In Demand and Growing Green


CNN recently published a list of the Most Lucrative College Degrees. Twelve of the top paying 15 majors were various forms of engineering, and the remaining 3 were computer science, actuarial science, and construction management – all of which require a significant degree of math skills. According to their numbers, engineering and computer science make up only about 4% of all college graduates, while social science and history each comprise 16%. Simple supply and demand means that employers who need graduates with math skills will have to be willing to pay more for them.

The same is true of careers for chemists. In recent ACS salary surveys, the unemployment rate for chemists is usually about 65% of the national average unemployment rate. (However, long-term trend data suggests that this gap may be narrowing.)

While you certainly should not choose a major or a career based on what is currently most lucrative, it is encouraging to see that the math and science that we love is also a good place to make a living – better than average, in fact.

It is also encouraging to note that one of the few job sectors experiencing growth is green technologies, which according to the United Nations Environment Programme Green Jobs report, involves “work in agricultural, manufacturing, research and development, administrative, and service activities that contribute substantially to preserving or restoring environmental quality. Specifically, but not exclusively, this includes jobs that help to protect ecosystems and biodiversity; reduce energy, materials, and water consumption through high-efficiency strategies; de-carbonize the economy; and minimize or altogether avoid generation of all forms of waste and pollution.” Do any of these sound like they could use the input of chemists and chemical engineers?

So if you have these highly desired math and science skills, how do you go about moving your career in a green (or any other) direction?

Start by learning as much as you can about the new field. What terminology do they use? Are there certain certifications or educational requirements that are required for particular positions? What skills and abilities do they value, and how similar are they to ones you current have? Basically, you want to do background research on your possible new career, and do a gap analysis to determine the difference between what you have to offer, and what they need.

Next, figure out how to fill or bridge that gap. Are there books you can read, conferences you can attend, or classes you can take to obtain the missing knowledge? Can you use your current skills in another field to obtain a position related to your new field? Once you have a toehold in the new field, it will be much easier to move further into that field.

Figure out what accomplishments you have that will be relevant to the new field, and how to sell yourself. Companies are hiring you to do something, and the best way to prove that you can do it for them is by showing them how you have done just that (or something very close to that) already.

Finally, use the contacts you made while doing your initial research into the field to identify companies and departments that might have need of your particular skills.

This article was written by freelance technical writer Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2006).

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