Job Markets & Cloudy Crystal Balls

Predicting what the job market will do is an imperfect undertaking. For example last Friday’s edition of the Wall St. Journal reported that the job market was perhaps weaker than it looked, based on an expectation that nonfarm payroll employment in October would grow by a modest 80,000 jobs. When the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the numbers that same day, employment had in fact grown by 166,000 jobs. It just shows that despite our best efforts, the crystal ball is sometimes a little cloudy yet we keep trying.

Each year, C&EN publishes its Employment Outlook issue in which, to the best of our ability, we try to figure out just where the job market for chemists and chemical engineers is headed in the coming year. The outlook for 2008 appears in this week’s issue. Additionally, we look at various facets of employment in the chemical sciences.

In C&EN’s annual story on demand, interviews with recruiters, company representatives, and university department heads suggest that 2008 will be a good year for chemical scientists and engineers looking for jobs. Two factors are fueling the increase in demand: company growth and pending retirements.

Department heads describe an increase in inquiries from recruiters about their students. According to one department chairman, companies visiting the department to interview students have openings to fill this year compared with last year, and some companies are returning that haven’t visited in a couple of years.

The industrial representatives reported seeing an increase in the number of employers at career fairs and interviewing on campus. Industrial employers are seeking chemists with synthetic organic chemistry, polymer chemistry, materials science, biochemistry, and analytical chemistry skills, while demand for chemical engineers remains high in the petrochemical industry.

For foreign nationals who want some work experience in the U.S. before returning home, cultural misunderstandings can hinder their chances of success in the job market. “Assimilating into a new culture doesn’t happen overnight, and many foreign-born chemists say that the key is to start early,” Associate Editor Linda Wang writes. “Graduate school may be one of the best places to practice.”

Scientists who are interested in moving from bench research to management can learn some tips in a story about people who have made the transition. News Editor William G. Schulz describes how chemists can make the transition and, more important, how to prepare for it. Although an MBA is not a prerequisite to work in management, courses such as project management or budgeting are very beneficial to building up your skills base.

Finally, when industrial scientists begin to yearn to do research that isn’t tied to market needs or corporate strategy, they often look to academic institutions for a change of pace. Senior Editor Susan Ainsworth reports that breaking into the university setting can be difficult, but some who have made the shift offer advice on how scientists can use their industry-honed skills to successfully compete with candidates who have never left academia.

Corinne Marasco is an Associate Editor at Chemical & Engineering News in the ACS News & Special Features department.

2 Responses to Job Markets & Cloudy Crystal Balls

  1. Bennett Willis says:

    If readers are interested in running a chemical plant (the hands on part) there are many jobs available. You can usually bring in $40K-50K in base pay with overtime available. Dow Chemical (for instance) is hiring BA/BS degreed people into operations jobs and providing some training in operations to help them understand the plants.

    Bennett Willis

  2. The article above only touches on a very important point: whether one wants to stay at the bench or go into managment. I can say from personal experience that it is very difficult if you enjoy being in the lab to go into management. However, there is a ceiling for chemists in the lab. If one were to go into the management, the ceiling is no longer an issue, but you lose alot of what drew us into the field: hands-on creation of compounds.

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