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By Claudia M. Caruana, associate editor
Veteran engineers have borne the brunt of the re-engineering and consolidation that have buffeted the Chemical Process Industries (CPI) during the last decade. Now, however, demand for experienced ChEs seems clearly on the upswing. This comes as little surprise to many recruiters and human resources professionals who have predicted that the job market would eventually turn upward when companies experienced better economic conditions.
Observes Rich Brandeis, manager of the Chemical Engineering Div. of CPS, Inc., an engineering recruitment organization based in Westchester, IL, "recruiting of experienced chemical engineers has never been better in 20 years, especially for those individuals in the three to 10 years of experience range."
This upbeat situation is not only confined to experienced engineers. CEP's annual survey of new ChE graduates (June 1998, p. 9) showed that almost two-thirds (66%) of grads seeking employment had accepted job offers compared to 48% only a year earlier. "This is another indication of a healthy marketplace and a growing need for chemical engineers," says Dr. Earl Graham, a chemical engineering professor at Cleveland State University, and author of AIChE's "Initial Placement of Chemical Engineers" report. (Excerpts of that report, which will describe the class of 1997 and their choices, is scheduled to appear in the September issue of AIChExtra.)
Another positive sign is the increased recruitment advertising for chemical engineers. According to Daniel A. Johnson, CEP's classified advertising coordinator, CEP's positions available ads have risen 15% in the last 18 months. A majority of jobs are for mid-level or higher ChEs, he says.
Unemployment rate at eight-year low
Data from AIChE's biennial Salary Survey (CEP, Aug., 1998, p. 109) seem to concur with a high employment rate of chemical engineers. Approximately 2% of those surveyed were unemployed, one of the lowest rates since 1990, says Betty Feehen, the Institute's manager of career services. "We have seen unemployment among members as high as 6% in 1985. This year, like in the 1996 report covering 1995, fewer than 3% of the respondents are unemployed and seeking employment." But, Feehen cautions, "unemployed members may be less likely than others to complete salary surveys; so, actually, unemployment may, in fact, be somewhat higher." The latest statistics from AIChE's membership base indicates a national unemployment rate of 4% in May 1998.
Robert Drexler, president of Robert Drexler and Associates, a recruitment/search firm based in Hackensack, NJ, notes that "there are certain areas where there is increased need for experienced chemical engineers, especially at pharmaceutical, petrochemical, and specialty chemical companies. These jobs usually are in the $65,000 to $95,000 range. Process engineers at chemical facilities also are in high demand now."
Less in demand, however, are environmental engineers seeking employment with smaller companies or consulting firms, he says. He advises chemical engineers specializing in environmental technology to seek employment with larger companies, and notes that there is a much softer market for chemical engineers who want to relocate overseas.
As for "hot" geographical markets, Drexler points to the Houston area, where there is considerable job activity by many of the chemical and petrochemical companies that had downsized during the late 1980s and early 1990s. There also is considerable job activity in pharmaceuticals in the New Jersey-Pennsylvania corridor and the southeast, especially the Carolinas.
Job shoppers prosper, too
Drexler, also president of L.E.A.D.S., Inc., a company supplying temporary technical professionals to industry, notes that there is an increased interest in job shoppers or contract workers. "Years ago, job shoppers often were considered 'second class' citizens, but that is not the case today. They are very much in demand by employers seeking experienced engineers who want to keep their overhead low. Today, these highly paid positions are sought after by seasoned ChEs who may have taken early retirement packages or buyouts." They also are attractive to younger engineers, often part of a two-paycheck family where the spouse already has medical and other benefits, who want to maximize their income, he adds.
Genie Matthews, an engineering recruiter and career counselor based in Fayetteville, NC, says she's seen the market for ChEs during the last four to six years in the southeast, especially for those specializing in petrochemicals, specialty chemicals, and pharmaceuticals. But, she stresses, there continues to be a lot of competition for these positions.
A human resources professional at a large Midwestern chemical company, who did not want her name or company mentioned for fear of a deluge of resumes, says that the organization is on the "lookout for bright, experienced chemical engineers for several of its divisions. In some cases, we had to rely on job shoppers because we could not hire chemical engineers with the experience we needed and who wanted to relocate."
Drexler emphasizes that while chemical engineering openings may be more plentiful now than in previous years, "applicants still need to have quality skills and know-how to present those skills in their resumes and on interviews."
A new addition to AIChE's Annual Meeting in Miami Beach is the Career Resource Center where attendees can review posted employment opportunities. The Career Center then forwards the resumes to the employers selected by the participants for review. Recruiters will not be on-site, as they had been previously.
Attendees also can participate in informal discussions of career-related topics that will be held hourly on Tuesday, November 17, and browse at career and job search materials on display. In addition, job search and career workshops will be conducted by volunteers representing the Professional Development Committee and by the Career Services staff.
For AIChE members seeking employment but not planning to attend the Annual Meeting, positions posted there, plus CEP's updated monthly classified section, will be available on the Institute's web site: http://www.aiche.org.
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