Did you know that in recent years, the number of industry members in the American Chemical Society has been declining? In 2012, the number was around 58,000, and by the end of 2018, the number of industry members had dropped to about 45,000. What could be behind this decline? And what can ACS do about it?
First, we must recognize that the career path for chemists in industry has changed dramatically over the past 30–40 years. What once were fairly stable paths through laboratory, manufacturing, and technical service roles have been significantly transformed. Industrial technologies, lower-cost labor markets, multidisciplinary integration, mergers and acquisitions, intense global competition, the need to rapidly improve and change how industrial innovation occurs, and—most of all—the pressure to improve profit margins have all contributed to this transformation. The skill sets needed to be successful include not only core chemistry knowledge but also information technology capabilities; the ability to work and communicate in multidisciplinary, global team environments; and an understanding of the business of industry research, development, and manufacturing.
Industry members’ careers go through stages that transcend all these factors. Industry chemists and chemical engineers need to have a professional organization that can provide the right tools, knowledge, and development to help them with their lifelong industry career path. ACS has worked hard to position itself to be the best professional science organization in the world to walk alongside and support career success.
What is essential at the earliest stages of one’s industry career? It is establishing scientific credibility. Reading the literature and performing literature searches to generate new hypotheses are major tools to build one’s knowledge. The world’s best capabilities, found in ACS’s CAS and ACS Publications, form the backbone of nearly all chemists’ early career development. Whether one is doing basic research or designing the manufacturing details of a company’s next product, it is crucial to have the most up-to-the-minute information as an industry chemist. In addition, many young industry professionals publish in ACS journals or turn to regional or national ACS meetings as a venue to present and improve their knowledge and experience.
Continuous learning is central to all chemists’ growth and development, and ACS has a strong history of evolving its offerings to keep up with industry chemists’ needs. As careers progress and the field of responsibility expands, it is important to branch out into new areas of science. ACS offers hundreds of courses to help industry chemists rapidly learn about new fields and get connected to the experts. Courses can be taken live at national and regional meetings or in a local setting. Many courses are also available online or in webinar format. Finally, national and regional meetings themselves have evolved and taken on much more cross-disciplinary content in their technical sessions.
Eventually, industry professionals reach a stage at which in addition to their technical skills, they also need soft skills, such as leadership, influence, and communication, to progress. ACS provides a spectrum of opportunities to support professional development in this area. The society offers workshops and courses, but what many find even more helpful is the opportunity to lead, manage, and participate in ACS technical programs, divisions, and committees. ACS has 32 technical divisions and 45 committees.
These activities also help rapidly build one’s professional network. For mid-to-advanced-career industry chemists, knowing the key thought leaders, trends, and competitive forces in one’s specific industry will help expand the influence they might have in their organizations. Members can use the society to build strong business-to-business networks through participation in ACS technical sessions or through committee or division membership. Regional and national meetings pay dividends through shared learning and noncompetitive information exchange regarding trends in one’s industry segment.
Looking for a job, whether it be as an entry-level industry chemist or in a midcareer or advanced role? The ACS Career Navigator guides members in exploring career roles and provides the resources necessary to function effectively in them.
In fact, ACS provides industry chemists a lifetime of benefits through all stages of their careers, including the following:
▸ Scientific literature and advanced information-search capabilities (ACS Publications; CAS)
▸ Technical and scientific education (ACS courses, workshops, webinars)
▸ Leadership and management skills (ACS courses; participation in divisions, committees, local sections)
▸ Career search and development resources (ACS Career Navigator)
▸ Professional network for shared learning, benchmarking, and continued career growth (ACS Leadership Development System)
I encourage you to share your experiences and the benefits of membership with nonmember chemical industry colleagues. If you have ideas or suggestions, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.