Monday, March 5, 2012

Andrew Liveris, at it again

Our favorite chemical company CEO, Dow's Andrew Liveris, is at it again, claiming shortage. Via Bloomberg:
The U.S. needs to train more people to work with technology through vocational schools and doctorate programs if it’s to reclaim its leadership in manufacturing, Dow Chemical Co. Chief Executive Officer Andrew Liveris said. “This is the one that keeps me up at night: The human talent issue that built this country and rebuilding it so that the American manufacturing base can truly move to advanced technologies,” Liveris said yesterday in an interview at Bloomberg’s New York headquarters. 
Dow, the largest U.S. chemicals producer, last year pledged grants totaling $250 million to 25 chemical-engineering schools, including 15 in the U.S., to educate more scientists who can develop new materials. The Midland, Michigan-based maker of chlorine, epoxy resins and linear low-density polyethylene plastic, is having trouble hiring qualified people to work in its research labs and factories, Liveris said. 
“We are behind in that strategy compared with other nation states,” Liveris said. “We need Ph.D.s and scientists and chemical engineers, materials engineers.”
Liveris, 57, said next week he will be in Singapore and China, which are better at educating their citizens to work in high-technology manufacturing fields. “China had two foreign labs in 1990 and by 2010 it had 900, including one of ours,” he said. “They have a deliberate national strategy to attract companies like mine” that have intellectual property.  
Investing in technology education doesn’t guarantee students will study in that field, Liveris said. The president’s manufacturing panel also will recommend a national outreach program to encourage students to attend vocational schools or pursue engineering degrees, he said.
“We have to change the national psychology,” Liveris said. “Losing competitive advantage in polymer science, materials science, and then ultimately biological science, we should care about that.”
Well, let's go over to and look to see how many openings they have for relevant search terms:

Total North American job openings: 129
"Scientist": 5
"Chemist": 27 (only 4 of which I find to be actual chemist jobs)
"Polymer": 5
"Engineer": 80

It looks to me as if Dow does indeed have a need for engineers (more evidence for the "STEM is TE" theory"), but I'm pretty skeptical about Dow's need for more scientists. If they do, they have a funny way of showing it. Liveris is fibbing again. 


  1. In other news, 2+2=5.

  2. The juxtaposition of "vocational schools and doctorate programs" is a bit troubling, at least to me.

    I think what he really meant to say was "The U.S. needs to train more people to work with technology....and who will be happy to do so for very very low wages and in a much laxer safety environment."

    "“They have a deliberate national strategy to attract companies like mine”"

    They do, and it includes paying near slave wages, wrecklessly spewing dangerous chemicals, ignoring worker "rights" (though I assume they also put up anti-suicide nets at chemical plants), as well as more pedestrian currency manipulation and barriers to trade.

    It does seem inevitable that US industry will have to wrestle with the pig that is the PRC: not sure how much American workers are going to like getting covered in sh*t.

  3. I think he is looking for government handouts of some sort... By the way, re-training experienced medicinal/process chemists to do polymer work does not take that much time - and the research part of the polymer business might even benefit from hiring people with background that is broader than the usual polymer chemistry curriculum.

  4. As a graduating PhD student who's spent the past 5 years synthesizing and characterizing polymers, I wonder why my applications to DOW have been largely ignored....

  5. Dow laid off a bunch of Ph.D. scientists a couple years ago...including a materials scientist friend of mine. It seems shortages come and go pretty quickly.

    1. Just out of curiosity, was this during the Rohm and Haas merger? Most of the people I know at Dow are lifers, unless they have the misfortune of working for a company that Dow acquires.

    2. They cut a bunch of us at R&H - short-sighted in my opinion; I recall it took a few years to get new hires up to speed in emulsion polymerization, even people with PhD's. Looks like Liveris is whining because newly hired chemists couldn't do our old jobs on the first day!

    3. No, it had nothing to do with R&H. They abandoned a whole line of research within the global R&D center and laid off everyone associated with it. Not exactly the behavior you expect in a "shortage."

  6. Two of my friends were recently hired as polymer product R&D chemists at Dow. Neither of them studied polymer or organic chemistry in grad school. One of them did a PhD in cell biology and one in solid-state inorganic chemistry and they were both directly hired through university recruitment. The point is that big companies like Dow don't always post all open positions on their websites, so we don't really have any idea how many people are actually being hired, especially as the baby-boomers are retiring. Unlike startups and new companies, established firms like Dow, DuPont, BASF, etc, can afford to hire inexperienced individuals (i.e. recent grads) that they think will be a good fit in the company and then train them. Truth be told, I'm actually pretty jealous. I wouldn't mind having a job at Dow on my resume...

  7. It always amazes me how CEOs can blow smoke up the asses of politicians and the press and actually get away with doing so. I really, really wish I had that skill.

    Now I know Midland never makes anyone’s list of the top 1,000,000 great places to live in the US, but with so much technical talent pounding bricks looking for jobs, I kind of think location is not be much of a barrier to taking a STEM job at Dow. So there must be some other logical explanation for Liveris claims of a STEM manpower shortage. He could really help everyone better understand the problem when he is speaking to the press by listing the number jobs open at Dow for STEM people, the average number job applicants who apply for each job and the reasons why those job applicants were not qualified or hired to fill those job openings, then a solution to the STEM problem might become apparent. Somehow throwing Dow money at STEM PhD puppy mills seems to me to create more problems for unemployed STEM people than is necessary to suppress already depressed compensation for STEM graduates.

    Liveris constant lament for more bodies should be addressed head on by us chemists. Perhaps every unemployed chemist should submit a CV to Dow for any chemistry openings. Chemjobber could keep a running total of the number of applications submitted to Dow per position and the subsequent reason for rejection (I doubt anyone will actually be hired despite the histrionics of Liveris). Then we will all get a clear picture of the real STEM problem at Dow. Once enough data is collected, Chemjobber can send it off to the press and the politicians for an awakening of sorts. Well, maybe if this is really about STEM education at all.

  8. I worked at Dow in Midland from 1981 to 1984. They hired plenty of chemists and chemical engineers then, and didn't have any problems doing it, either. Why Liveris, in the midst of the Great Recession, can't find enough engineers is puzzling. And it is unclear to me whether Dow is even looking for all that many chemists.

    Back in early 2007, before the Great Recession even began, I went and looked at Dow's Career website, just out of curiosity. There was not one opening for an experienced chemist, at the country's largest chemical company. For new Ph.D. chemists, the website said that they would only accept your resume online if you had had an on-campus interview. Otherwise, no go. I could hardly believe this.

    On the other hand, there were numerous job openings for engineers. And the website clearly stated that they would accept resumes from graduating engineers from any school, whether Dow had visited there or not.

    I agree with the poster above, Liveris is looking from a handout from the government, in one form or another. What is sad is that 30 years ago, Dow prided itself on not taking government handouts, unlike the big defense contractors.

    The author of the Bloomsberg News article has an email address listed - I'm going to write to him and tell him Liveris is like a Chicken Little, running around like the sky is going to fall down. I hope other readers of this blog send an email to the author, in an attempt to set the record straight.

  9. As a chemist who transferred to science after 2 years in an engineering program, I am shocked at how little chemistry training chemical engineers actually receive in their undergrad. The fact that chemists with a solid grounding in basic reaction principles - kinetics, thermodynamics, by-products, purification techniques - are often overlooked for process/manufacturing chemistry positions because they don't have a rubber PE/PEng stamp is a bit of an insult. Surely it would take less or equal time to train a chemist in process and instrumentation than it would to train an engineer in chemistry principles? At least where I live, that stamp alone nets you about twice the starting salary...