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Salary Survey Participants Sound Off

July 24, 2013

In Chemical Processing’s 2013 Job Satisfaction and Salary Survey, we asked participants to share their comments regarding the public’s negative perception of the industry, what can be done to change it, and what advice they’d give someone looking to go into the field. Here, we highlight about 30 comments each from the three questions we asked.

In Chemical Processing’s 2013 Job Satisfaction and Salary Survey, we asked participants to share their comments regarding the public’s negative perception of the industry, what can be done to change it, and what advice they’d give someone looking to go into the field. Here, we highlight about 30 comments each from the three questions we asked.

What observations do you have about the public's perception of the industry?

If my industry did not exist, neither would life as we know it. Be careful what you wish for.

Their perception is a lack of understanding and appreciation. Most have NO idea how much the chemical industries contribute to their lives. Most of the time, they think of the Chem industry as the petroleum industry only!

The public, in general, are only going to respond to the negative information they are given.  Local news programs only show the bad events, not the positive ones.

Lawyers run the country and use the media to feed off of people's fears. Until the media and Hollywood are guided to get our youth interested in science and technology again we are going to see even tougher times while China and India, who view the processing industries much differently, continue to excel in math and science.

The public is right in their negative perception. You cannot screw up the environment and get away with it in today’s world. Time to pay up for past sins committed on the environment.

The public does not understand chemicals and is truly afraid of the word. Educators don't understand the issues and are not motivating children in the right direction.

The industry has not done a good job of correcting the decades of safety and environmental neglect and hence has a "dirty reputation." Also, the industry is deemed to be too profitable.

I’m very concerned that the average person does not have a basic understanding of chemical manufacturing and testing, and other types of testing that helps protect our food supply and environment.

I think people who take the time to educate themselves understand our industry and know its benefits. Those who just read what is in the paper will always find fault and want stricter controls in an already well-regulated industry.

The general American public is a very ignorant group — I don't just say this contemptuously.  When I attempt to explain what I do, how the industry does thing, the chemistry of it all, all in a very courteous manner, it’s obvious that the general public's perception is one of contempt to begin with, because they view chemistry and science as "black magic." In addition, anything that looks like a plant is immediately, and mistakenly, perceived as an oil refinery; hence, we're lumped into all the negative perceptions regarding "Big Oil."

The public fails to appreciate how essential our products are to their lives, and insist on buying them at the lowest possible price, which encourages the industry to despoil our air, water and land. Thus we rely on inefficient regulatory mechanisms, rather than more efficient market mechanisms to drive good social and environmental practices.

I do not care really. We are providing them goods and services that make their life better. If they do not want the stuff we make for them, they do not have to buy it. Our industry (chemical, pharmaceutical, food, fertilizer, etc I have worked in all of them) is responsible for the standard of living in this country. This country takes this for granted and most of them could not do what is done by the chemical industry. I would like to take every American through a typical chemical plant and show them what real technology is. They would find out how really difficult and complex the industry is.

The public’s perception is correct. We need to work harder to change it.

Nothing truly industrial is valued by the general population enough to overcome the restrictive regulations put in place.  It would be difficult to impossible to open a new industrial facility in this country.

Unfortunately, the chemical industry contributes to the negative opinion through unsafe practices which are normally a result of some company trying to save costs which impacts the industry in general.

Media coverage of the chemical industry is generally not favorable. The public's perception of the risk posed by the chemical industry is much higher than the real risk, which is leading to unnecessary regulation.

The public is not well informed and by and large knows that it doesn't understand the details. They just want to know that industry "gets it" and is serious about working on solutions.

All industries have been villainized so much over the years that providing jobs, making something that people need, and making money are now bad things. Oddly, these are the same principles that this country was founded on and are the only means by which to address most of any nation's economic problems.

Scientists and engineers should communicate more and better with the public.

I think they are largely misinformed about the value the chemical industry brings to everyday life.

The public awareness is on the increase especially on the greenhouse gas apathy.  The worries are justified and even I worry that we are in this business.

The media who knows nothing can really sway public opinion to the negative side.

Engineering has been put at the same level as carpenters and plumbers. When they are needed you pay them, when they are not needed, you want them to go away.

Twenty-five years ago post-Bhopal the perception was low. That has now changed significantly as people realize all of the job losses as production is being relocated offshore.

Most of the time, people who talk about the industry, don't have their own opinion but borrow from somebody else. Otherwise, in the current era of technology, industries are bound to be safe.

Do you have any suggestions as to how public perception of the industry's image can be improved?

Invite the media to [events showcasing] positive chemical industry accomplishments, like OSHA Safe Work award ceremonies and the opening of new pollution controls unit operations.

