How Chemical Companies Can Formulate
a Future-Proof Workforce

By: | Category: Employee Experience, ERP

Embracing technology creates a culture that attracts and retains the best and brightest

The American workforce — and its employers — has undergone transformational change over the past two-plus years. The chemical industry has felt the effects of these changes more than many other industries for two fundamental reasons — an aging employee base and difficulty recruiting top new talent. This combination represents an existential threat to chemical companies. In response, they must double down on their approaches to growing and retaining a skilled workforce capable of keeping their organization competitive, agile, and profitable. In addition, they must leverage and extend the vast knowledge mature workers hold. Here we consider the state of the chemical industry workforce and how leading chemical companies can unleash the power of technology to win the talent war.

Apparently, 44 is old

The US chemicals industry employs some of the oldest personnel across all sectors. In 2019, the median age of the chemical industry’s workforce was 44.6 years, compared to 42.3 years for the total US workforce. If it makes you feel any better, farmers lead the pack with a median workforce age of 56.8 years. School bus drivers and judges are numbers two and three on the seniority list. Judging by those numbers, it’s hard to think of 44 as old, but the disparity in the average age is worrisome for chemical companies.

As much as 25% of the industry’s workforce will be eligible to retire in the next five years, potentially leaving 106,000 jobs unfilled through 2030. Compound that with the fact that statistics from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that the chemicals industry experienced 17,500 job cuts or 2.1% of the entire workforce during the pandemic. In addition, there’s a massive shortage of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) workers — the lifeblood of the industry. Fewer younger skilled workers are entering the chemical industry, opting instead for tech companies. But there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Plug the brain drain

One way the chemical industry can score points in the battle for talent is to actively retain and recruit older workers. By 2029, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that those 65 and older will comprise nearly 10% of the US workforce — a 55% increase from 2019.

The pandemic accelerated the retirement plans of many older workers, but new research indicates that many may now be “un-retiring” and looking for work. An estimated 32% of workers aged 62-71 that previously retired have now rejoined the workforce. This could represent a real opportunity for chemical companies to capture a tenured and skilled demographic. For example, 90% of baby boomers say their tech skills are “on par” or “superior” to other team members.

Individuals are working longer for many reasons, not just a paycheck. By creating a culture that celebrates, appreciates, and leverages the knowledge and skills of older employees, chemical manufacturers can tap into an underutilized segment of the workforce. Perhaps unsurprisingly, older workers want many of the same things from their employers that younger workers do, including flexible schedules with more paid time off. If chemical companies can create positions that appeal to these wants, workers may be more willing to stay in the workforce as they age.

The advantages of retaining mature workers are enormous. In addition to filling critical skills gaps, they can be engaged to mentor and train newer workers — building a next generation chemical workforce. With a career’s worth of experience and industry expertise, the value proposition associated with keeping older workers working is significant.

Entice new talent

Every industry must keep its eye on building the workforce of the future, and for chemical manufacturers, that future lies in millennials and their younger siblings, the Gen Z-ers.

Millennials are the largest segment of the workforce and they crave technology, seeing it as a fundamental part of being productive on the job and an essential aid in their professional development plans. And then there is Generation Z, affectionately known as the Zoomers. Zoomers want to understand how technologically advanced your business is before they accept a position, and they expect their workplace technology to at least be as advanced as their home and personal tech.

Chemical manufacturers that provide next-generation business management technology across all areas of the operation, including ERP, CRM, HRMS, and IT create the innovative, tech-centric culture that will attract and retain these essential segments of the workforce.

Technology is at the center

Most chemical companies are quick to invest in the technologies that support research and development. But traditionally, chemical companies have been slow to adopt digital enterprise strategies that power finance and operations. Instead, a “business as usual” approach often leads to inertia and continuation of the status quo.

The most successful chemical companies recognize that their business management technologies need the same level of investment. Across every department, at every level of the organization, technology is the fuel that drives innovation and efficiency. Technology and digital transformation is an imperative for building the workforce of the now — and the future.

Deloitte’s industry experts summed it up well in The Future of Work in Chemicals, “By shifting the way chemical companies think about work, focusing on rearchitecting work as a flow, and using technology to elevate human capabilities, the chemicals industry can unleash human potential and create a work environment where individuals and teams are empowered with the tools, technology, and culture to contribute their full potential.”