Chemical Engineers March On

The road is uneven and includes geographic and demographic turns.

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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AspenTech also is managing a demographic issue — but one with a twist. Formed in 1981, the company has a relatively young workforce; the challenge it faces is with customers.

“I heard recently from an executive at a global E&C [engineering and construction] company who employs thousands of engineers. However, he is still facing a significant shortfall. At the same time, about 30% of his engineers have less than three years’ experience. This is another reason why our training activities are so important — and becoming increasingly more important,” says Sanjeev Mullick, director of product marketing and a chemical engineer.
The challenge here is to help these young users gain knowledge as quickly as possible, one of the drivers behind the company’s simplified “expert in a box” training packages and 90-minute “lunch and learn” sessions.

Like Air Products, Aspen is finding that the YouTube generation want their information in a different way. “They expect more speed and agility from their software than did their predecessors, but at the same time they trust the software much more than their predecessors — which is a double-edged sword, as they tend to trust it too much,” says Dhole. “They are a bit more gullible,” Mullick suggests.

Recruiter’s View
“Our business is highly concentrated in the oil and gas sector, where the issue of matching chemical engineer supply and their demand has been an ongoing, long-term problem. Even with the price of oil falling, I expect this to remain tight for some time yet,” says Tim McAward, vice president of Kelly Services, Troy, Mich., a human resources firm.

This demand very much focuses on chemical engineers needed to carry out design work in the U.S. to support customers in China, India and, increasingly, Brazil. “Long-term, some organizations are looking at the talent they can leverage in the U.S. while building pools of talent abroad — nearer to the shop. So I would expect to see a shifting of this design work from the U.S. to China and India as companies build up bigger resources nearer to the main projects.”

Kelly is seeing increasing business-related to green projects, but one of the big anticipated demand areas is in the nuclear arena. “There hasn’t been a new nuclear power station here for three decades and, as the U.S. really begins to invest in new nuclear facilities, the talent is very scarce, both on the design side and on the environmental engineering aspects,” notes McAward.

British Perspective
Traditional sectors — oil, chemicals and allied products, pharmaceuticals and toiletries, and contracting — remain the key providers of jobs for the 27,000-strong worldwide membership of the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), Rugby, U.K. “In the grand scheme of things, classical chemical manufacturing and chemical plant design are still the most important on a global scale. All the growth in India and China of ethylene and ammonia plants, for example, still requires the basics,” notes Neil Atkinson, IChemE’s director, qualifications and international development.

“However, Western chemical engineering is definitely moving more towards the bio-interfaces than in the past. By this I mean the inclusion of biology and biological processes into our discipline,” he adds. As evidence of this, he cites the August merger of the Department of Chemical Engineering and the Institute of Biotechnology at Cambridge University, Cambridge, U.K., into the new Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology. Similar mergers or renaming of chemical engineering departments to emphasize biotechnology have taken place in the U.S.

Welcoming the move, chemical engineering department head Professor Lynn Gladden pointed to the increasing overlap in research interests and collaborations between the two departments. “Chemical engineering recognized that it did not have the breadth of expertise in relevant biological subjects to capitalize on research opportunities in bio-energy, biopharmaceuticals and bioproduct engineering,” she noted.

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