Wednesday, 7 December 2011

What Do Chemistry Graduates Do? 2011: Part 3

As discussed, the chemistry graduate unemployment rate of 9.5% is above the average of all subjects (8.5%), but this is close to the median. Of the sciences, this is lower than physics and biology, but higher than environmental studies. IT & computing and media studies have unemployment rates significantly above average (>14%), while law and sports science have the lowest (<7%).

The spread of figures for those entering retail/catering/waiting/bar staff occupations as a proportion of those entering employment is much wider. The six lowest rates are in the engineering and financial subjects, with mechanical engineering down at 6.5%. Conversely, art-based subject have the highest rates, topped by media studies at 28.2%. At 15.5%, chemistry is situated below the median – higher than physics, but lower than biology and environmental studies. There are surely parallels to be drawn between the chart below and the relative introvert/extrovert levels of the different scientific groups – indeed, all the subjects – but that’s one for the sociologists to look into.

One final word on the unemployment statistics – the graph below shows the unemployment rate for all subjects over a 5-year period. This indicates that: 1) In general, the position of subjects in the ranking is similar each year; 2) Unemployment rates jumped between 2007 and 2008, and have not significantly changed in the two years since; 3) Of all the subjects, those related to infrastructure have been hit the worst by the recession.

Chemistry continues to hold on to the middle ground – while it was one of only five subject to have a higher unemployment rate in 2010 compared to 2009, this is perhaps not as significant as it sounds. And at least it’s not in the realm of civil engineering, media studies or IT & computing.

For those entering graduate employment, one big question is “How much will I be paid?”. The way salary data is collected by HESA is currently changing, which makes past comparisons more complex but will provide more detailed data in the future. The chart below illustrates the average salary ranges for some jobs, professions and employment sectors highlighted in the Prospects report.

The averages are collated by geographical location, so the minimum average for chemistry graduates is £16.8k (E Midlands), and the maximum average is £25.1k (London). This is slightly less than the science average of £17.9k to £25.6k shown above. Compared to their peers, the chemist salary figures are ~8% less than physicists, but ~19% more than biologists. In 2009 the overall average graduate chemist salary was £18.9k.

The Prospects data analysers suggest that average salaries across the subjects are little changed on the previous year’s figures. This is supported by research from the High Fliers group, published in “The Graduate Markets in 2011” report. They survey the Times Top 100 graduate employers to explore recruitment trends, and also collect graduate starting salary information. While the companies on this list are likely to pay higher salaries, it provides an interesting comparison to the Prospects data. Example scientific companies included in the survey were AZ, GSK, BP, P&G and Unilever.

The overall average graduate starting salary in 2011 - £29k - was unchanged on 2010, although this did follow inflation-busting increases of 4%, 6% and 7.4% in 2008, 2009 and 2010. The chemical and pharmaceutical industry lies just below the median salary of the sectors surveyed, at £26.5k; while oil and energy was third highest, at £32k. As a comparison, investment banking and law offer average starting salaries of £42k and £38k respectively; while the public sector and retail offer only £22k and £24k.

So, in answer to the question “what do chemistry graduates do?” the answer is: “Much the same as last year.” Over a third chose to go on to further study, over two-fifths entered employment, and fewer than 1 in 10 remained unemployed after 6 months. The rate of unemployment and those entering non-professional occupations continued to increased, but both figures are close to the median of all subjects. While graduates weren’t being paid much more than in 2009, the chemists among them were earning slightly better than average – but then, most people probably don’t go into science for the money.

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