I would like to add to the situation presented in Attila Pavlath’s thought-provoking letter (C&EN, Feb. 27, page 2). I entered the workforce in 1945 and soon found a roughly four-year cycle regarding employment in the chemical industry. At one point, demand for chemists would be high, and chemical engineers were loudly proclaimed by industry. This resulted in large numbers of students electing to major in those fields. In approximately four years, this would result in an oversupply of professionals and a paucity of jobs. Then, students would major in other fields, resulting in a shortage of chemists and chemical engineers. Then the cycle would repeat.
Another point by Pavlath is that universities do not prepare students for industry. The one factor he does not mention is that the subject matter presented in chemistry courses is highly academic, beginning with high school chemistry courses. They deal with what I call chemical physics and very little chemistry. They deal with chemical kinetics, reaction mechanisms, and the nucleus, but little attention is paid to actual chemical reactions. I was fortunate to graduate when this was not quite so, but by the time my kids went to college, the subject of chemistry had been made uninteresting and not one of them chose to enter the field.
By Peter R. Lantos, Erdenheim, PaI cannot imagine what it must have been like to be a chemist during the times when the industry was in a high-growth period. (I also wonder what it was like when the majority of the chemical workforce had a bachelor's degree.)
There's probably an argument to be made about the differences in chemical education between the early 1940s and now. If anyone's ever taken a chemistry course from a much older professor, I feel that there's a focus on the practical applications (I'm recalling a freshman chemistry lecture on the different aspects of limestone, etc. "And then you add water to it... and that's slaked lime!") and a little bit less on learning the fundamentals of molecular orbitals, etc.