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A perspective on the future of chemical engineering.

The dynamics of today's labor market demand that professionals be flexible

"The chemical engineer is versatile, well grounded in the fundamental sciences of chemistry, physics and mathematics, but also knows when to apply empirical engineering know-how to solve problems."

Versality. A characteristic that is becoming increasingly important not only to chemical engineers but to a majority of professions. The dynamics of the labor market demand that professionals be flexible, 'jacks of all trades', able to do more than just the job for which they were trained. These abilities are part of the human factor that is shaping the Canadian company of the future -- a company that is able to compete in a global marketplace. And a key component of their success will be chemical engineering.

Although traditional roles for chemical engineers may be changing, there are many new areas in which their skills will be essential. They are in fact in the forefront of new technologies and industries. Before we look at these however, let's briefly examine the factors affecting the types of skills that industries require.

Trends influencing skills requirements

These include:

* evolution of technology -- new technologies demand new skill sets;

* fewer people required -- as operations become more efficient;

* new work arrangements -- contract work, flexible hours etc;

* retraining and replacing -- companies investing more money in their human resources;

* constant state of inexperience -- in both technical and human capabilities;

* increased pressure -- to compete in global markets;

* internationalization of Canadian worklife -- influence of foreign ownership;

* internationalization of Canadian operations -- Canadian workers in foreign markets;

* growth of foreign business in Canada -- new ways of doing business;

* increased joint venture activity.

Such trends will provide exciting opportunities for chemical engineers, especially in three key sectors.

Resource-based industries: This sector includes pulp and paper, chemicals and energy companies, all of which are heavily involved in product and process research. Chemical engineers are the primary professionals in these fields, using their basic knowledge of subjects such as kinetics and thermodynamics to link process and product at essential points in the production process.

The efforts of resource-based industries focus on:

* lessening the environmental effect of process technologies;

* conserving the resources base through a more efficient use of resources;

* improving competitiveness through production of better quality products at a competitive price.

Emerging industries and technologies: This would include such fields as biotechnology and the production of advanced industrial materials, which involve developing new applications for existing products and processes. Currently, these are extremely high growth areas, and are undergoing increased commercialization.

Environment: This is perhaps the most significant area of development. More and more companies are realizing the need to protect the environment in which they are operating. Governmental restrictions, including pollution and emission standards, forest conservation and wildlife protection, have resulted in the need for professionals to not only monitor potential hazards but to develop processes that reduce them. The ultimate goal is an optimum reduction in hazards to the environment.

While many educational institutions are now offering courses and degrees in environmental engineering, it is still the chemical and civil engineers who are filling these positions.

Facts to remember

* Of all the jobs open in the labor market, 25% are never filled by outside sources.

* Technical job specifications from employers are very tight, especially in engineering and related positions.

* Scientists and engineers tend to stay as specialists for a longer period of time before moving into management roles. In fact, it is often a dilemma for technically trained professionals to make the choice to move into general management.

* Environmental engineering is one of five key areas of engineering demand. The others are electrical, electronics, nuclear and aerospace/aeronautical engineering.

* Chemical engineers specifically must deal with the increased internationalization of academia and industry, especially in the field of research and development.

* Shortages of engineers have been predicted in Europe, Japan and Australia; therefore, historical sources of engineers for Canada may not be the sources in the future.

* Non-technical skills are equally important in today's job market. Employers are looking for people with multi-industry, multi-disciplinary work experiences. Workers who can adapt to change and can communicate their thoughts and ideas effectively will continue to be in high demand.

To sum up, "chemical engineering is a true profession: self-regulated, involving legal and ethical responsibilities, requiring specialized knowledge, providing a significant impact on society, and demanding astute project leadership."

Ross Finlay is president, Technical Service Council, Toronto, ON. This text is based on a presentation he made in February 1992 at a seminar organized by the Calgary Section, CSChe, on Professional Transitions. Mimi Peterson, TSC research associate, helped put the text together.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Chemical Institute of Canada
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Author:Finlay, Ross
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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