job with the company. The most likely areas to find jobs are in assembly work, sales, and marketing. A large portion of toys sell in the period before Christmas, so toy companies must have their products ready ahead of time. The months from July through September are usually the busiest in the year, and jobs may be most available during this time.
The most popular locations for toy companies in the United States are the largest cities and states, such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco, as well as Washington, Texas, Florida, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania.
In large toy firms, workers with many different titles may be involved in each of the activities described. Sometimes workers are grouped in teams, such as the research and development team, and as a team the members consider research and development aspects of every toy the company makes. In smaller firms, job distinctions may not be so precise and separate. A group of employees may work together on the entire process of developing and marketing a toy from the beginning to the end. The fewer employees in a firm, the more functions they can perform.
Some workers are employed on a temporary basis manufacturing toys during the busiest season, before Christmas.
For entry-level positions in the toy industry, job seekers can contact the personnel offices of toy manufacturers. This is true for most toy factory jobs, whether applicants are looking for engineering, management, marketing, or factory production jobs. Some job listings and information may be available at the local offices of the state employment service, at local union offices, or in newspaper classified ads.
In general, advancement to better jobs and higher pay depends on acquiring skills, further education, and seniority. Some production workers advance by learning to operate more complex machinery. Reliable, experienced workers in production jobs might be promoted to supervisory positions. Professional and management staff can progress in various ways depending on their areas of expertise.
Earnings in this field vary by the type of job a person does, the size of the employer, and the employer’s location. Some production workers are paid on a piecework basis; that is, they are paid according to the number of pieces of work that they complete. Others are paid on a straight salary. Most production workers work 40-hour workweeks. Machine operators usually earn more than assemblers who work by hand. During the peak production season from July to September, factory workers may have to work long shifts, and they are paid overtime rates for the extra hours. Newly hired production workers may be paid at rates slightly above the federal minimum wage and have annual incomes of approximately $17,000. With experience, they may earn as much as $22,000 per year. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, inspectors, testers, and sorters (a classification including toy inspectors) earned median hourly wages of $14.04 in 2005 This wage translated to median yearly earnings of approximately $29,200, with a range in salary from a low of $17,790 to a high of $52,770. Most production workers are unionized, and wage scales and conditions for wage increases often are set according to agreements between the union and company management.
Management and engineers are often paid a straight salary. Salary ranges vary from company to company and especially from job to job. For example, research and development employees can start at about $25,000 per year; some may eventually work their way up to $150,000 or more annually. Salary levels for these workers depend on their job responsibilities, experience, seniority, and quality of work. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, commercial and industrial designers (including toy designers or model makers) had median yearly earnings of $25,200 in 2005. Those in the top 10 percent of the salary range earned more than $89,230. The bottom 10 percent of commercial and industrial earned less than $29,720. The department also reports the median annual income for industrial engineers as $65,020 in 2005. The highest-paid 10 percent of industrial engineers earned more than $93,000, and the lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $42,450 during that same period.
In addition to wages, many workers receive other benefits, such as health and life insurance coverage, pension plans, and vacations.
The production floor of some toy factories is simply a large room in which workers perform routine tasks. A factory may employ as many as several hundred people to do production work. Some people work at machines, while others sit at tables or assembly lines. Some workers stand much of the day. Workers often have to meet production schedules and quotas, so they have to keep up a brisk work pace. Some people are bored by the repetition in many production jobs, because they must do the same few tasks over and over for long periods.
In smaller companies, the work may be highly seasonal. Getting the company’s products ready for selling in the Christmas season, and to some extent, the Easter season, can mean that employees are asked to put in 10 or more hours of work a day. And if the company makes a product that becomes extremely popular, workers may have to scramble to make enough of the item to keep up with demand. But in the off-peak season, usually the winter months, and in average conditions, production workers may have reduced hours or may be laid off. In many shops, some production workers are employed only five or six months a year. Management and other professional employees work year-round. They may need to put in overtime hours during peak seasons or before trade shows, but they do not earn overtime pay.
Toy Industry Worker Career Outlook
According to the Toy Industry Association, industry sales of traditional toys totaled $21.3 billion in 2005, which was a slight decrease from the previous year. Although there is always a demand for toys, this industry is definitely affected by downward trends in the economy. Employment outlooks, however, depend on factors such as the type of job done, the amount of automation introduced into the workplace, and the amount of production that is moved overseas.
Overall, employment for production workers in the U.S. toy industry will probably remain steady or increase slightly as the economy improves. Sales of games and puzzles, arts and crafts, and learning and exploration toys have gone up in the past year, which may create more job opportunities for toy workers with skills or experience in these areas. Additionally, video games that are popular with older children and even adults should make the future bright for this segment of the industry. On the other hand, some video games or game parts are imports from abroad, which may limit the number of new jobs to be found here. Also, if toy preferences change, employment patterns may shift in coming years in ways that are hard to predict now. Nevertheless, there is a fairly high rate of job turnover among production workers due in part to the low pay and repetitive work. Because of this, replacement workers are usually needed.
For those in other areas of the industry, such as design, engineering, and marketing, employment outlooks should follow the overall health of the toy industry as well as the economy.