Building a workforce for tomorrow

Addressing talent challenges will play a pivotal role in driving growth and innovation in the North American chemical industry.

Chemical industry executives face a growing range of workforce-related challenges, from the looming retirement of baby boomers to finding the right skills in a competitive labor market to retaining millennials.

Recent research sponsored by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and conducted by Accenture found that industry executives are well aware of these issues. At the same time, they see increasing potential for innovation and growth in the industry—and they recognize that building the right workforce will be key to realizing that potential.

It is clear that chemical companies will require more sophisticated skills on more fronts, greater workforce flexibility and constant increases in efficiency. To that end, company leaders need to develop innovative new approaches to finding, developing and retaining talent in order to sustain success and drive tomorrow's high performance.

The North American Chemical Industry: Building a Workforce for Tomorrow

Workforce challenges

Today’s workforce challenges in the chemical industry are real and significant, complex and interwoven. In our research, industry executives revealed three main types of challenges: 

Skill sourcing 

Technical skills and digital technology aptitude (for everyday activities and operations) are one piece of the puzzle. Knowledge transfer between new and experienced employees is another. Plus, companies also need recruits with the right cultural fit, creativity and problem-solving mindset.

87% of respondents agreed that the chemical industry as a whole needs to change its image to attract talent.
Complex and changing demographics

Retaining millennials is a critical challenge for the chemical industry. Furthermore, baby boomer retirements are coming faster than expected. These issues at opposite ends of the workforce spectrum are exacerbated by an overreliance on Generation X, the smallest portion of the US population that is key to replacing boomers, mentoring millennials and maintaining institutional knowledge.

Less than a third of respondents said that their companies retained at least 90 percent of the millennial employees hired in the past three years.
Readiness to leverage digital technology

Chemical industry executives see promise in using digital technology (e.g., artificial intelligence, data analytics, robots and wearables) to address workforce issues and believe that those who embrace these advancements will gain competitive advantage. However, adoption has been relatively slow.

60% of respondents indicated that they are adapting to digital technologies but are meeting some resistance.

Shaping tomorrow’s workforce

Chemical companies are ready to take action to ensure they have the right future workforce—but first, a solid talent strategy is needed to lay the groundwork for success. Strategy development should involve HR as well as business unit leaders and the C-suite. Overall, the strategy should identify what needs to change and what skills and knowledge will be required.

Companies must ask themselves:

  • What business will we be in five years from now? What technologies will be in use?
  • How will the regulatory environment evolve?
  • How will automation change work and workforce requirements? 

Armed with a powerful talent strategy, chemical companies can take action in the following ways:

About the report

Research methodology

To help chemical executives gain a better understanding of talent-related challenges, the ACC asked Accenture to conduct research on the workforce of the future. This work included one-on-one interviews with 10 senior leaders from North American chemical companies; extensive secondary research that drew on multiple data sources; and a survey of more than 500 North America-based chemical industry employees, including 100 C-level executives. The survey was executed in April and May 2016, and the findings were field-tested at the ACC Annual Meeting in June 2016.


Special thank you to Peter Cella, CEO-Chevron Phillips Chemical Company, and Inga Carus, Chairman-Carus Corporation, for their insight and guidance around this research effort. The ACC and Accenture would also like to thank all of the industry executives who shared their experience and insights on talent management, both during the research process, as well as at the ACC Annual Meeting in June 2016.

Meet the authors