November 2009 Archives
Do not be put off by its unexciting image: the distribution industry is full of dynamic, passionate and talented people - and it is always seeking more of them
Perceived as dull and uninteresting, the chemical distribution sector struggles to attract young talent. But dig beneath its unglamorous surface and you will find an industry that can offer an exciting, innovative and rewarding career. It is an industry where people are its major asset. But, for many distributors, recruiting and retaining staff is the biggest challenge they face.
"To excel in distribution, a person must be multitalented, dynamic, and of a high caliber," says John Robinson, managing director of distributor IMCD UK.
He adds that working in chemical distribution offers a very flexible and varied job, dealing with multiple products, customers and manufacturers. IMCD, like many others, prefers to recruit experienced staff from within relevant industry sectors.
Often, a distributor can offer a technical person working within quality control, production or research the chance to move into a commercial environment. Robinson says that as well as having a technical degree, applicants must also have strong interpersonal skills and a penchant for the commercial world.
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I recently met with Phil Jones, CEO of the UK's National Skill Academy for Process Industries to discuss how his organisation is going to help improve training across the chemical sector.
Jones told me the most important initiative being implemented for the chemical sector is the "Skills Passport" which is launching on 1 January 2010. This is a kind of standardised CV, enabling employees to record what experience they have and training they've done in a web-based system which will be open for potential employers to inspect.
"This enables companies to compare employees against world-class "gold standards"which will be created for all major job types." The system will create a "skills gap" so that employees know what they should aim for.
"It's about increasing skills levels so that our industry can compete against countries like Germany and the US."
Companies will pay to have the system for matching whilst training groups will pay to place their courses on the system.
He also says a lot of work needs to be done now to ensure the right training is in place for the nascent biochemistry and clean technology industries.
He adds: "The National Skills Academy concept is to upskill the workforce to the level of 'world class skills'. We sit in the middle of this, bringing employers and training providers together. We can help providers understand employers' needs to make courses which are fit for purpose."
Jones points out that the average age for a chemical industry operator is around 55 and for supervisors it is 58. "We need 30,000 new employees and 10,000 new graduates," he adds.
The Academy has a staff of 21 based regionally with its HQ in Darlington. It is a private company owned by employers with seed funding from the government.
In this video, Chevron's Matt Lonner acknowledges that women have been largely under-represented in the science fields, and emphasizes how important it is to "cultivate the next generation".
Like our very own ICIS Education and Recruitment Campaign, The American Society of Engineering Education has launched Engineering, Go For It! (eGFT) to stimulate interest in engineering among US students.
The initiative is aimed at children from kindergarten through to 12th grade.
Supporting the scheme and featured on the website, DuPont's Diane Gulyas, president of performance polymers, explains why she chose this as her vocation and what qualifications and training she needed along the way."Engineering is one of the best ways to learn advanced problem-solving skills, both individually and in teams," says Gulyas.
There's news that Chevron is pledging some $15,000 to West Hills Community College for science and math camps. The Avenal Family Math & Science Camp attracts over 300 children and their parents each year.
Dr Tarek MA Shawaf, chairman of SaudConsult said that the partnership will further enhance its efforts to hire, train and retain young Saudi graduates and create an indigenous workforce capable of contributing to the nation's prosperity.
The Science Matters website provides teachers and parents with information about the state of science education in the US. The website also has links to other sites offering simple science experiments and activities to do in the classroom or home.
The future of a vibrant chemical industry demands a call to duty, and it couldn't be more clear - to spark interest in science and technology at a young age, attract graduates into the industry and then guide them on a promising career path.
No easy task - but from company CEOs, employee volunteers to industry associations, people are acting quickly on this critical issue. "Getting our young students interested in science and technology early enough in their school lives is one of the most important things we can do as an industry and as a nation," says John McGlade, chairman, president and CEO of US-based industrial gases and chemical firm Air Products.
The issue is particularly important in the Western world, where the chemical industry is graying, and faces huge competitive pressures from developing nations.
"Europe faces competitive threats from low-cost labor. There is no point in competing head-on in terms of cost. In these regions, companies need improved skills to operate in a smarter way and deliver real added value," says Tom Crotty, CEO of INEOS Olefins & Polymers Europe, in an interview with ICIS.
"In the UK, one of the biggest crises facing our science-based industries is the availability of skilled people at all levels, whether we're talking about graduate engineers or skilled fitters on major projects," he notes. "We can ignore this issue and hope that it goes away, or we can do something about it."
And indeed, chemical companies are reaching out to students in primary and middle schools through various programs to spark interest early on.
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"To develop your next generation of young people who can help you to lead your company is important," he said.
"For maybe a year you can reduce a little bit but you can not stop for a longer period recruiting new people because you get a gap in the development in your company. It's essential to remain connected with the next generation - to hire and train those people - to lead your company into the future."
The Dutch specialty chemicals company arranges courses to help those who have not yet graduated to gain an understanding and insight about the company and to see whether they would like to become part of the workforce, said Sijbesma.
"We give lectures at universities and do all kinds of projects to show what our company can do and to find who are the best recruits," he said.