Supply & Demand

By Tom Branna, Editorial Director | July 2, 2014

The US chemical industry never had a great track record when it came to finding the sweet spot. You know, making just the right amount of stuff to keep the plant humming without sending prices crashing through the floor. Too often, when business was booming, companies rushed new capacity on-stream, just in time to watch the market crumble and get stuck with over-capacity. In recent years, the boom-bust cycle seems to have been alleviated a bit, but that may be more due to M&A activity rather than having a clear understanding of supply and demand.

The inability to correctly gauge demand for drums of functional chemicals and kilos of actives isn’t the only area suffering from faulty forecasting, according to Michael Teitelbaum. In his book, “Falling Behind?” the author suggests that in their quest to fill classrooms with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students, educators and politicians may be creating another boom-bust cycle. Teitelbaum details five instances, spanning more than six decades, when observers called for more scientists and engineers, only to create a new generation of underemployed, overqualified skilled workers. If it happens again, the downturn may be worse than before, as the US economy has already been weakened by would-be employees who have just given up in their search for a new job.

Our industry, of course, is filled with employees with STEM educations. How have they fared since entering the business world and how do they view their future? Visit Happi.com later this month to read our annual R&D salary survey, where R&D directors, chemists, lab technicians and other highly-educated folks reveal what they like and dislike about their chosen careers and whether or not the choices they made so long ago ultimately proved to be the right ones. 

“Falling Behind?” makes for interesting summer reading.especially when you’ve got a budding engineer in the family who originally balked at the notion, pointing out that “so-and-so’s dad is an engineer and he hasn’t worked in two years!”

Of course, the standard reply to all of that in our house is, “so what do you want to do, be an English major?”

STEM may not always bear fruit, but isn’t it better to cultivate one for a career in a boom-and-bust field rather than push them toward a job where the prospects are even more dim?

Tom Branna
Editorial Director