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Jobs For Chemists

August 16, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 33

The editorial “Chemists’ Salaries” raises a very important question: “What is happening to the jobs of chemical professionals?” (C&EN, July 12, page 3).

Although the most recent C&EN employment survey looks grim, disturbing signs of diminishing job opportunities for newly graduated chemists date back to C&EN surveys since 1982 and have accelerated since 1997. An analysis of and comments on these data and trends can be found in the recent ACS Symposium Series 1026 book, “The Future of the Chemical Industry” (ACS, 2009).

C&EN survey data have shown that starting salaries (in constant dollars) have failed to grow for more than 10 years, while unemployment among new graduates has been steadily increasing. This has been happening regardless of the ups and downs of U.S. economic cycles. The long-anticipated opening up of employment opportunities as baby boomers retire has simply never happened; boomers either continue to work past retirement age or their positions are eliminated as soon as they become vacant, or a combination of both. Chemical engineering graduates stand in sharp contrast to chemists, both in terms of low unemployment and increasing constant-dollar compensation.

Since U.S. chemical company R&D expenditures (as a percentage of sales) have been relatively constant during the past 10 years, one suspects that R&D employment has been moving offshore. This would correspond to the industry’s shift in R&D priorities away from basic research and toward application development, which is typically done in close proximity to ­customers.

Roger F. Jones
Broomall, Pa.


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