We must stop having incidents that injure or kill people or harm the environment.  We could do a better job of educating others about where their money goes when they buy fuel.

1. The public awareness regarding the industry has to be increased by frequent seminars and meeting with local residents. 2. The awareness can be brought in by educating the local contractor workers who are in the vicinity of the industry so that they can spread a correct perception regarding the industry specially industrial safety.

We need to do a better job telling our side of the story in a positive manner.

Trying to educate everyone has not been successful in the past so I am not sure how to combat this issue.

Keep on untangling the misinformation. Show the public all the benefits the chemical industry brings to their daily life. Another way of looking at it is to ask yourself, what would be the people's situation (physical, emotional) and opportunities if the products and service the industry provides were ABSENT!?

Work hard and honestly, hire the correct people, and get things done...The results will speak for the industry.

Bring ethics back into the senior management roles. Industry leaders should be willing to accept the responsibilities of their companies rather than bailing on their golden parachutes.

It’s impossible due to the zero-risk stance of the population. Everybody wants things that make their life better as long as there is no risk of something bad happening, ever. It is just unrealistic.

More STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] academies are needed and better interface between academia and industry at grade school level.

More publicity of companies' sustainability reports, assuming they have them, in order to show what they are doing to reduce emissions, reduce waste and provide products which reduce energy consumption for the consumer.

Project the idea of chemical technology as one of the miracles of science; That it's almost magic, but that understanding it is accessible to everyone.

Be consistent in the direction and what you communicate to employees and the other shareholders. Changing direction every time the wind blows is not a good way for others to understand the industry and is not a good way to prosper for the long term.

Educate the public that processing chemicals correctly may help the environment.

Education starts at early grade school for children. Work with science and math programs to teach teachers. Paint the picture of life without chemicals, refrigerants, fuels, medicines, polymers, synthetic fabrics, pesticides, fertilizers.....  If you want a life without pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, how many folks are you willing to starve?

Better police ourselves and exclude from our ranks companies that do not behave in accepted ethical or defined safety standards.

It would be nice if the media provided multiple view points, but that is just a wish. Studies can be manipulated by both parties. So, it probably needs to be by employees communicating to family and friends.

I think the industry does a pretty good job of public relations overall. Anything with industry is going to cause some people to be upset and you can’t change that. Most people are pretty level-headed about it and know that industry is part of our country and needs to continue to exist for us to keep moving ahead.

Provide true education on what the chemical processing industry does within the primary school system. We see all the environmental education, with much of it pseudo science, but do not see much of the hard sciences or specifically, chemistry shown as a benefit to society. I see what my children bring home as "science" and it completely disappoints me as a scientist and engineer.

Change the way we do business. Businesses are concerned with one thing — the bottom line; how much money are they making. Until you change the focus and motivation of businesses, the image can't change.

Promote the impact the chemical industry has on standard of living and where our nation would be without the innovations over the past 100 years.

We try. It's tough to fight against lies. What would help in the long term is to strengthen the teaching of sciences in primary and secondary education.

When it comes to safety, we need to demonstrate the rewards/risk balance. Counter the argument, "If it saves just one life it’s worth it" with a more rational approach to safety.

This goes far deeper than fixing image. I think the very concept of industry is doomed in the USA.  People want the products that industry produces, but do not want to take the time/money/effort to fix unfriendly processes because they might have to pay more for the products. This laziness extends not just to environmental issues, but also to economic justice and social support network issues as well.  Read "The Price of Inequality..." by Joseph Stiglitz; he lays out the issue much better than I can.

None, unless you can reverse the fact that bad news always spreads way, way faster than good news.

Elect engineers to public office!

Communicate, communicate, communicate!

No, I highly doubt that a public education campaign on company or site websites would be considered anything except propaganda. People would rather be outraged than informed.

What single piece of advice would you give someone who is thinking of going into the field?

Get into work immediately after your bachelors degree; Masters and Ph.D programs are only for the Intellectual types, not for the average working engineer.

Talk with chemical engineers that work in industry before deciding on your major. College work is not very indicative in most cases of what your future job may look like.

Doing well in college subjects alone will help you only so far in getting a job and succeeding in the workplace. Companies are looking for very well-rounded candidates — motivated, well-adjusted, dedicated, leaders. Do extra reading outside of coursework.

Get at least a master's degree, preferably a PhD.

First, get your ME degree. Then, it is very important that you load up on certifications such as API certs, NDE, NDT, and all the vendor and technology training you can get your hands on. Maximize your knowledge base. It makes you invaluable when you can apply your expertise in the field and demonstrate successful problem resolutions.

Learn to truly work in a team environment and develop your style of leadership skills as much as possible.

