If we’re to take one positive from the devastating pandemic that has stretched across the globe these past few months, it’s the fact that those who were previously unaware or skeptical about the importance of chemistry may now be starting to recognize the vital role it plays in our everyday lives.
Since the start of lockdown when chemical companies were deemed essential critical infrastructure, NACD members have played no small part in keeping the economy moving, and helping to ensure their local communities and emergency services are suitably protected with hand sanitizer, cleaners and PPE.
We all know the industry hasn’t been without its critics over the years, and its reputation has suffered – largely due to a lack of understanding about exactly what we do, and why we do it.
With chemicals and chemistry at the forefront of our fight against COVID, perhaps this will be the catalyst to changing those perceptions and actually encouraging more young people to consider a career in chemistry, suggests Jeanette Partlow, President of Maryland Chemical Company.
“Our people have all done a really fantastic job responding the way we have, and keeping our workplaces, customers, and families healthy and safe,” she says. “Our industry has taken a key role and led by example. We never closed our doors and have been critical to getting essential and lifesaving supplies to where they are needed. I would say this provides a great opportunity for more people to learn about us, our products, and what we do.”
Like many NACD members, Partlow is a keen supporter of the Chemical Educational Foundation and its You Be The Chemist Challenge, a national science competition aimed at middle school students. Maryland Chemical has been a proud sponsor of its local and state competitions for many years.
Now more than ever, she believes chemical distributors should not only embrace the program to tempt more young people into chemistry, but thinks this may be a good time to start recruiting too.
“I think there's certainly a window. There are many young people right now who have had positions that have suddenly disappeared. I’ve heard about college and high school graduates who have lost internships or had jobs cancelled because companies don’t know if they're going to be furloughing or cutting roles. Everything is so uncertain right now,” says Partlow.
“This is an important moment for our industry. Producers, suppliers, and distributors are helping to broaden people’s understanding about chemicals. While a lot of these products and services may have been invisible to them before, they are now in their minds because of COVID. It’s made the public more understanding about what we do.”
“It has helped to shed a positive light on our industry and given us the opportunity to help people ‘connect the dots’ about where the hand sanitizer comes from, how the PPE is made, and what is used to make the surface cleaners and soaps to kill the virus.”
“This is everyday chemistry, and there’s a great and positive story to tell. There always has been – there are just a lot more people that may be listening now.”
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