Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A shortage of chemical industry workers in the Houston area?

Interesting letter from ExxonMobil Chemical's CEO in the Houston Chronicle last week: 
Thousands of jobs are coming to the Houston area because of an enormous wave of investment the chemical industry plans to make in new plants and capacity expansions. Announced projects totaling $100 billion would capitalize on abundant, affordable U.S. natural gas to produce chemicals. Most of those dollars will be invested in the Houston area and across the Gulf Coast, which is the heart of the U.S. chemical industry. 
You would expect a stampede of job applicants when I tell you about the salaries involved with these jobs. For example, in the chemical industry in Texas, the average wage is almost $100,000 a year. That is the good news. 
The bad news is that the chemical industry is seeing a growing shortage of skilled workers - men and women with the talent and training to succeed in our high-tech manufacturing sector. 
It's not just chemical companies who are seeing this. The National Association of Manufacturers reports that two-thirds of U.S. manufacturers are reporting moderate to severe shortages of skilled workers. That means there are some 600,000 good jobs going unfilled. 
ExxonMobil believes there is an urgent need for business, educators and government to widen the path to these career opportunities by expanding vocational training. That's why we support the work of nine Houston-area community colleges to train students for technical careers in the chemical and energy industries. 
The community colleges have joined together to create the website houstonnaturalgas.com to show visitors the career opportunities in the chemical industry, the pay for these jobs, how many will be needed in the coming years and the required training the schools can provide. 
This innovative program seeks to recruit and train high school graduates and returning military veterans for careers such as the instrument technicians who keep chemical plants running safely and efficiently, and skilled craftsmen such as welders and pipefitters who build and maintain the equipment. This program will benefit 50,000 students and educators over the next five years. 
As a major employer in this community, I'm proud to partner with our community colleges to prepare Houstonians to fill high-paying jobs and launch satisfying careers in a critical industry. 
Stephen D. Pryor, president, ExxonMobil Chemical Co., Houston
I could actually believe that the petrochemical industry needs more workers; it does seem as if I am hearing about a lot of high salaries coming out of the Gulf Coast region. The "600,000 jobs going unfilled" factoid is completely untrue; it is an extrapolated guess from an online survey of manufacturing CEOs from 2011.

I also note with some amusement that the website houstonnaturalgas.com is rather amusing in its simplicity; it's basically a splash page with the word "JOBS" and some vague assertions about how good ExxonMobil's new Baytown complex is going to be for employment.

I suspect that this letter is really about local political opposition to ExxonMobil's expansion in Baytown, but I'm not a resident of Houston, so I don't know what the politics there are. 


  1. What I find interesting about the letter is they talk about the need for people without a chemical background to support the chemical industry. The job opportunities are for craftsmen, welders, pipefitters, etc. There's no mention of "chemistry" jobs.

  2. Exxon is building their massive global R&D/corporate facility in Spring, about 5 miles south of where I live in north Houston. I've heard estimates of 4000 employees (10-15K people) re-locating to this area (some from other areas of Houston, some from afar), which is already growing at a fast pace. About the only thing its done so far is give me a huge increase in property taxes due to a higher property value evaluation from the county. Houses around me are selling for $160-$200/sq. ft., which is unheard of in the Houston suburbs. I haven't really checked to see if they are trying to hire a lot of chemists/engineers to work there.

    1. a huge increase in property taxes due to a higher property value evaluation


  3. LOL, $160-$200/sq.ft., sounds absurdly cheap compared to Canadian cities.

    1. It may be. I don't know much about comparable property values in other cities, but I'm sure its way more expensive on the coasts. Two years ago, you could get a decent house in the Houston suburbs at $80-90/sq. ft.

  4. Still don't want to move to Houston, there's the problem maybe, or one of them...

    1. That can be a big problem with getting quality chemists down here. People who have no connection to Texas are unlikely to move here, and even less likely to stay if they find something else back on the east or west coast. I'm a native Houstonian and have family here, so its home, but the long summers are killer. The costs of living are so low though (for now), and there really are some nice areas, such as The Woodlands (if you like trees).

    2. Clutch Chemist

      I'm not sure if that is a lament and you are struggling to find decent chemists.

      If so can I get your email address, I'm new to Houston, like the place, and am a good (if modest) chemist seeking work.

    3. Its an issue I've heard mentioned before around here, and one my group has had in the past, but we are not hiring anyone currently (and I am not the decision-maker there anyway, ha!)