Don't worry where you start. Just jump in and learn and you can move to new positions as you become more capable and recognized.

Take on challenges and extend yourself as the knowledge and experience gained will come in handy. Look at gaining international experience — the exposure and cultural experience will prepare you for the modern global workplace.

Learn and develop management skills early. Become a resource to your employer, not just a worker!

Make sure you consider other fields as this field has poor job security.

Participate in technical organizations and get involved. Become recognized as a contributor to your technical society.

Master your computer! Get computer programming training in multiple languages (including DCS programming), and learn all the software that could be associated with your job (statistical, modeling, Autocad, etc.).

Before selecting chem engineering, think about where in the country you want to live or if this is important. Different disciplines will have varying opportunities in different areas of the US.  Secondly, seriously consider your enjoyment with engineering before you get the degree. Being happy in your career is so important to your everyday happiness and health.

Work environment and coworkers are critical and should be considered, rather than just salary and compensation.

Get an engineering education that teaches you to think critically, solve problems AND communicate concisely and properly, both written and oral.

The chemical industry offers a diverse and rewarding career path with challenging work assignments. Take advantage of summer intern and co-op work assignments during college.

Jobs are not the glamorous careers most young people envision. Learn to accept that in the real world most employment demands a heavy workload from its employees and involves a lot of duties that you won't enjoy. Learn to accept this and make the best of it. Be positive.

Keep calm and work hard; benefits come long term.

Continue to network with similar people in your field, sharpen your skills (reading and/or academically), develop great communication skills (oral and written) and learn "soft skills."

Be ready for a lack of respect and a high workload if you are in engineering; operations rules, not engineering.

It isn't easy but the work can be very rewarding. Don't do it for the money. Although the compensation is decent, you won't get rich.

Never think that you know everything, be flexible and make sure you are filling a need.

Have a genuine curiosity of why things work the way they do, both scientific and company processes; extend this to people as well.

Look for opportunities in the developing nations.

Get used to long hours for the first 20 years.

Pursue your career based on what you like to do and not necessarily based on how much the job pays. Money and recognition will always come to you if you work hard and stay loyal to your company and colleagues.

Start a career with a big company where your field is a major factor. A small company later may provide more flexibility but clients will likely be large organizations that you need to relate to.

Look to work for an employer with high integrity because ethical challenges increase as you make your way up the ladder.

Enter your field of choice with realistic expectations. Be patient with the learning curve, identify a trusted, respected mentor, and be reasonable in setting advancement goals and schedules.

Find companies that have a structured work environment and management that truly recognizes and rewards employees for their contributions. It's not easy to figure out during interviews, but you need to be picky or else your life and career will not be fulfilling.

Environmental chemistry can be challenging and stimulating, especially if you work with instrumentation; it can be very boring if you are doing routine samples day after day. The skills acquired in operating a GC/MS or similar instrumentation greatly enhance your employability.  The more instrumentation experience you acquire, the more likely you are to retain employment through reductions in force.

The field of process control is continually changing. Additional training and study will be necessary. When looking at employers, make sure they support training.

1. Develop great math, people, and writing skills. 2. Learn to sell yourself, and your ideas. 3. Plan but be flexible (always have two or more backup plans ready). 4. Share credit liberally, and look for ways to help others; they will help you more. 5. School is just the start, never stop learning.

Network and make friends in industry; that is usually the only way to advance unless you can shine like a star ALL the time.

Accept the responsibility to learn things for yourself to keep up with modern changes because the industry as a whole doesn't do well with adapting to change in this fast-paced environment.

Today, being flexible and agreeable to changing job functions and demands is a must with the typical reduction in personnel.

Technical understanding is the key, but you have to trust the experts on your team as you cannot know everything.

Take customer service courses and business courses. No matter what your work is, you are doing it to please someone and understanding the impact of your work on a business is very helpful as well.

Try to get a job when the market is hot so you get paid what you are worth. You may have to change jobs to get the salary you are looking for.

The future is in natural gas field. Seek employment to ride this wave.

I'm looking forward to next year's survey.. . . I'm sure the comments will be just as thought provoking.

Amanda Joshi
Managing Editor

About the Author

Amanda Joshi | Managing Editor

Amanda Joshi has more than 18 years of experience in business-to-business publishing for both print and digital content. Before joining Chemical Processing, she worked with and Electrical Contracting Products. She’s a versatile, award-winning editor with experience in writing and editing technical content, executing marketing strategy, developing new products, attending industry events and developing customer relationships. 

Amanda graduated from Northern Illinois University in 2001 with a B.A. in English and has been an English teacher. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and daughter, and their mini Aussiedoodle, Riley. In her rare spare time, she enjoys reading, tackling DIY projects, and horseback riding.

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