Workforce 2050: Charting a Course for the Future

Dow Chemical Executive Katie Hunt encourages you to dream big when you envision the world in 2050.

By Catherine T. "Katie" Hunt, Ph.D., Director of Innovation Sourcing and Sustainable Technologies, The Dow Chemical Co.

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This vision requires creativity. When I had my son, I had to be off my feet. At one of our leadership meetings, my boss said something extraordinary at the time: "You can work from home." Everyone was aghast; how were we going to do that? But he was confident that collectively, we could figure it out. I was given a computer at home with access to our mainframe and a cordless phone, which was no small feat 20 years ago. We were creative and we had fun making work "work."

This vision requires boldness. You need to articulate what you need. My mother always referenced the Bible, "Ask and you shall receive. Seek and you shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you." In graduate school, my advisor said, "You don't ask, you don't get." A former manager once told me, "Katie, if I'm always saying yes, you are just not asking for enough." One day I entered his office with a big smile on my face; he said, "So, you think you have it; let's hear it." I said, "I want your job." He said, "Finally! My wife has been waiting for you to get to this!" Progress, toward achieving your desired/shared goals, starts with being bold enough to articulate what you truly need to be successful, not just what you want.

This vision requires reinventing yourself. Jobs in chemistry today are different than 10-20 years ago. It is no longer enough to simply stand at a bench and do "benchwork." As chemistry professionals we are required to interact, communicate, and collaborate in a digital, international world, addressing world challenges holistically and systematically.

As future leaders in chemistry it will not be enough to be "just a scientist". You must be entrepreneurs in the full sense of the word. You must "sell" your ideas, navigate an increasingly complex world of global intellectual property, and effectively partner across continents and around the world. Learning won't stop with your degrees – whether undergraduate or graduate or postgraduate - you will continually need to reinvent yourselves. In chemistry today, and into the future, you will need to seek out education from "K through grey" – from kindergarten through your senior years.

Change is afoot. Georgia Institute of Technology is stepping up to meet the demands of a global marketplace with its TI:GER program (Technological Innovation: Generating Economic Results) which teaches teams of future Ph.D., MBA, and law students to address technology entrepreneurship from ideation and product development through to commercialization and marketing. The NSF is stepping up with its new 10-year Career- Life Balance Initiative to allow individuals to take time off to attend to family responsibilities without jeopardizing funding awards. Many companies, including my own, help employees navigate the pressures of an increasingly "24/7" work week by developing flexible and creative approaches to getting work done.

In closing, as you envision the world in 2050, dream and dream big. Imagine harnessing the power of chemistry to create a cleaner, greener, healthier world…. Now it's time to chart your course to this future.


U.S. Commerce Department's Economics and Statistics Administration

ii I would like to acknowledge Darlene MacKinnon, director of diversity & inclusion at Dow Chemical, for engaging discussions and marvelous insights on the difference between work-life balance and work-life effectiveness.

iii Modified from the ACS Leadership Development System Extraordinary Leaders' Course.

Katie Hunt, Dow Chemical -- Credit: Peter Cutts PhotographyCatherine T. "Katie" Hunt, Ph.D., is director, Innovation Sourcing and Sustainable Technologies, at The Dow Chemical Company and 2007 President of the American Chemical Society.  Her bimonthly column appears exclusively on Follow her on Twitter @KatieChemist.

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