Thursday, October 31, 2013

ACS Presidential candidate Diane Grob Schmidt on #chemjobs issues

At the beginning of the month, I contacted the 3 ACS presidential candidates, Bryan Balazs, Charles Kolb, Jr. and Diane Grob Schmidt and asked them if they would like to comment on jobs related to chemistry employment and unemployment. Dr. Schmidt responded yesterday; her response was delayed by jury duty.

CJ: Which ACS program do you think best helps the job-seeking ACS member? How would you improve it?

Dr. Schmidt: From my perspective, the Career Fairs where employers and job seekers are connected directly seem to be the most effective for members in getting a job.  Balancing supply and demand has been problematic and complex. On the front of keeping a job, lifelong learning by keeping oneself employable is key.  ACS offers a number of chemical courses through Sci -Mind and job hunting skills through Career Services, for example. Leadership skills development is provided via the ACS Leadership Institute. The many tools that ACS offers to job seekers was recently outlined in C&EN to help create awareness of what is available to job seekers.

In terms of improving career fairs specifically, reaching out beyond the major, global corporations to midsized and smaller firms to participate in career fairs is an opportunity 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. Schmidt: The long term good of the nation and its ability to innovate requires scientific and technical competence. The prosperity of the country depends on innovation. More talented students entering STEM fields vs. other career alternatives would be a plus for the nation and our economy.  There are fewer students coming from abroad to the U.S. and staying. There is an advocacy opportunity to update our Visa system. The funding and numbers issue is a complex one because of the long lead time to “produce”/educate a scientist. However, one thing is for certain: if we do not train them, we will not have them in the future when the nation needs them.  A capable, trained workforce is a critically, important factor to building and sustaining  a thriving economy.

More attention to preparing students to enter industry merits attention. The reality is the majority of the jobs are in industry. We still need to keep the pipeline of talent flowing to build our economy.

Regarding salaries, the 2012 ACS salary survey states that salaries have weathered the 2007-2009 recession. It further states that chemists’ salaries are back to pre-recession levels. While this is encouraging, improvement in salaries is still needed to recognize the value contributed by chemists.

The landscape of employment opportunities is clearly challenging. The reality of a global economy and a global workforce is the landscape in which job seekers must compete.
  • On actual employment, approximately three hundred thousand (not all chemists, but plenty of chemists) have lost good pharma jobs in the past ten years.  In fact, the average is quoted as being about 42,000/ yr.  based on a quick Google search.
  • Government cuts: Our chemist colleagues in government, who are currently coping with both the sequester and the recent government. “furlough”, have certainly experienced income losses. 
  • Grant Seekers: Our chemist colleagues who are applying to government agencies grants likely have current thoughts and data from their experiences with the grant process.
CJ:  Each ACS Presidential candidate, for at least the past decade, knows the challenging job market facing ACS members and inevitably speaks of growing jobs in the U.S. Specifically, what tangible steps would you take to increase the number of chemistry jobs in the U.S., and is this something you really think is achievable?

Dr. Schmidt: The reality is that ACS alone cannot create jobs. ACS can, however, help create a climate for job creation in the U.S. via its advocacy programs. It is a time for bold action regarding jobs. I welcome ideas and suggestions from your readers.

Steps I envision for growing U.S. jobs include:

Advocacy: Increasing our ACS advocacy efforts at the federal, state and local levels.  The return on investment of R&D funding is significant vs. other spending options. Our elected government officials are key partners in helping increase jobs and build our nation’s economy. The ACS Government Affairs Groups, as well as the advocacy consortia ACS works with on shared  issues of concern like jobs are key avenues to amplify our efforts to create more jobs for chemists.

Education: More attention to preparing students to enter industry merits attention. The reality is the majority of the jobs are in industry. A capable, trained workforce is an important factor in a thriving economy. 
Certainly it is an important factor in an industry’s decision of where to locate their operations.

Identify new models to connect and create "job rich environments": There are many technology transfer units on university campuses to connect and partner with industry. A model to connect academia, industry, government labs and non-profits is a relatively unexplored arena for potential job creation. I believe there is great opportunity there to ignite and release some untapped job creation.

CJ: 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. Schmidt: There were many mixed messages and interpretations from the media on the impact and duration   of the economic realities that became the Great Recession. The ACS had in place contingency plans to assure the financial sustainability of ACS and the services it provides to the members, including the many career services that ACS provides to members.

Services to unemployed members did increase during this period, e.g. the ACS on-Line Job Club. The magnitude of the increase in unemployment during the Great Recession, however, seemed greater than these efforts could address.

Stepped up advocacy for a national infrastructure that attracts employment is needed now and in the future. By creating a nation where there are well educated technical professionals and an infrastructure ready to support and embrace the future and the changes that come with it are needed.

Thanks to Dr. Schmidt for her answers. ChemBark has a very useful link summary. 

18 comments:

  1. "It is a time for bold action regarding jobs"

    Finally, something concrete and clear!

