Even as a teenager, he knew that he would study chemistry some day: his chemistry teacher taught such exciting experiment-based classes that Gerd Romanowski was enthralled. His enthusiasm stood the test of time: after gaining his first degree, he completed a doctorate and then worked in industry. Since 1991 he has been working for the industry association Verband der Chemischen Industrie e.V. (VCI). Academics spoke to the VCI's director for science, technical and environmental affairs about different types of employment and career opportunities in the chemical industry.
© Alexander Raths - Fotolia.comacademics: How well is Germany positioned in the natural sciences?
Gerd Romanowski: Very well. There are only a small number of countries that can keep up with Germany in terms of the quality of our university courses as well as the standard of teaching in subjects such as chemistry, physics or biology.
academics: Why should people study chemistry today?
Gerd Romanowski: Because it's the most interesting and varied subject within the natural sciences, and because the chemical industry is strong and will continue to be in the future. In addition, chemistry offers excellent opportunities to work in a wide range of exciting jobs and have a promising career.
academics: Should students specialise early on?
Gerd Romanowski: Preferably not. New students should study a broad range of subjects, particularly on bachelor courses. Specialisation can wait until their master's degree.
academics: Will a bachelor's degree do?
Starting a career in the chemical industryThe chemical industry is a sector with excellent prospects and offers great opportunities for qualified scientists. A master's degree and a doctorate are basically indispensable for embarking on a career in industry. Chemists frequently start their careers in research and development; advanced positions in companies such as in marketing, in production or in technical application, for example as assistant operations manager, operations manager or even manager of multiple facilities may then become available. Compared to jobs in academia, working in industry offers higher salaries and better career prospects.
Gerd Romanowski: Generally not. There are a few exceptions regarding degrees from certain universities of applied sciences. As a rule however, a master's degree and a subsequent doctorate are essential for a career in industry. Approximately 90% of chemistry students in Germany go on to complete a PhD. This ability to work scientifically, precisely and in depth is indispensable in the chemical industry.
academics: What positions are especially popular among natural scientists?
Gerd Romanowski: Most people who have studied chemistry want to work in research and development. That's frequently the entry level job they do for the first four or five years. After that, a sizeable number become interested in other areas of a company, such as marketing, production or technical application. Then there are opportunities to advance to assistant operations manager, operations manager, and later on maybe even to become manager of multiple facilities.
Facts and figures on the chemical industryAt the end of 2012, around 437,000 people were employed the approximately 2,000 German chemical companies - the country's third-largest industry with a turnover of 184 billion euros.
The chemical industry spends approximately 9 billion euros every year on research and development - almost 17% of the total research and development expenditure of German industry.
Approximately 40% of chemical companies that have introduced new products to the market in the past three years work together with universities.
In 2010, Germany exported 57 billion euros worth of research-intensive chemical products (not including pharmaceutical products), corresponding to 62% of all chemical exports.
The chemical industry is currently training approximately 20,000 young people, two thirds of them in STEM-related jobs. In 2011, employees in the chemical industry earned an average gross salary of 52,500 euros a year.
Gerd Romanowski: Good salaries and outstanding prospects are the factors with which the chemical industry is able to attract career starters. Universities can only pay academic personnel according to fixed public-sector pay agreements, and even for some professorships, salary bracket W2 is as far as it goes. That's why there are people who move into industry during the course of their habilitation, because aspects such as salary and career opportunities are better there.
academics: But if a lot of scientists did that, the industry would at some point no longer be able to recruit well-trained graduates, because there wouldn't be enough qualified teachers ...
Gerd Romanowski: That wouldn't be in our interests either. That's why we support young university lecturers through our grant programmes.
academics: You have a doctorate in chemistry. What made you decide to work in industry?
Gerd Romanowski: Mostly the applied approach. In academic research, the focus is on gaining knowledge. In industry, on the other hand, the the specific usefulness, of research is emphasised.
academics: What abilities should a recent graduate ideally have to offer the chemical industry?
Gerd Romanowski: In addition to excellent skills in chemistry or other specialist disciplines, soft skills such as the ability to work in a team and social competence are very important. Knowledge of economics and language skills are also desirable.
academics: Is chemistry valued as highly as it should be?
Gerd Romanowski: We need to make even clearer how chemistry and chemical processes benefit us in everyday life. No mobile phone, no computer and no car would work without chemistry. If everyone understood that, it would be much more accepted. People are not fundamentally sceptical of new technologies, quite the opposite: most people are actually technophiles.
academics :: March 2013
Working in Germany