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Subdued Employment Growth Ahead For Chemists

Uneven economic recovery limits hiring

by Sophie L. Rovner
November 3, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 44


Dow Corning technical specialists conduct silicone research.
Credit: Dow Corning
Dow Corning technical specialists conduct silicone research.

After seven years of turmoil, the economy is stabilizing, but it’s far from robust.

Consider just one measure of the economy’s health—long-term unemployment, which is still twice as high as it was before the Great Recession. “Right now in the U.S., we have nearly 3 million people who’ve been out of work for at least 27 weeks, and they account for nearly one-third of the total number of unemployed,” said Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez in a September speech.

Chemists and chemical engineers, like their peers in other fields, have seen thousands of jobs evaporate, many never to return. Nor are those cutbacks finished: Reductions announced recently include specialty pharmaceuticals maker Allergan’s plan to lay off 1,500 employees this year and biotech Amgen’s intent to cut as many as 4,000 jobs by 2016.

The impact of these tough times ranges across demographics. “Especially hard-hit are those finishing up their bachelor’s and master’s degrees,” notes Steven R. Meyers, assistant director of the American Chemical Society’s Career & Professional Advancement department.

Relief may be coming, however. “There are signs that new opportunities are starting to open up,” says Paul Hodges, chairman of International eChem, a London-based chemical industry think tank.

In part, that’s because “manufacturing in the U.S. is coming back, growing faster than at any point in the last 15 years,” according to Perez. The auto industry—a huge market for chemicals—is enjoying a major resurgence. And “our businesses are exporting more goods than ever before,” he says. As a result, the unemployment rate in the U.S. has now reached a six-year low.

C&EN probes these disparate developments in this year’s Employment Outlook feature package. In the first article, Assistant Managing Editor Sophie Rovner examines trends in the economy writ large and in the chemical industry and their likely impact on employment.

Next, Senior Editor Susan Ainsworth shares chemical and drug companies’ measured plans for hiring chemists and other scientists into 2015.

In the third article, Senior Editor Linda Wang explores how companies are interviewing candidates for openings and how the firms decide who will be a good fit.  



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