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Jobs Outlook: Chemists and Materials Scientists
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Employment of chemists is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2012. Job growth will be concentrated in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing and in scientific research and development services firms. The chemical industry, the major employer of chemists, should face continued demand for goods such as new and better pharmaceuticals and personal care products, as well as for more specialty chemicals designed to address specific problems or applications. To meet these demands, some chemical firms will continue to devote money to research and development—through in-house teams or outside contractors—spurring employment growth of chemists. Those with at least a master’s degree, and particularly those with a Ph.D., will enjoy better opportunities than those with just a bachelor’s degree for most research and upper management positions. Opportunities for individuals with a bachelor’s degree are expected to be more competitive. The number of science-related jobs in sales, marketing, and middle management, for which bachelor’s and master’s degree holders may qualify, are expected to be fewer as companies continue to streamline their operations. Some bachelor’s and master’s degree holders become chemical technicians or technologists or high school chemistry teachers.
Within the chemical industry, job opportunities are expected to be most plentiful in pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms. Biotechnological research, including studies of human genes, continues to offer possibilities for the development of new drugs and products to combat illnesses and diseases that have previously been unresponsive to treatments derived by traditional chemical processes. Stronger competition among drug companies and an aging population are contributing to the need for innovative and improved drugs discovered through scientific research.
Employment in the remaining segments of the chemical industry is expected to decline as companies downsize and turn to outside contractors to provide specialized services. As a result, scientific research and development services firms will experience healthy growth. To control costs, some chemical companies, including drug manufacturers, are increasingly turning to these firms to perform specialized research and other work formerly done by in-house chemists. Despite downsizing, some job openings will result from the need to replace chemists who retire or otherwise leave the labor force. Quality control will continue to be an important issue in chemical manufacturing and other industries that use chemicals in their manufacturing processes.
Chemists also will be needed to develop and improve the technologies and processes used to produce chemicals for all purposes, and to monitor and measure air and water pollutants to ensure compliance with local, State, and Federal environmental regulations. Environmental research will offer many new opportunities for chemists and materials scientists. To satisfy public concerns and to comply with government regulations, the chemical industry will continue to invest billions of dollars each year in technology that reduces pollution and cleans up existing wastesites. Chemists also are needed to find ways to use less energy and to discover new sources of energy.
During periods of economic recession, layoffs of chemists may occur—especially in the industrial chemicals industry. This industry provides many of the raw materials to the auto manufacturing and construction industries, both of which are vulnerable to temporary slowdowns during recessions.