Employment market deteriorates for chemists

November 26, 2002

The employment picture for new graduates in chemistry and chemical engineering is not bright, Chemical & Engineering News reports in its Nov. 25 Employment Outlook issue.

Last year's demand for new graduates was down substantially from the previous year as companies have been hiring fewer people. Even pharmaceutical companies, a good source of jobs for chemists in recent years, have cut back on hiring. Because drug companies and universities are delaying hiring while they wait for signs of economic recovery, new graduates in chemistry or chemical engineering are going to have a more difficult time finding their first job than they have had in many years.

The unemployment rate among chemists hit a 30-year high of 3.3 percent in March, more than double the total of 1.5 percent last year, says the weekly magazine, published by the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

"I've studied employment trends in the chemical enterprise for more than 30 years," says Madeleine Jacobs, C&EN Editor-in-Chief. "Examining these data, I conclude that the job prospects for 2003 will look, unhappily, similar to other down years, most recently the mid-1990s."

There are many factors that do not bode well for the job market in 2003, C&EN predicts. The economy is still weak and experts still fear that double-dip recession is possible, the stock market remains depressed, and the key issue of corporate credibility has remained, for the most part, unresolved. In addition, the potential for an expanded war on terrorism, including Iraq, adds to the jitters over the economy.

The biggest change in the employment situation is not that overall hiring is down, but that it's down uniformly, says Ron Webb, manager of doctoral recruiting and university relations for Proctor & Gamble. He notes that even the health care sector, the one employment area that traditionally remains strong, is starting to report a slowdown in hiring.

Despite the increasing problems with the economy, C&EN has found that there still are jobs available for chemists and chemical engineers, although the competition is stiff. Students with strong résumés who interview well can expect to receive worthwhile job offers, according to the article, while others will have to search much more widely than they would have had to in the past.

One small bright spot: the increased focus on homeland security and the fight against terrorism are creating new jobs for chemists and not all employers are cutting back on their recruiting. DuPont, one of the nation's largest companies, will be "recruiting actively and aggressively on campus at all degree levels," says the firm's Ph.D. science recruiting consultant, Lin Wang. This philosophy reflects the company's improving financial performance, he explains.

Additionally, another large company, ExxonMobil, has not reduced the size of its summer intern and co-op programs and some other firms and universities actually have increased the pace of their hiring in the past year, C&EN noted.

The economic situation at biopharmaceutical companies presents a mixed picture. While the 30 biotech firms that C&EN regularly tracks reported earnings declines for the first three quarters of 2002, some companies are doing well and this has led to more aggressive recruiting.
EDITORS' NOTE: The C&EN Nov. 25 Employment Outlook issue provides extensive information for chemists and chemical engineers seeking their first jobs, making a job transition or dealing with unemployment. The issue includes articles on successful interviewing tips, how to prepare for an academic career, mentoring programs for minorities and other subjects designed to help job seekers. Contact the ACS Office of Communications, 202-872-6042 or m_bernstein@acs.org, to obtain a copy of the entire Employment Outlook issue or an individual article.

American Chemical Society

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