    "It is a time for bold action regarding jobs. I welcome ideas and suggestions from your readers."

    Oh......

    "the 2012 ACS salary survey states that salaries have weathered the 2007-2009 recession"

    YAY for us!

    Let's see, ACS data shows 2008 (midpoint of 2007 to 2009) constant dollar salaries for 'all chemists' was $79K and in 2012 that had increased to $73.5K. Good work!

    Let's hope these guys have a lot of lipstick to put on the ACS pig.

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  2. What I'm getting from all the ACS presidential candidates is that they all think chemistry is important for the future but don't know what to do about jobs in the short term. I'd really like to see one of them address that point. Yes, it's true that training a chemist takes a long time - but the advice I'm seeing is go ahead and hope it's better by the time you get done. That doesn't inspire confidence.

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  3. Yet another reason to stop my ACS membership this year. The ACS is a bad joke on industrial chemists and chemistry students. If they abandoned it en mass just maybe the ACS tin ears would get religion and take the membership concerns seriously, then again it has never happed in the past 50 years.

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  4. What the ACS can do is put pressure on schools to close graduate programs, and the remaining faculty can hire only Post-docs.

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  5. "What the ACS can do is put pressure on schools to close graduate programs"

    How would the ACS possibly do this? Say to the schools "Please get rid of a lucrative revenue source?"

    The idea of having a governing body control supply of workers is an unworkable knee jerk solution. Who will set the number of future chemists, and in what fields? The brain trust running for ACS president who seem unable to understand that 74 < 79? Brilliant politicians like Michelle Bachman or GW Bush?

    I'm not familiar with the AMA's success in controlling the MD job market here, but the similar system in Canada has proven to be a disaster, with many decent size cities unable to attract enough MDs, and many people unable to even get a primary care physician as a result of the CMA's foolish limiting of medical school graduates.

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    1. Didn't Bush double the NIH budget?

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  6. This is depressing.

    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/342/6158/562.full.pdf

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  7. I definitely believe the ACS should NOT attempt to control the supply and demand of chemists as it relates to the job market. One need only to look at efforts by our own federal government over the years that, while well-meaning, have distorted the markets with often disastrous results. As a candidate for ACS President-Elect, I have listened to many people, read many articles and blogs, and given this topic a lot of thought. To respond to a comment above by Unstable Isotope, I do have some concrete actions that I would take to address the current job market for chemists. Please take a look again at my response to the ChemJobber questions at http://chemjobber.blogspot.com/2013/10/acs-presidential-candidate-brian-balazs.html.

    To summarize my answers to ChemJobber, here are some actions we can take right away:
    - Create a database for ACS members of where the jobs are, especially positions with “non-traditional”employers of chemists.
    - Work to develop more online resources for chemists to maintain their skills and learn new ones, as well as promoting more accessible online tools for resume review, applying for positions, interviewing, etc.
    - Work to inform employers of the opportunities that result from hiring chemists, and that chemists have many of the tools they are looking for.
    - Create new tools to expand and nurture entrepreneurship and innovative new businesses, as these are where many of the jobs in the future will be.

    This is a difficult job market for many chemists – I get that. At the same time, I know many chemists who are getting hired. My job as ACS President is to work to make this the norm for chemist job-seekers.

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    1. Bryan,

      We've all heard a lot about "non-traditional" employers. They employ a tiny fraction of what the pharmaceutical and chemical industries used to. Counting on them to pick up excess chemical manpower is not realistic even if you try to pump up demand by "inform[ing] employers of the opportunities that result from hiring chemists."

      Your skills improvement idea is not going to work as well as you might think. Hands-on experience...in a particular industry...is what counts today. We currently have ads for polymer science jobs stating "pharma people need not apply." Today's labor market is not tolerant of skills mismatches...even slight ones. Having an online training course on your CV is not going to be of much benefit.

      Promoting "entrepreneurship and innovative new businesses" sounds great, but what is ACS going to do that venture capitalists have not? I'd like to hear more. Will ACS be lobbying for SBA loan reform? Increases in SBIR funding? What about journal and CAS access for small businesses?

      I think you're nibbling around the edges of a problem that is quite large and has some systematic, long-standing root causes. The link between grants and graduate degrees production is one example. The disconnect between academic training and industrial research is another. The lack of retraining opportunities and mobility (i.e., pigeonholing) is yet another. Unfair trade practices by foreign governments is one more. Of the three candidates, you've given the best answers, but frankly, ACS is not going to do anything to address root causes, which will just result in weak results and a wasting of money and resources.

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  8. The government already massively distorts the supply of chemists available to the market by funding a lot of worthless chemistry research using money taken at gunpoint form taxpayers to pay for training of anyone who fogs a mirror. There are two simple solutions: 1) massively cut back funding for training more chemists at US taxpayer expense. If industry needs these people then they will put their money where their mouth is and fund student training. After all they, not Society are the primary beneficiary of a trained cohort of chemists. Industry will only pay for the quality and quantity that they really want. 2) No more free lunch for chemistry students. Yeah I know students suffer a lot to get a chemistry degree, but would they do so if they also had to pay the freight to get that degree and have no job prospects at the end? If they want a degree in chemistry they should cough up the money to pay for it just like those seeking MDs and law degrees do. My bet is without the market distortions caused by government subsidized chemistry training, the market for chemists and their pay would find exactly the level where the chemists win.

