Talent Restoration as the Key for Success
The key need for innovation companies now is talent. There is a large technology and capability gap opening up in the chemical industry where millennials and X generations have not developed the same level of expertise in chemical technology as the Baby-Boomer and older generations did. Despite an overall rise in degrees granted in Science & Engineering since 2000, the degrees awarded in the Physical Sciences are relatively flat. And the numbers since 2000 are nowhere near the numbers of engineering degrees awarded in the 1980’s.
Even with a recent rise in science & engineering degrees since 2000, these candidates do not yet have the experience needed in Chemical Technology to solve the innovation and New Product Development challenges that are desperately needed today. Innovation capability by a college graduate versus an industry veteran with 15-20 years of experience on top of a college degree, are very different. So it will take another roughly 5-10 years for the recent surge in Science & Engineering graduates to perfect their trade and gain the insight and experience needed for innovation. And availability of this talent pool further depends on how many of these graduates remain in the US working to support the US Chemical Technology industry, as many advanced degree recipients are foreign nationals with temporary residence and they return to their country after they have earned their degree.
"Restoring this talent pool is one key to success for the US Chemical Technology industry"
Another indicator on the state of innovation is the state the chemical industry today. As an example, look at DuPont/Dow. These companies have lost the ability to innovate new products and technologies (poor management and lack of leadership notwithstanding) partly because not enough skilled chemical technologists have come out of centers for higher education (Baccalaureate and Graduate degrees). The other part of the equation here is the lack of R&D funding by big companies to provide the environment for innovation. So big business P&L goals trump innovation, which is suffering due to lack of both talent and funding.
As an aside, community colleges are seeing a surge in science and engineering degrees recently, but this is driven more by economics and the sky-rocketing cost of a four-year or graduate degree. Two-year graduates who fail to go on and pursue a four-year degree also contribute to the erosion in knowledge or human capital necessary for innovation. While community colleges fill a useful niche in the education system, a two-year education does not prepare contributors with the necessary knowledge to innovate, the way a four-year or graduate education does. Again, it comes down to economics. If a college education cannot be made affordable, then we lose the sheer number of entrants into Science and Technology that will ultimately end up in the Physical Sciences and Engineering that the Chemical Technology industry relies on in order to produce the innovation required.
Consequentially, finding top talent in our business is the key and we rely on personal networks, trade association rolls, and web-based search firms to scout for talent. We make personal contributions to investments that fund education for underprivileged prospective engineering students in efforts to grow the pool of talent that will flow into the Chemical Technology industry in the coming generations. Restoring this talent pool is one key to success for the US Chemical Technology industry.