Across the globe, the chemical industry and the supply chain is struggling with critical supply and demand imbalances. This applies not only to raw materials and commodities, but also to talent. Tim Doggett, CEO of the Chemical Business Association (CBA), looks at how the chemical industry can attract diverse future talent and help bridge the existing skills gap.

The chemical industry powers the modern world as we know it, with over 95% of industry using chemicals. It is the second largest manufacturing industry in the UK, directly employs more than 94,000 people – an estimated 205,000 indirectly – and has a turnover in excess of £73 billion. It is a significant contributor to the country’s economy and will remain pivotal to the economic prosperity of the UK for the foreseeable future.

A large and complex supply chain is in place to maintain and support the chemical industry, requiring a wide range of skills, job functions and ancillary industries to work effectively. It is imperative therefore that as the chemical industry develops its strategy for the future, it understands all aspects of the supply chain and works to develop and maintain it.

Sparking an interest

Whilst the chemical supply chain industry has been impacted by a combination of extraordinary forces that have challenged the entire global supply chain in unprecedented ways over the last few years, it continues to be plagued by another threat – a chronic shortage of talent.

In general, there appears to be three reasons for this: the impending retirement of experienced employees; a perceived skills shortage among the generation that will replace retirees; and the general unpopularity of the industry as an employer of choice.

Additionally, the general public has a poor perception of both the chemical and logistics industries. To attract more diverse talent, the negative view of careers in both the chemical and logistics industries must change. This can only be achieved if companies start combating stereotypes by advocating for their organisations, by informing the public of the industry’s overarching value, and by showcasing the range of inclusive opportunities available in the wider chemical industry.

One programme launched specifically to shift perceptions and encourage people to engage with the logistics sector for example, is Generation Logistics, of which CBA is an unofficial partner. The association itself has launched various initiatives aimed at getting the younger generation interested and involved in the chemical industry, including setting up a Future Council, which promotes the chemical supply chain, encourages future industry talent, and promotes STEM education.

In 2019 the CBA also introduced the Young Person’s Award with the aim of recognising excellence within the chemical supply chain. Additionally, the association and its members have supported ‘Chemistry with Cabbage’, a programme set up by Lorelly Wilson MBE with the aim of engaging primary school students in practical chemistry, for many years.

Bridging the gap

The chemical industry has always been resilient and despite ongoing disruptions, it remains a vital sector for the UK economy. To ensure it attracts the diverse and inclusive talent pool required to maintain this position, it must be showcased as an attractive and exciting industry in which to build a career. As such, there is a vital need to act now to attract future talent with the aim of providing the industry with a steady stream of skilled workers.

However, recruitment is just one step in the process. Employee mentoring, training and development are crucial elements to bridging the skills gap and companies in the chemical industry must commit to prioritising skills development, either by offering vocational training and skills programmes or by supporting opportunities for continuous learning.

Additionally, incoming talent must be educated about the importance of the industry to the economy and society at large. By sparking their interest and creating awareness of the vital role chemicals play, industry will be able to attract a new generation of workers who are keen to see the chemical industry thrive.