Analytical chemists do more than just run samples to determine what compounds are present and at what levels. They must work as part of a team with other chemists and materials scientists in order to creatively solve a wide range of problems. This skill set is required by many industries, from environmental sample testing to verifying safety of food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic products.
So what does the market for such chemists and scientists look like right now, and what kind of skills are these industries looking for? Moreover, what can companies in search of such professionals do to improve their prospects of finding and retaining the most qualified candidates?
Good growth prospects
The field of analytical chemistry seems to have bucked the economic recession that caused layoffs and a depressed job market in other parts of the chemical sector.
Susan Olesik, Dow Professor of Chemistry at Ohio State University, told Chemical & Engineering News “Analytical has always been easier than other areas of chemistry to get positions. Even through the recession, we were able to get our students placed.”
Among chemists, analytical chemistry is a popular specialty. According to the 2014 American Chemical Society salary and employment survey, among 20 work specialties, analytical chemistry employed the highest percentage of ACS members, at 14 percent. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of chemists and materials scientists was projected to grow 6 percent yearly from 2012 to 2022.
Analytical chemists play a critical role as problem solvers in industries such as pharmaceuticals, food testing, life sciences, and cosmetic companies, and analytical chemists with interdisciplinary backgrounds are finding an even greater demand for their skills by employers.
Increasingly, analytical chemistry is also viewed to be integral to companies’ needs — and has evolved from being a tool to test a sample to being critical to get the needed information to make the right decisions when moving a product from development to commercialization.
Another reason behind the growing demand for analytical chemists is the development and availability of increasingly complex, sensitive and faster analytical instruments. These instruments are capable of generating vast amounts of complex data that require deep expertise in order obtain meaningful results.
Skill sets needed
Yet given all the opportunities and growth prospects in the field, average income seems likely to grow. And analytical chemists today enjoy a degree of job security that many other professionals don’t. So what type of skills should an analytical chemist ideally possess? We list a few below:
Analytical chemists must be precise and accurate in their analyses because poor results can be costly when such things as product release or research advancement rely on them. One way employers can help reduce errors in their labs is by making sure their chemists are very well trained on their analytical instrumentation.
- Critical-thinking skills.Analytical chemists must carefully determine if results and conclusions are based on sound science.
- Mathematical skills. Analytical chemists must be capable of using complex mathematical equations and formulas, including calculus, algebra, and statistics.
- Problem-solving skills. Analytical chemists should be capable of a great deal of trial and error on their part to arrive at a solution in their efforts to research and develop new and improved chemical products, processes, and materials.
- Communication skills. These skills are important for analytical chemists to communicate with team members and other scientists; they must also be able to read and write technical reports and give presentations.
- Organizational skills. Analytical chemists must be organized, and have the ability to carefully document processes to conform to regulations and industry procedures.
There is also growing demand for analytical chemists with a strong interdisciplinary background. For instance, companies are often eager to hire someone who has been trained in organic chemistry and teach them analytical chemistry, or vice versa.
How can you ensure that your lab is staffed with the most highly qualified candidates, and that you retain them for the long run? Start by providing them with the best equipment you can. Chemists and technicians complain frequently about time-consuming sample-preparation tasks, for example, that can be easily automated with the right automated sample preparation platform, and other analytical equipment.
Also, ensuring that your analytical chemists are fully and regularly trained in the equipment they use will not only reduce errors but help keep your chemists professionally satisfied.
The future for analytical chemistry and testing seems bright, with good demand and prospects for growth. Universities and training centers, however, have to keep up with the demand, and employers must locate top prospects, equip them well, and keep them well-trained.
For a deeper conversation about how to future-proof your lab so that the best chemists want to work for you for the long-term, reach out.