Endpoint: lack of students entering chemical industry

Deep in the heart of Texas

14 April 2008 00:00  [Source: ICB]

Events like the NPRA annual meeting give us the opportunity to hear what the industry is talking about beyond what's in the press releases

Ivan Lerner/New York

ONE OF the most enjoyable things about attending functions like the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association's (NPRA)33rd annual meeting earlier this month in San Antonio, Texas, is the chance to hear insiders go "off-text," and to see where it leads.

During the Q&A following the Chemical Heritage Foundation/Founders Club/NPRA Symposium on Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Chemical Industry, some hot topics got raised, among them the state of energy and education in the US.

"The biggest problem in the last 50 years [has been that] the US has no energy policy," stated Jon Huntsman, founder and chairman of Huntsman Corp.

"It's worse than inexcusable, it's embarrassing," agreed Robert Gower, former CEO of Lyondell Petrochemicals.

Gower brought up the point that perhaps what was needed to confront the lack of a US energy policy was a concentrated effort akin to the Manhattan Project that created the atomic bomb, or the space race.

He conceded, though, that many qualified college graduates are not applying to the petrochemical industry, despite generous wage offers. "The best scientists are in medical institutions or academia," said Gower. "How to bridge the gap between industry, entrepreneurs and scientists?"

CUTE ANIMALSOR THE DEVIL?

It may be a tough gap to bridge: A long-time chemical industry insider said to me after the symposium, "Sure, the industry is offering good salaries, but do you think my daughter is going to want to work for Company X? She and her friends all have posters of cute animals on their walls. To them, Company X and its questionable record of environmental stewardship are the devil! If they don't have to work for Company X, then they won't!"

He then had some other choice words for Company Xregarding its willingness to sacrifice scientific process for political gain, adding that the kids who are going to notice a company's track record concerning things like that are exactly the inquisitive minds that the chemical industry needs.

I may not be as optimistic as my friend on the political consciousness of "the kids," but something is keeping them away.





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