Chemistry: an option for careers

Heli is 13 years old and lives in Espoo, close to Helsinki, Finland. She enjoys going to the local school and will soon start her 7th year. Last year she failed a science test and had some extra classes with Mr Tovalen, a specialised science teacher. After a few weeks under Mr Tovalen’s leadership, Heli saw chemistry as a fun and fascinating topic and even decided she would work in the Research Lab at the Porvoo refinery.

Since she learned about petrochemistry and the many things that can still be discovered in this field, she dreams about being a recognised scientist. Maybe one day she will be awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and become one of the increasingly rare Western European winners.

In Europe it is estimated that 500,000 to 700,000 new scientists will be needed to take over from the current workforce. Already today, petrochemical companies, and chemical companies as a whole, are facing more and more problems in recruiting scientists and engineers. It is time to act, as this will have a negative impact on the industry’s ability to keep innovating, and we may find that Europe falls behind the cutting edge. Young talent is also crucial to face tomorrow’s environmental and health challenges. Progress in biotechnologies, energy management and medicine will rely on their skills.

Why do young people tend to avoid chemistry when comes the crucial time of choosing a university option? The bad image of the chemical industry certainly brings a beginning of answer. The reality can be different though: take a tour at a plant and you will be astonished to see a place which is far from the cliché of the dark plant spewing smoke out of its chimney. You could also be surprised by the huge efforts undertaken to protect the health and safety of workers and the public, and also the environment. The chemical plant is most of the time a nice, pleasant and modern place to work, where fascinating experiments take place.

Science education is an open window to the world: by looking at a simple object, you can discover the many elements that are essential to build it. Just take a mobile phone or a PC: to build the box that is wrapping the electronic circuits and devices, the manufacturers need high resistance plastic, i.e. ABS and to get ABS they need acrylonitrile, butadiene and styrene that are obtained through petrochemical processes. It is really the combination of all these elements which make the material ideal for its purpose.

There are multiple job opportunities offered by the petrochemical industry and chemistry in general. There are many more whether you decide to work in a refinery, in a production plant, at a trader, on a tanker or even on an oil rig. There are really jobs for all tastes. It is just a matter of finding the best fit for your talents and personality.

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