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    1. One of the problems I see with this is the ability to pay back loans. Lawyers and MDs, depending on specialization, can expect salaries capable of paying back the necessary large loans once they graduate. At the moment, chemist salaries don't really compare. Would this shift or would companies just start outsourcing research even more? The other problem ( which also affects the taking of loans) is that PhD training is not a finite amount of time, which is partly a function of advisors holding students hostage, but also the nature of scientific research. MD/JD is course work that fits into a neat time frame. How do you re-work graduate programs to fit into a set amount of time? Do you force people to drop a project if it isn't complete and make them graduate? I don't have answers, just playing devil's advocate :)

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  9. "- Create a database for ACS members of where the jobs are, especially positions with “non-traditional”employers of chemists."

    Hasn't the ACS had a jobs site for years? How does a database increase employment?

    "Work to develop more online resources for chemists to maintain their skills and learn new ones, as well as promoting more accessible online tools for resume review, applying for positions, interviewing, etc."

    How does this create more jobs?

    "Work to inform employers of the opportunities that result from hiring chemists, and that chemists have many of the tools they are looking for."

    I'd love to go back and look at what prior ACS president candidates have said over the past few decades, I'll be this has come up.

    "Create new tools to expand and nurture entrepreneurship and innovative new businesses, as these are where many of the jobs in the future will be."

    I'm really not sure what that means.

    Not to sound too offensive, but it sounds that you are spouting a bunch of meaningless platitudes that will accomplish nothing in terms of actual job creation. If I were an unemployed chemist I would be insulted.

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  10. "Create a database for ACS members of where the jobs are"
    China? India? Kelly Services? Oh that's the problem, the jobs are around here somewhere, we just haven't been looking in the right place. If you join ACS, you'll get the super-secret decoder ring that will show you "where the jobs are". Unfortunately, mine always shows up defective, like the mugs.

    "Work to develop more online resources for chemists"
    More ACS spam for webinars and advice how to format my resume? Ha! I've been using Times, when I really should have used Helvetica, and I need more strong action verbs. No wonder I've performed the facilitation of my unemployment. I just need to get out there and implement a new paradigm.

    "Create new tools to expand and nurture entrepreneurship and innovative new businesses, as these are where many of the jobs in the future will be."
    The BLS disagrees:
    http://m.research.stlouisfed.org/fred/series.php?sid=LNS12027714&show=chart&range=10yrs&units=lin

    Idea for upcoming ACS webinar series: "Empowering chemists to produce the bootstraps with which they can hoist themselves up into the land of rainbows and unicorns… STEM!"

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  11. Idea for upcoming ACS webinar series: "Facing the grim reality of retraining for your second career- philosophical, existential and practical aspects."

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  12. " There are many technology transfer units on university campuses to connect and partner with industry. "

    The issue in industry today is that chemists are considered disposable. A lay-off for a 40+ year old BS/MS chemist is considered career ending. A lay-off for a PhD at age 50+ is career ending.... Those laid off are too expensive to be hired elsewhere. The cost of creating an endless supply of new chemistry graduates is the salaries of a few lobbyists to cry "STEM shortage!". Then Washington funds more STEM education and cranks up the H1B1 printing presses.

    Creating partnerships with universities could just further shorten the careers of chemists. Why would companies hire full time employees, when they can fund university projects? Where will these students go when they deliver knowledge to these companies? What valuable knowledge is lost forever when those experienced in industry are laid off to fund university partnerships? How will chemical intuition be developed when the exposure to the industry is only as long as the universities program? Wouldn't it be possible that chemistry careers would end up being over prior to age 30? More unemployed or underemployed chemists. Real progress.

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  13. " There are many technology transfer units on university campuses to connect and partner with industry. "

    Brilliant idea from 1990....

    Most real research schools have had these for decades. Can someone explain to me how this will now create more jobs for chemists?

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  14. Last year I asked one of the candidates whether they would sit down with chemical and pharmaceutical company representatives and ask: Why have your hiring practices changed so much over the past 15 years?

    This is the chief reason that there are so many fewer jobs for chemists now. It is not that chemists don't know how to use the ACS job board, or how to format a resume, or how to conduct themselves during an interview, or attend job fairs, etc., etc. Putting all the onus on individual chemists to change their employment prospects, while letting chemical and pharmaceutical companies COMPLETELY off the hook for their hiring practices is mind-boggling. And it is not in the interests of ACS members to continue to do so.

    The candidate from last year just laughed off my suggestion. I wonder what this year's candidates think?

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    1. That's a friggin' brilliant question. I wish I thought of it.

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