Where Are the Jobs?

The national job market for all college graduates should rebound slightly this year as many large corporations end hiring freezes and small, fast-growth companies continue helping reshape the economy. This forecast comes from the Michigan State University (MSU) 2010-11 Recruiting Trends report.

While the following discussion is cast in terms of graduating college students, much of it applies to experienced job hunters as well.

Overall hiring is expected to increase 3 percent, with bachelor’s-level degree and MBA-level hiring both surging 10 percent, according to Phil Gardner, director of MSU’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute, which conducted the survey of some 4,600 employers. In particular, Ph.D.-level hiring is expected to increase 5%. What this means specifically for new chemistry graduates and experienced chemists is not clear. Nevertheless, the news is encouraging.

The National Association for Business Economics survey of economists provides a similar finding. The survey indicates the 51 economists surveyed expect an average 2011 economic growth of 2.6%.

Where the jobs are

Overall, employment growth has traditionally been driven in large part by small companies and start-up firms. However, the pace of their hiring has slackened. This is due in large part to the greater difficulty these firms are encountering in obtaining loans for business development and expansion. This would appear to be less the case for start-up firms in fields such as biotechnology and nanotechnology. These firms obtain much of their funding from venture capitalists and less from loans. Some of these firms also benefit from outsourcing contracts from large firms, particularly pharmaceutical companies.

Still, hiring by small fast-growth companies (9 to 100 employees) is expected to increase 19% over the next two years. “These fast-growth companies in many ways represent the new economy – that bold employer that can adjust quickly, that sees a niche and runs with it,” said Kelly Bishop, MSU’s career services director.

Mid-size companies (500 to 3,999 employees) are no longer strong engines of employment growth. These firms will continue shedding positions according to Gardner. However, large companies (at least 4,000 employees) plan to hire 114 bachelor-level employees per company in 2011.

Typically, Bishop said, large corporations now hire about 50% to 75% of new employees from their own intern pool. So graduating chemists should consider industrial post-docs and internships as a means of providing an entrée into potential long-term employers.

Planning for job-hunting success

Kelly Bishop advised students to begin planning for the type of position they want early in their college careers. What does this mean for chemistry students?

Maintain contact with recent graduates from your university and particularly from your research group. These individuals are a great source of job-hunting advice and may also be able to provide information on what types of positions are open in their company. Attending ACS local section, regional and national meetings are other ways to expand your professional network for later use in your job hunt.

Developing your professional credentials is important. Work with your professor to identify opportunities for you to present posters and papers at meetings. Offer to write the first draft or the experimental section of research papers for submission to journals.

Nontraditional careers for chemists

The MSU survey indicated that about 36% of all companies said they’d consider any major for a position. This is an all-time high for the MSU survey. “Most employers are out there are looking for the best candidate they can find, regardless of major,” Gardner commented. This suggests that chemistry students should consider what types of nontraditional careers they would be interested in and factor this into their job-hunting plans.

John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1200 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.

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