03 December 2009 11:17 [Source: ICB]
Chemical players are using graduate programs to attract top young talent. A member of the ICIS team is about to join Shell's initiative
|Neha Solanki: set to take advantage of the "opportunity of a lifetime" with Shell|
From December, Solanki will have swapped the ICIS headquarters in the London borough of Sutton in the UK for the Amsterdam offices of Anglo-Dutch Shell in the Netherlands.
The move marks the start of five years in the oversubscribed Shell Graduate Scheme. By the end of the program, she expects to have completed three placements and be familiar with the inner workings of the company.
Solanki is one of the select few to be accepted into the program, and will spend the next two years as part of the global solutions department, troubleshooting for refineries worldwide and helping to optimize their many and varied processes.
"It's a very competitive, three-stage application process where they whittle out some of the candidates," she says. "If you manage to make it through you can't miss an opportunity like this."
She admits that she had all but given up on her application, having submitted it shortly after being made redundant as a research analyst in September 2008.
Solanki subsequently started her brief sojourn with ICIS.
Solanki first considered a career in chemicals when she was 16, following a visit to her school by UK oil major BP.
Wallington High School for Girls, located near the ICIS offices in Sutton, had an engineering education program run by Royal Academy of Engineering, she says, and heavily promoted a career in science.
"The visit by BP was my first exposure to the chemical industry," she says. "We were able to work with an engineer to build a mathematical model that would predict the reverse rotation of a centrifugal compressor. Although we didn't understand much of what we were doing, we understood the basic principles.
"I actually knew nothing about the industry before then. I had an image of refineries and overalls, and being able to fix things. BP really spurred me on," she adds.
But it wasn't the job security, potentially lucrative salary or travel opportunities that distracted her from pursuing a career in medicine.
"It was the idea about being able to change the world," she says.
"The more I thought about it, the more I was upset about a lot of the environmental issues that we were facing. That, and the fact that out of all the engineers, the chemical engineer was the coolest of the lot; all the others seemed to just deal with bridges, groundwork or metals."
Solanki had opted to specialize in chemistry, biology, math and accounting for her A-level subjects, before moving on to a chemical engineering degree at University College, London (UCL).
This included an option to study abroad at Columbia University in the US in her fourth and final year. She was the first and only person from her course to take part in the exchange, and emerged with a first-class degree.
Perhaps somewhat telling is the fact that the first time she heard of some of the chemical sector's largest players, such as Germany's BASF and US-based Dow Chemical, was not until the second or third year of her degree. Engineering and science fairs on campus attracted the likes of Foster Wheeler, Bechtel Engineering, Jacobs, Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, ExxonMobil, Total and BP.
"It was then that I got a better idea of what companies I could work for and learned a little more about what they could all offer," says Solanki.
"There's this very bad stereotype that when it comes to engineering that it's just for men - my course had only 30% woman.
"I don't think engineering really sells itself very well unless you really like what it has to offer.
"I just love math, problem solving and science - and I didn't want to just work in a laboratory - so I knew this was the perfect option for me.
"It's a very hard degree, and you don't have a lot of spare time, but it's all worthwhile in the end," she says.
ICIS RECRUITMENT CAMPAIGN - WE NEED YOU!
Our year-long campaign on the recruitment of young people to the industry kicked off in September and aims to boost the profile of this important issue across the chemical industry. We'll be sharing examples of best practice from across the globe and explaining why this is such an important problem to tackle. Please get involved in the debate and let us know if your organization has innovative ways of attracting young talent. We've created a special blog and forum so you can easily contact us and others in the chemical sector.
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