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The future of work in chemicals and materials

Refining the chemical workplace

The chemicals workforce today is experiencing exponential change on multiple fronts. Whether due to the growing skills gap, the rapid evolution of technology, or the continued impact of COVID-19, the chemicals and materials industry must undergo significant transformations across four levers—sustainability, digitalisation, recoded careers and organisational agility—if it is to adapt to the future of work.

Chain reactions in the chemical industry

Today’s world of perpetual disruption is shifting paradigms across industries and driving companies to reimagine what the future of work—and the future of talent—will look like. The chemical industry is no exception. Chemical companies are seeing significant changes to work, workforce and workplace orthodoxies for several reasons. These include:

The skills gap

As of now, there aren’t expected to be enough science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduates to fill skilled positions for chemical engineers, researchers and scientists. Additionally, as much as 25% of the industry’s workforce will likely be eligible to retire in the next five years, further widening the gap and making the reimagining of talent attraction and retention strategies that much more urgent.

The evolution of technology

Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics are rapidly changing chemical industry workplaces and creating shifts in job roles. R&D and specialised customer solutions and services have become the differentiating factors in companies’ ability to compete. The question is: How can technological advancement be deployed not as a substitute, but rather as a key to unlocking human potential?

The continued impact of COVID-19

Pandemic-related digital disruptions in the transportation, computers and electronics, semiconductors, agriculture and housing and construction markets are affecting business models and changing the future of work in chemicals. Moreover, COVID-19’s economic downturn is not only driving fast-growing specialty chemicals businesses to compete with relatively stable industries, but also slowing down employment.

Given these challenges and shifts in the chemical outlook, companies should rearchitect work, unleash the workforce, and adapt the workplace. Our latest study offers four levers of transformation—sustainability, digitalisation, recoded careers and organisational agility—that can help attract talent and push chemical companies into the future.


By helping solve the sustainability challenges faced by end-use industries, chemical companies can better position themselves for the future and attract new talent. In addition to investing in new technologies and developing new materials, chemical companies might want to consider hiring employees with the right technical skills and impart the organisation’s institutional knowledge of environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.


Nowadays, many chemical companies are empowered with technology and use it as a critical asset to unlock transformation and enable organisational changes with real-time collaboration. Finding the right balance of human to machine is pivotal to helping boost productivity, purpose and bottom-line results.

Recoded careers

Chemical companies need a highly trained and skilled workforce that can come up with innovative, accelerated approaches to disrupt and lead markets. The industry is experiencing a significant change in the work profiles and skills needed in the future. Companies should focus on both attracting skilled new employees and developing their existing workforce in anticipation.

Organisational agility

A big opportunity for chemical companies lies in exploring new sources of value to remain competitive in our rapidly changing market. In order to create greater value, chemical firms should consider moving beyond cost as a driver of value and shift their focus to their customers, workforce and company.

New realities call for new talent

Disruption driven by technological advancements, demographic shifts and changing customer expectations is no longer an interruption to the pattern—it is the pattern. Given this reality, the role of industry leaders is expected to change dramatically to meet the unique needs of the future of work in chemicals.

A thorough and effective reimagining of talent strategy may require a dramatic shift in thinking, however. While conventional engineering and technical skills are likely to remain critical, a confluence of traditional and nontraditional sources to build and nurture talent will help create the talent pool necessary to compete into the future.

Once leadership empowers its people to drive and shape the future, the pathway to talent transformation will likely be widely embraced. Industry executives will need to act as catalysts to make chemicals an attractive, exciting place to build a career. They should act now to build the critical organisational capabilities needed to attract, develop, deploy and retain high-quality talent. Read our full report to learn more about what industry executives can do to champion this inevitable transition.

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