Sunday, September 27, 2009

Department of Awful Statistics: The September Swoon in CEN industrial job ads

In the past month, there have been 2 (count 'em -- 2!) industrial job ads in Chemical and Engineering News. To see if this is an anomaly or a trend, I've charted the industrial ad content for the issue of C&EN for 2nd week of September. (I tried to pick the issue that was closest to the arbitrary date of Sept. 14.) The resulting graph (data set here) is not encouraging:

Now, there are any number of explanations:

Competition against C&EN: 1989 is before the internet - I'm going to guess that it was the only game in town, if you wanted to hire chemists. Nowadays, it's one of at least 5 or 6 places to go -- besides, who wants to pay for ads on-dead-tree when you could pay much less for ads online?

Recruiters moving their schedules: It's completely possible that companies have, over the years, quit advertising for positions during the 2nd week of September and they're putting their ads in C&EN some other time.

The golden years are over: Perhaps this is evidence of a "secular trend", as the economists would put it, where the job market for chemists is just never going to be as good as it ever was. Sad, if true.

I'm sure there are alternate explanations; readers, you're welcome to comment on them. But nevertheless, the current paucity of industrial job ads and positions is hitting chemists hard.

UPDATE: Clarified a few words here and there. (9/28/09, 6 PM)


  1. Even though the message isn't very encouraging, the data are very useful to see collected in one place. Keep up the good work!

    I'm curious - when the job market for chemists does begin to pick up again (alghough maybe not at previous levels and maybe not for the same kinds of positions as in years past), what do your think will be the top three channels companies use to find candidates?

  2. But if you compare it to something like the stock value of sigma-aldrich it doesn't make sense.;range=my;indicator=volume;charttype=line;crosshair=on;ohlcvalues=0;logscale=off;source=undefined

    Exponential growth in the market share of the chemical industry for over two decades doesn't make sense to an exponential decrease in jobs in that sector.

  3. Rich: Thanks for the kind comments. It is my guess that personal networks will be the primary means of finding positions over the next 2 years. I have a really hard time imagining companies making a big splash in the back of C&EN again, but I could be entirely wrong.

    So: 1) personal networks, 2) ACS Careers website and 3) other general websites. I'd guess that their relative shares are going to be 60/30/10. That's just a WAG, though.

  4. Mitch: I don't doubt that both could be true. Do you think that Aldrich has maintained its market share (or increased it) as WalMart to chemists? I think they've done the latter.

    That being said, I think this graph actually measures factor #1 (loss of influence of CEN) more than factor #3 (we'll never have it good again.) But I take a very narrow view of this particular set of data, even as I think it is a possible indication of both factors.

  5. Woops, I meant market capitalization not market share.

  6. Funny -- that's how I thought of it (market cap.) But I responded on market share, and my thoughts still remain the same. Aldrich is still the place that people go, even though the blogosphere (and us younger chemists) think that their products aren't so great.*

    *But that's how you treat the dominant force in any industry, right?

  7. Pfizer is going to make some serious cuts soon. I recommend that someone just make a blog called "Don't be a chemist" as a beacon to all undergrads thinking about grad school. Opportunities still seem good for undergrad degrees.

  8. A few things:

    1) I don't think it's totally fair to compare BS/MS positions to PhD positions. There are of course more BS/MS positions because associates work under PhD's, and the job requirements aren't as board. Secondly, the number of PhD positions becomes more scarce as one gets promotions from lab head to project leader to group leader to etc... Finally, BS/MS will be in the lab, whereas a PhD who gets promotions is being groomed for a career in managing chemists/projects.

    2)I agree (as many) that things aren't good right now. However, the chemistry job market tends to go through cycles (at least in the past). The job market for chemists was at rock bottom in 1994. By 1999, things were as good as could be. Things were quite good from 2000-2003. Of course, now we are faced with emptier pipelines, patent expirations and outsourcing, but, maybe things will change for the better after a few years. Hopefully.

    Good luck to everyone out there.

  9. T is right about a few things. Improvements did occur in the time periods cited. But the trend overall is down. There are jobs for PhDs, however, they are filled to easily to really post them in C&EN. Friends get friends jobs. I think that is a sign the field is a little crowded also.

    It's very tough to be optimistic for people seeking graduate degrees. It doesn't look like this is going to change for a long time given the patent issues. I don't think we've hit rock bottom yet. Not till 2012-2013, then who knows. I get out of grad school then, so I'm extra pissed.

    The PhD's have created a glass ceiling for BS/MS chemists, but above it lies our ruin.

  10. Well, if the people working for ACS spend their days writing knols (have any of you ever even seen one? seriously?) and expand their web presence instead of going out there and finding jobs, and there're jobs out there then what else can you expect? I suspect Mr. Harwell who gave us such masterpieces as "Spreading the aloha of chemistry" and "CheMystery: Who dunnit?" simply finds such things too mundane and not whimsical enough for his tastes. Then again, I've always maintained that ACS has a career section only to keep an appearance of caring for well-being of its members.

  11. A5:13PM: It's worth pointing out that the author of the knol in question (I believe) is a chemist working for Google.

  12. Mitch:

  13. I remember back when I took Chem Lit in undergrad, the instructor said that (and I'm paraphrasing) "The back of CEN was the place to go for chemists looking for employment opportunites."

    The only opportunites I saw in CEN during my job search were either post-docs (got a Masters), academia (no way), or industry ones with 5-7 yrs experience minimum (not qualified for and no experience right out of grad school).


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20