25 March 2002 01:12 [Source: ICIS news]
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (CNI)--The international petrochemicals industry must improve its image and regain the trust of society if it is to attract the young talent vital for its future, Fran Keeth, president of Shell Chemicals LP, declared here on Sunday.
In a speech at the 27th annual International Petrochemicals Conference (IPC), Keeth said the key to finding workable, innovative solutions to all the major issues facing the chemicals industry is people.
However, she said the industry simply isn’t attractive to young graduates despite its role in helping shape every modern industry and every household product from automotives, construction and pharmaceuticals to telecommunications, electronics and leisure.
"We’ve helped deliver affordable food, medicine, clothing, housing, communications and transportation to billions of people," she noted. "There’s not a facet of daily life we haven’t made better. So why aren’t we an attractive industry for young people?"
Keeth said that surveys showed that the chemicals business has a reputation which is just slightly above that of the nuclear industry and only about half as good as that of telecommunications.
"We are seen as remote, hierarchical and lacking a sense of purpose," she said. "The most familiar images of the petrochemical industry seem to be fires, chemical spills, and the latest study shows that some kind of chemical will increase the risk of cancer. Rarely do we see anything positive about the medical advances attributable to chemistry or keeping food safe and wholesome or keeping our drinking water safe."
She stressed that the industry’s negative public image has had a serious impact on its ability to attract the next generation of leaders like former Dow Chemical president and chief executive Ted Doan who today received the Petrochemical Heritage Award.
Keeth said that the industry’s future success hinges on changing its public image, operating in a truly global fashion and, most importantly, retaining a diverse pool of talent.
She said information technology, management consulting, marketing and even journalism are all way ahead of chemicals in the pecking order of graduate career choices.
"Oil, gas and petrochemicals are perceived as ‘sunset’ industries, which have experienced heavy layoffs in recent years," she said.
As a result, there has been a troubling fall-off in the number of students applying to do chemistry or chemical engineering, Keeth added. "And many of the ones who are interested in chemistry find pharmaceuticals and genetic engineering much more appealing career choices."
Keeth paid tribute to the work being done by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) to improve the general public’s understanding of the chemical industry’s benefits. But she added that the ACC could not do it all alone.
"Each of our companies must redouble our efforts to communicate the benefits our industry brings," she said.
Keeth said that to attract and retain new talent the industry must embrace people regardless of their race, sex or creed and to respect the diversity of their backgrounds.
"For us to deliver additional value," she added, "we will rely on this knowledge/diversity bank to build lasting relationships with our customers, suppliers and communities. We need to be seen to be contributing more than just products and prices."
Sponsored by the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA), the IPC runs through Tuesday.
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