The workers this report addresses have generic titles such as technician, technologist, operator, analytical technician, synthetic chemistry technician, pilot plant operator, chemical engineering technician, etc. For convenience in this report, they will be called "CPI technical workers."
CPI technical workers operate sophisticated instruments, perform chemical syntheses, and splice genes. They may handle extremely toxic substances and new materials. As individual workers in plants, some of them control multimillion dollar systems, often handling enormous quantities of potentially hazardous materials.
The common core that relates all CPI technical workers is that they engage in manipulating or modifying the chemical properties of materials. The quantities of work materials handled by an individual per day may vary from micrograms to kilotons. However, all CPI technical workers must be acutely sensitive to the hazards of the materials they handle and the fate of all waste streams as well as of the product.
The commonalities of work in the CPI as described above require technical workers to acquire many similar skills and knowledge. However, the workers also require many different specialty skills to perform individual assignments effectively. This report identifies the important skills and knowledge required of entry-level CPI technical workers.
CPI technical workers are divided into two occupational groups for this report: chemical laboratory technician (CLT) and plant technical operator (PTO). The broad definition of the CPI used above encompasses about 240,000 CLTs and a little fewer than 500,000 PTOs. The current CPI technical workforce in many areas is very mature, and many replacements will be needed. For example, about 50% of the PTOs in the Baton Rouge area are expected to retire during the next five years.
Data demonstrate that few current CPI technical workers were trained specifically for the type of job they hold. Currently, many higher level CPI technical workers are college dropouts from programs designed for scientists and engineers; many lower level CPI technical workers completed high school with weak backgrounds in both mathematics and science. Yet, the responsibility levels and skill requirements of these workers are viewed as the key to ensuring the future competitive positions of many companies.
Currently employed CLTs have a multiplicity of
backgrounds. This condition is reflected in many different types of career
patterns offered by employers, and in great variations of college programs
designed specifically for these technicians. A paper that addresses these
problems is presented in Appendix C of this report. The paper is based on information collected by this project and by a review of the available research on work in science-oriented workplaces as it applies to the CPI.