June 27, 2017
Future workforce in chemicals: How high performers extend talent efforts beyond employees
By: Karin Walczyk, Ruella Menezes and Stephanie Rogers

Recruiting and retaining top talent continues to be a major concern in the chemical industry,1 hence it ranks high in company priorities. Results from a survey of more than 500 chemical industry employees,2 covering over 100 C-Suite participants, revealed the imminent need to rethink the workforce model in order to attract and retain new employees. Case in point: less than a third (30 percent) of chemical-related graduates are working in the chemical industry3 and the majority (87 percent) of respondents agree that the industry is suffering from an image issue4 and needs to make improvements.

High-performing chemical companies are actively addressing these talent issues by continuously adapting their business model to manage and cater to the workforce of the future. In fact, Accenture analysis shows these companies are unique in the following three distinct areas:

1) High performers account for a higher proportion of women in the workforce (see Figure 1). On average, high performers have a higher percentage of women in their workforce as compared to low performers, and select high performers even reach the 30 percent mark or higher. In addition, high-performing companies tend to have a higher percentage of women on their boards, along with a strategic approach to increase the representation of women in their workforces. In some instances, this advancement is based on regulations. German companies, for example, that have targeted 30 percent or more women representatives on their boards by 2016 are required to meet this standard by a German law introduced in 2015 (DAX companies).5 Other companies are stepping up by launching “diversity and inclusion” programs to increase the share of women in the workforce and in leadership roles to 20-30 percent.6

Our analysis shows another forward-looking aspect in the agrochemical segment: Since the number of female farm owners is expected to rise significantly in the next decade, agrochemical companies are prioritizing activities to retain and attract women employees in their organizations. At the same time, the high-performing companies in this sector are offering external initiatives to scale their support such as events and awards to promote female farmers, and workshops and training to engage women farmers. A handful of these agrochemical companies even consolidate best practices and recommendations for further scaling up business in the future.

Other high-performing companies in the chemical industry are focusing on providing programs for women, like flexible work schedules, child care and parental leave. One leading company employing more than 30 percent of women in its workforce is known for its outstanding programs and received a 2016 award for “Working Mother 100 Best Companies”—a decisive step to change the chemical company’s image.7 Comprehensive approaches like these go a long way toward attracting and nurturing female talent—not only within the company’s four walls, but also beyond to support women in client businesses as well.

2) High performers focus on millennials and future generations. Successful chemical companies understand they “need to give more” to millennials in order to attract and retain them. Millennials work differently than previous generations and have different working expectations compared to Generation X or Baby Boomer employees. For example, they prefer different working environments and like to use social media tools and networks at work instead of email. Another important difference is company reputation as millennials want to make a positive impact—internally as well as externally. And, most of all, flexibility is key. Technology-enabled remote work opportunities and flexible working hours are a game changer for millennials.

One way that high performers can be effective is to establish a “workforce development system” customized to the needs and expectations of millennials, including offering individual career and development paths as well as more responsibility at earlier stages of their careers. Yet another option is to institute programs targeted at millennials. As an example, one company initiated a new leadership role—a “Director of Millennial Engagement”—to address millennials and their skeptical voices about selected chemical segments.

Lastly, selected high performers expand their talent activities beyond millennials to include up-and-coming generations. For example, some companies get involved with elementary and middle schools, attracting kids to chemicals and science by offering science academy programs or kids’ labs.

3) High performers leverage “liquid workforce” models to manage workforce challenges. Across various industries, more than 60 percent of companies are actively reshaping their workforce operating model,8 blending a mix of contingent workers and payroll employees (i.e., a liquid workforce) to better leverage talent as a business differentiator.

In fact, many workers welcome the change from more traditional roles to digital roles: 84 percent of workers surveyed are excited about the impact of digital on their job and 66 percent believe that digital technologies will improve the quality of their work.9 Chemical companies should heed these developments and begin to implement these trends in order to attract the best talent and remain competitive.

One success story comes from a global high performer that leverages both contingent workforce management and social networks, implementing staffing partnerships and the highest flexibility during busy seasons. As an added benefit, social networks not only attract millennials, but also tap into the baby boomer generation, making it easier to leverage their industry expertise for specific or time-limited projects.

Comprehensive approach attracts stronger talent pool

To manage the workforce of the future, chemical companies need to focus on increasing representation of millennials and women, while also managing individual career expectations (see Figure 2). With the expanding number of contingent workers, automated management solutions will also become prevalent.

Overall, high-performing chemical companies take a comprehensive approach, not only focusing on their own employees, but also on the extended pipeline of potential employees and affiliates across client businesses and the public. It’s clear that high performers, leading in overall performance, have adapted to changing workforce dynamics.

Read our report, “The North American Chemical Industry: Building a Workforce for Tomorrow,” to learn more about the future workforce in chemicals.


American Chemistry Council and Accenture Talent Management Survey, June 2016.
“Quota for more women in management positions: private economy,” Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (Germany), 5 May 2017, (accessed 10 May 2017).
Accenture Research analysis of chemical company websites.
2016 Working Mother 100 Best Companies,” Working Mother, a Bonnier Corporation Company, 2016,, (accessed May 1, 2017).
“New Research Finds 63 Percent of Companies Reshaping Work Strategies to Succeed in Gig Economy,“ PR Newswire, 24 October 2016, Factiva, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Presentation titled, “Workforce of the future: Chemical talent taking a lead in digital,” given by Accenture’s Colin Sloman at the Accenture Strategy Digital Enterprise Workshop, February 2017, Kronberg, Germany.

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