Non-traditional Chemistry Careers: Supply Chain Manager and Contract Manager

There are many rewarding chemistry careers “off the beaten track” of well-known job areas such as R&D, sales, and business management. These careers tap specific chemical knowledge as well as skills many chemists learn such as critical thinking, creative problem solving and decision making. Two I will discuss today are Supply Chain Manager and Contract Manager.

Supply Chain Manager

The manufacture of products based on chemicals involves a series of transfers from suppliers to customers. For example, one company produces natural gas (ethane). It is transported by pipeline to a plant where it is converted to ethylene. It may be further converted to polyethylene pellets on site or transported by another pipeline to another plant for this conversion. The resulting pellets are transported by railcar to customers who mold the polyethylene into various objects. Often other substances are added to the pellets to provide desired physical properties. The objects fabricated from polyethylene are used in a wide variety of products ranging from bottles to toys to machine parts. Each chemical transformation of material: from natural gas to ethylene to polyethylene pellets to molded object is part of the supply chain. These material transfers may occur within one company or from one company to another. Often the chemical materials being transported are corrosive, air-sensitive or toxic. The containers used to store or transport them by pipeline, railcar, or tank truck must be durable, without leaks, and resistant to corrosion by the materials they carry. It is the responsibility of the Supply Chain Manager to be sure that this is the case.

The Supply Chain Manager is also responsible for the safe and timely transport of materials from one location to another. Supply Chain Managers must assure that the customer both does not run out of supplies requiring a costly plant shutdown or have an over-accumulation of supplies requiring materials to be stored in railcars until tankage becomes available.

An interruption at any point in the supply chain, such as the one which occurred after the 2011 Fukushima, Japan tsunami; shutting down many plants in Japan.  This disturbance in the chain can shut down plants in the U.S. and elsewhere that depend on timely delivery of chemical products and other items from distant production plants, having a catastrophic impact on supply and demand. Plants were shut down and people temporarily found themselves unemployed thousands of miles from Japan because of the disruption.

Supply Chain Managers work with government regulation specialists to assure government safety and labeling regulations are met. They also work with ship owners, railroad and trucking companies to ensure suitable ships, railcars and tanker trucks are available in the proper locations when needed to transport materials.

The 2011 median salary for a typical U.S. supply chain manager is $94,223 according to using data collected from many employers across the U.S. in a variety of industries. The Institute of Supply Chain Management is the professional association for supply chain managers and offers professional certification to its members.

Contract Manager

Industry, government and academia all employ Contract Managers to manage a variety of contracts. These include:

  • purchasing contracts for goods and services
  • partnership agreements
  • types of R&D contracts such as outsourcing and other types of cooperation.

Contract Managers’ responsibilities can include drafting, evaluation, and negotiation of contracts followed by monitoring their execution and compliance of all parties to the terms of each contract. They often act as the contact between their own organizations and those having contracts with their employer. They maintain records of all contract correspondence, status reports and other documents relating to contracts. They monitor compliance with the terms of contracts and may become involved in discussions when disagreements arise. In the case of R&D contracts, these activities may require interacting with R&D project managers and intellectual property attorneys.

The primary professional organization for contract managers is the National Contract Managers Association (NCMA). The results of NCMA surveys indicate that 56% of Contract Managers are women. The seniority and importance of contract managers may be indicated by their median age of survey respondents, 49 years. According to, their 2012 annual average salary is $80,000.

Most NCMA survey respondents work for or with the government with 56% working for government contractors plus 23% working directly for the federal government and 3% working for state or local government agencies. Another 9% are in commercial businesses. The remainder work in academia or as consultants. About 47% work for large government or private sector organizations with annual revenues or budgets exceeding $501 million.

John Borchardt was a chemist, freelance writer and devoted ACS career consultant for over 15 years, until his sudden passing in January 2013. He was the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers,” and had more than 1500 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he held 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents, and was the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers. John’s advice, insights and articles helped hundreds of scientists improve their professional lives, and he will be truly missed.

8 Responses to Non-traditional Chemistry Careers: Supply Chain Manager and Contract Manager

  1. This is a very specialised area and not the natural place for someone to turn to to find a job in logistics. Being in transport myself it was an interesting read though. Thanks

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  6. John Abraham says:

    One of the best articles. It is important for companies to hire right supply chain manager as effective supply chain management is a key to any business success. Apart from supply chain manager, companies like Global4PL, helps businesses to optimize their supply chain delivery models and demonstrate lower supply chain costs than the competition.

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