Thursday, 11 November 2010

New skills for innovation

What skills set does the next generation of chemical industry workers need to drive innovation and competitiveness in the sector? This was the question underlying a recent survey of employers in larger companies undertaken for the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) that has just been published. The launch of the report coincides with the announcement of a new European Commission initiative on jobs and skills.

The survey sought views on the skills required to ensure a competitive chemical and process industry in Europe and provide the sort of attractive future career opportunities that the industry will need to attract the best brains in Europe.

The report found that the most important initiative to improve innovation will be to provide future engineers and scientists with a multidisciplinary and broad skill set. Students need to acquire understanding of different scientific, technical, business and personal skills so they can easily adapt to new tasks, job functions or even different scientific areas and work effectively in interdisciplinary environments.

The findings of the report fit in well with the European Commission's communication on 'An Agenda for new skills and jobs' that was launched at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 23 November. This initiative sets out 13 key actions aimed at reforming labour markets, upgrading skills, matching skills to market and creating new quality jobs across Europe.

At the Communication launch Mme. Androulla Vassiliou, EC Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth (below) said: "Today it is more than ever crucial that all citizens receive high quality education and training to equip them with the skills they need to find work. Lifelong learning must become a reality in Europe. For that to happen, a joint effort of all partners – governments, employers, trade unions and citizens – is essential."

IPR, innovation, vision
In addition to core technical competencies, the Cefic survey found scientists in business needed to have a basic understanding of intellectual property law, innovation management (from research to sales) and strategic and visionary management skills. In contrast engineers needed business skills such as well structured project management abilities, competence in innovation management to generate new business, and understanding of suppliers and customers.

Good creative thinking will remain the most important personal skill for scientists who have to generate new ideas contributing to new business, high-quality communication skills will be required to ensure effective collaboration between scientists from different disciplines and also with business people and the ability involve a wide spectrum of different disciplines to develop solutions, meant team work skills will be key to foster successful innovation.

For engineers communication skills are also essential to promote ideas both internally and externally towards customers and business partners. Team work is also crucial and problem solving skills entailing analytical and reasoning skills will remain essential.

Higher education
Future human resources needs of the chemical sector and higher education curricular must be better aligned in order to enhance innovation the report concludes. The next crucial step is to ensure an effective collaboration between the chemical industry and academia and to respond to the identified needs through tailored concrete actions.

Issues such as integration of business and related skills in scientific curricula or broadening the scientific multidisciplinary skill base must be addressed to ensure that innovation can successfully complement research.

More details
The survey was initiated following a recommendation from the final report European Commission’s High Level Group on the Competitiveness of the European Chemical Industry published in 2009 and used structured telephone interviews with high-level industry representatives working in a selection of companies with a total combined workforce of over 300 000 employees in Europe.

The full Cefic Study on Skills for Innovation can be downloaded from the Cefic website or requested by emailing Sophie Wilmet at Cefic Research & Innovation.

In addition Gernot Klotz, Cefic Executive Director for Research & Innovation, has been interviewed by Alex Scott of Chemical Week discussing the future skills needs for the chemical industry. The article and a video interview is available to Chemical Week subscribers.