Monday, March 21, 2011

Good employment news from the West Coast?

In the March 21 edition of Chemical and Engineering News, Susan Ainsworth writes on seemingly positive chemist employment news on the US' West Coast. It's worth reading in full.

Ol' Kelly Scientific: They're optimistic about overall chemistry job growth right now.
But now, the employment picture for some chemists on the West Coast may finally be brightening. Although growth in job volume for chemists was “flat to declining” last year, it is now “definitely picking up,” according to Alan E. Edwards, a senior director for the Americas Product Group in the scientific arm of Kelly Services, a staffing services company. “I would say that California is climbing back and is now well out of the trough it was in. The West Coast job market for chemists is better than that in the Southeast but still lags behind the Midwest and the Northeast,” he adds. 
As companies accelerate hiring, they are doing so cautiously, bringing in more people on a temporary or contingent basis, Edwards says. Eager to stay in step with slow improvements in the economy, companies are hiring in the skills they need for only the period of time that they need them. Changing business models dictate that many professional, highly skilled science positions will now span about 18 to 24 months, he adds.
I'm surprised to learn that the Midwest is on par with the rest of the country; that being said, I've been seeing a lot of polymer chemistry positions from the Midwest. Haven't seen a lot of positions out of the Southeast, though. An interesting set of comments, though.

No good news for medicinal chemists: Unsurprisingly, really. But still tough news to take.
On the West Coast, hiring seems to be stronger in emerging businesses such as biofuels, solar energy, and biomaterials. And some chemists are finding openings in government labs, which are benefiting from increased funding aimed at energy research and national security, for example. [snip] 
Although demand for chemists “is improving in certain job categories, demand in others remains depressed,” cautions Meredith Dow, managing partner at San Diego-based staffing consultants firm Proven. “I think it is still really tough out there for medicinal chemists,” Dow says, noting that many of the positions the company has traditionally filled have been outsourced overseas. “Although we used to be able to place medicinal chemists within just a few weeks, we now have some amazing candidates who have been looking for a job for two years.” [snip]
Breaking into the medical device or diagnostics field, however, can be difficult for some chemists with a pharma or biotech background, “who may have to completely retool their skills” to do the work required, recruiter Dow says. “Unless they are able to find a company with a combo product such as a medical device combined with a biologic such as a drug-eluting stent, they may not be able to successfully market their chemistry skills,” she says. 
Worthwhile Californian initiative?: I'm always a little skeptical about job retraining programs. But here's one that sounds pretty good, really:
Not surprisingly, many chemists are trying to build on their chemistry foundation and retrain for jobs in fields where workers are in high demand. 
To help in that effort, in July 2010 the California Labor & Workforce Development Agency awarded the San Diego region a $4 million grant to implement new workforce training programs for careers in the emerging biofuels industry. The San Diego Biofuels Initiative—a collaborative effort including CleanTECH San Diego, life sciences trade association Biocom, the Biocom Institute, the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology, and the San Diego Workforce Partnership—used the grant to set up the Educating & Developing Workers for the Green Economy (EDGE) Initiative. 
Beginning this month, the initiative will provide education, training, and placement services to unemployed and dislocated workers including chemists and chemical engineers within the San Diego area, according to Kristie Grover, executive director of the Biocom Institute, which links learning institutions and life sciences companies to build education initiatives. 
For those with the requisite skills, jobs seem to be plentiful in the biofuels market. 
We'll have to keep track of the biofuels retraining initiative; if it's good news, this could be a way out of this mess. Maybe.  

5 comments:

  1. I'm following this with cautious optimism. Hopefully when the hub areas get buzzing again that will also improve the smaller markets (like the Southeast).

    I think it's important to note that CA has much more far reaching problems than the unemployed med chemists (believe it or not, the world doesn't revolve around us. I was surprised too). I don't view a 2-year contract position in CA to be particularly savory. If you don't get renewed when your contract expires, you're in one of the highest cost of living areas in the country with some of the best talent there is in the country competing for the same jobs. How much money can you really save in 2 years when rent for a (crappy) 1 bedroom apartment easily surpasses $1000?

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  2. CJ, would you consider the chemical industry on the West Coast as pedigree-obsessed as on the East Coast? Can work experience and tangible abilities trump a novice with a Big Name on his/her CV?

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  3. A2:19p: No, I don't really believe so. At the same time, I don't really know.

    The West Coast is primarily known for the small companies, i.e. the biotech scenes of the Bay Area and SD. Those tend to be a lot more fluid about pedigree; nevertheless, they have their favorite schools/profs, too.

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  4. I've worked for multiple companies in CA and none were very obsessed with pedigree. Most of the people were from UCs, but that's to be expected. If people came from other schools nobody fingered their nose at them.

    Come to think of it, I knew very few people from Stanford and Berkeley. Maybe because I was working at mid-size biotech/pharmas and not megacorps like Roche or Pfizer.

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  5. I agree, cautious optimism is the best approach at the moment.

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