Scientists are good for more than R&D | July 10, 2017 Issue - Vol. 95 Issue 28 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 95 Issue 28 | p. 12 | News of The Week
Issue Date: July 10, 2017

Scientists are good for more than R&D

Companies with high proportions of scientists are productive, study finds
Department: Business
Keywords: employment, productivity, scientists, engineers

Companies need scientists for R&D, of course, but a new study finds that U.S. manufacturing companies seeking high productivity and earnings should consider hiring scientists for jobs other than R&D as well.

The study, to appear in the forthcoming book “U.S. Engineering in a Global Economy” from the University of Chicago Press, concludes that productivity is higher in manufacturing establishments with high levels of scientists and engineers than in companies with low levels of technical people. A one percentage point higher share of scientists and engineers in a company’s workforce is associated with productivity that is almost half a percentage point higher, according to Andrew J. Wang, an economist with Harvard University and the National Bureau of Economic Research who coauthored the study.

Moreover, productivity increases as employment of scientists and engineers increases, the study found. And employee salaries are higher in manufacturing companies with high numbers of technical people.

Most studies of how scientific and engineering knowledge affects the economy focus on R&D’s impact on patents and intellectual property. But most industrial scientists and engineers, the study points out, work in activities other than formal R&D. In fact, using data from the U.S. census and other government surveys, the study’s authors found that the primary work of more than 60% of industrial scientists is non-R&D.

Wang and colleagues suggest that firms with high numbers of scientists and engineers are productive because scientists, even those not involved in R&D, help ease the adoption of new technologies at workplaces. “They are ‘part of the package’ for implementing technology in production processes at the plant level,” Wang says.

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Bill Flarsheim (Wed Jul 12 19:54:57 EDT 2017)
When I first joined Westvaco, almost 30 years ago, there was a pretty steady flow of new Ph.Ds into Research and then out to the operating plants within a few years. As a newly minted Ph.D, I spent two years doing product development work in a lab, with limited success. Then I became the process engineer for a 10,000 gallon resin reactor with an adjoining 25,000 gallon saponification tank. I quickly learned a lot of things they don't teach in engineering school, both about real world equipment and also the people who operate it 24x7. And I enjoyed it much more than product development.

More recently, the company, now called Ingevity, does not hire as many Ph.Ds, but chemists and engineers still populate departments like marketing, supply chain, and logistics, not to mention senior management. From my perspective, it seems to work pretty well.

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