Monday, November 5, 2012

Human stories abound in C&EN's employment outlook issue

Credit: C&EN
From Linda Wang's excellent, yet excruciating story on unemployment among pharma chemists, some terribly sad stories:
“I’m listed as employed,” says “Eric,” 46, who was laid off in 2007 from his position as a senior chemist at Johnson & Johnson and is now an adjunct professor at three different colleges and universities. “I got reemployed, but is this what employment should be like for someone at my level?” [snip] 
...He teaches as an adjunct professor on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, splitting his time among three colleges and universities that are 50 to 70 miles apart. He leaves around 10 AM and doesn’t get home until after 11 PM, leaving little time to spend with his twin daughters, who are nine years old. 
Because of the length of his commute and the high cost of gas, Eric sold his car and bought a used Suzuki with better gas mileage. “The previous car was costing me about $1,000 a month in gas, and that was not sustainable,” he says. He has roughly $400 left in his 401(k). “Four hundred bucks is no 401(k); it won’t buy you a plane ticket anywhere,” he says. But he’s not one to dwell on his difficulties. “It’s tight financially, but the fact is we’re still surviving. It’s just a little harder, that’s all.”
I found this comment on ACS' Salary Survey data kind of amusing:
“The data that ACS has is for the most part self-reported, and that’s always going to underreport the truth,” says Lee H. Latimer, a consultant and longtime ACS volunteer, who was laid off from Elan in 2011. “Many may have a job, which keeps them from collecting unemployment, but they’re not working either in their field or in a position that comes anywhere close to matching their previous income”—meaning, he says, that they’re effectively underemployed.
And how about the PMP, that certificate of awesomeness from a couple of years ago?:
“Michael,” a Ph.D. organic chemist in his 50s, living in California, knows just how unsettling this roller-coaster ride can be. Since he was laid off from a biotech company in 2008, he has applied for more than 10,000 jobs, some 7,000 related to the chemical sciences and 3,000 outside of science. 
Meanwhile, Michael has earned certifications in clinical trial design and management, regulatory affairs, quality assurance and control, and project management. But “by the time that I finished, not only did the number of these jobs decrease, employers weren’t going to take anybody who doesn’t have experience. The training is not enough for them,” he says. “I went and retrained myself, but I still cannot get a job. 
I don't think it's a coincidence that most of the people in these articles are in what is supposed to be the prime of their careers (late 30s to 50s). That it has become brutal for mid-career chemists (the people who are probably going to be most productive and have the most ability to innovate) is fundamentally clear. It is beginning to be clear that not a single organization (not ACS, not the pharma companies, no one in government) has any idea what to do about it. What a shame.

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