A recent survey conducted by the American Coatings Association (ACA) found that coating industry leaders feel confident about their company succession plans for the immediate future. Longer term (10 years plus), however, they are concerned about having access to experienced, talented employees that can move up through the ranks to senior management positions. “The ACA Board has begun to investigate possible initiatives that it can pursue to support both short-term needs of its members for continuing education and their longer-term need to attract highly educated graduates to the paint and coatings industry that are energized about coating science and technology,” notes Stephen R. Sides, ACA’s vice president of Global Affairs and chief science officer.
The association’s Science and Technology (S&T) Committee has formed several subcommittees to address questions related to science and technology that are of interest across the industry and academia, including “Big Data” studies on emerging coatings technology drivers and STEM outreach. Several conference calls have been held and a consulting company was invited to submit a proposal for a specific action plan to build educational tools and disseminate them to middle school science teachers and their students. Part of the program would involve individual industry experts engaging directly with middle school science classes and sharing their experiences. “We want to have more than 150 ambassadors from the industry appropriately equipped with resources to share in the industry’s story in classrooms around the country,” notes Xavier Ferrier, an environmental, health and safety specialist with the ACA. Adds Anne Shim, director of Technical and Quality at BASF Corporation and current Chair of ACA’s S&T Committee: “We are especially proud of this teacher outreach initiative that puts emphasis on coatings and the interplay of coatings, science, and society. Our member companies are broadly represented and some of the strongest coatings scientists are pooling their expertise to make this engagement as effective as possible.”
“The S&T subcommittee on STEM is also learning from existing programs that successfully reach young people and build their interest in coating science,” says Sides. He points to the approach taken by The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) as one example. Elementary and middle school teachers are encouraged to contact professors at the university whenever they spot children with aptitude in STEM fields. The professors then seek out the children and help them understand that there will be a place at the university if they continue to do well in school. They also stay in touch and continue to encourage these children. USM has, as a result, been attracting highly motivated, successful students to its materials science and engineering programs. Programs conducted by other industry trade groups, particularly the America Chemical Society, have also been useful guides for the ACA S&T Committee.
Although the coatings industry is competing with other industries for talented students, Sides believes there are many exciting research areas that will engage young people. “Color development, the formulation of smart and intelligent coatings, and the opportunity to create coatings that are designed to address some of the world’s most significant challenges are just a few of the exciting activities currently underway in the paint and coatings sector,” he asserts.
The association is ready to begin significant STEM outreach efforts to get that message out to young people, according to Ferrier. The board has approved funds for the initiative and members have expressed real interest in moving forward. “The key will be to implement a targeted program that is feasible to produce and maintain and has built-in mechanisms for tracking and measuring progress,” Sides observes. A proposal that is extremely responsive to these three principal needs will be brought to the ACA S&T community for consideration.
Sides also adds that the ACA will be pursuing the development of continuing education materials for both new hires and people that have been in the industry but might need an update on new technology developments or an introduction to technologies required for a new position.