CJ: Which ACS program do you think best helps the job-seeking ACS member? How would you improve it?
Dr. Balazs: There is no doubt that chemists are in a competitive job market in the current challenging economic times. In my opinion, applicants need three things to land a job: A) they need to find out about job openings (this goes without saying), B) they need to have the required skills for the job, and C) they need to outshine the competition when it comes to the application and interview process. The ACS needs to focus its efforts on all three of these requirements:
A) Quite frankly, the ACS does not do a very good job at identifying for its members where the jobs are and who IS hiring. This can be improved by coming up with a database of websites that ACS members can use to locate the jobs that they might be qualified for, including companies that are "non-traditional" employers of chemists.
B) In the fast changing competition for talent around the world, we need to constantly encourage our students and workforce to keep learning new skills, even while in a job. One of the latest trends in our education system is the onset of online courses, and I will explore collaborations between ACS and institutions offering such courses to benefit our members.
C) The ACS has good resources to help members polish their resume, work through the application process, etc., but surprisingly few members take advantage of these resources. We need to find out why, and we need to improve this. One of the areas we can improve is to offer online services for those seeking help in this area.
CJ: Is it ACS policy to get more students to study in STEM fields, specifically chemistry? If so, how do we reconcile the fact that wages for chemists are stagnant or falling? Does this argue against the idea of a STEM shortage and the need for more STEM students?
Dr. Balazs: The need for students to pursue education in STEM fields is a priority for our nation, but at the same time, the ACS has had a longstanding discussion about whether we have too many chemists or not enough chemists, with both sides making good arguments. After reading countless articles on the employment of chemists, my reconciliation of the apparent discrepancy between the number of chemists and available jobs is: There are sufficient jobs in the U.S. for the supply of chemists, BUT (and this is the critical point) these jobs come with depressed salaries due to a global labor market and these jobs stipulate exacting (and thus hard to satisfy) qualifications that the employers need at that point in time and without regard to building a long-term workforce.
In short, it's an employer's market currently, and employers are more picky about who and when they hire. However, history shows that this balance eventually reverses itself, although often at an agonizingly slow pace. One thing that I am perfectly clear on is that we should not discourage people from pursuing chemistry if that is their passion. At the same time, we should not gloss over the low spots of the job market and make promises that are out of alignment with employment trends.
We also need to remember that the borders between the traditional scientific fields are fading and with that, the need for interdisciplinary training has become imperative. So, we need to extend our attention towards encouraging interdisciplinary training across the STEM fields. There needs to be a serious conversation within the ACS about this issue, and I believe that we need to be reaching out to other scientific societies and work together to advance our common mission.
CJ: Each ACS president candidate, for at least the past decade, knows the challenging job market facing ACS members and inevitably speaks of "growing jobs" in the US. Specifically, what tangible steps would you take to increase the number of chemistry jobs in the US, and is this something you think is really achievable?
Dr. Balazs: The ACS cannot create jobs nor can it mandate that employers hire more chemists, but it can nurture the conditions that bring about the creation of jobs for chemists. What the ACS also can do is to publicize with companies that are hiring the various skills that a chemist has that they are looking for, skills such as: analytical thinking, creative problem solving, and being able to work as a team (after all, science is a team sport). The ACS can also continue to advocate for innovation, entrepreneurship, and small businesses at all levels, something which is only slowing growing in terms of priority within the ACS but that I believe will be where the jobs and careers of the future are. The ACS must not become an organization for solely large employers, whether in industry or academia.
4. How would you describe ACS' response to the Great Recession and the increase in unemployment amongst its members? How should ACS respond to similar situations in the future?
Dr. Balazs: The recent recession was unprecedented in many ways, and we have been through some tough transitions in the past 5 years. I believe that we at the ACS were caught off guard like almost every other sector in our country. At the same time, the industry and academic fields have changed enormously in the past decade or so, but the good news is that we have learned a lot and can carry this forward should such a crisis arise again in the future. The ACS' Department of Career Management and Development now provides a wealth of services (click here for an example), and many of these have been added or otherwise strengthened in response to the Great Recession.
These have helped deal with the effects of the recession, but rather than continue to add more and more of these, the ACS should look at some of the areas I've noted above, such as educating "non-traditional" companies on the value of chemists, helping chemists find these non-traditional jobs, and ensuring that chemists outshine the competition when it comes to the application and interview process. We should also do much more to encourage entrepreneurs and small businesses, as this is where many of the jobs of the future will be.
Thank you for taking the time to read my viewpoints and please visit my website, see my statement in Chemical and Engineering News, or view my short video.
Note: The 2 other candidates will have their responses published 24 to 48 hours after they are received by Chemjobber.