Strengtheningcore innovation
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Strengthening the core of innovation

3:55 PM, 10th December 2019
Strengthening the core of innovation

By Debarati Das

Despite research and development (R&D) being the stepping stone of future innovation, this field is in need of much greater impetus than ever to bring in a positive change in which the world functions.

Research is the core to the progress of any field. And in a world where the future of the planet depends on today’s innovation, research becomes even more important. In the chemical industry, which forms the base for every other industry, research has an even greater role to play. Here, the future sustainability of the planet depends on how products are created today so as to preserve and conserve tomorrow. In such an era, high end research and development of products that define the future becomes more imminent. Furthermore, with a rebounding economy and growing global demand, chemical industry is increasingly focusing on innovation to drive businesses.

However, the field of research is riddled with numerous challenges. The first and foremost challenge is:

Lack of human resources: With a myriad of high paying job opportunities available in the market today, the field of research and development is increasingly being left unexplored by young graduates. There is a need to glorify research and development and this can be jointly done by educational institutes, government and chemical organisations with lucrative propositions.

Business savvy researches: It has to be admitted that there is no dearth of brilliant minds and there are a lot of researches happening which goes unnoticed. There is a need to smartly channelize the researches making them more business savvy among millions of ideas. For instance, there are thousands of researches happening to create new types of bio-based products. Some ideas click, while other amazing ideas disappear into oblivion. The trick is to look at research from a business case and build upon it.

Cost competitive: Today, the buzz word today is ‘natural’, ‘bio-based’, ‘organic’. But not everything natural makes it to the market. It also needs to be cost competitive. Research also has to focus on making product affordable to the end user while being sustainable.

Support: There are numerous start-ups and small sized research organisations who do not make it big due to the lack of funding. The way to go forward is if bigger companies can identify these knowledge pockets and establish joint ventures or acquire them to support them and make the most of the innovation coming out of them.

Find the right balance: In many companies, the growth of the R&D division is shunted because in many cases, R&D is an isolated, secretive division, or is separated from the product innovation division. For instance, while R&D works with a 5-10 years innovation perspective, the product innovation division looks at new product launch for the next quarter. This creates a disparity in the functioning of the research teams. Companies need to find a balance where the R&D works in sync with the ongoing projects and there is a common ground for collaboration between all divisions.

These were some of the challenges that we found hampering the growth in the field of R&D in the chemical industry. Chemical Today further spoke to some of the experts in the recruitment industry to understand the need gaps and the loop holes which needs to be plugged.

 

Munira Loliwala, Business Head – EMPI, TeamLease Services talks at length about the research and development opportunities that are needed to boost the Indian chemical industry.

Role of R&D and skilled researchers for growth of the chemical industry.

In the entire chemical fraternity, when we talk about research, API formulations, agro chemicals are the sectors which witness the maximum research. We need a steady influx of skilled researchers in these areas right from junior researchers, testers, quality chemists, application chemists, scientific researchers and so on and so forth.

Current skills gap in the industry

While technology is constantly evolving and new discoveries are happening across the globe, this space has always been uncovered in the Indian market. Even though there are certain organisations that have their own research centers, not many have seen tremendous growth and lack of opportunities predominantly due to policies & government regulations related to patents, compliances and legal norms.

From the aspect of lack of skill set, there is definitely not a huge dearth of people coming into this particular field. Today if I talk about the era before the millennial, not many used their degree in biotechnology or BSC / MSC to enter the field of research. Unlike global countries, our students do not focus on specialisations, but rather on job roles & employment. This is the making of the scarcity of the opportunity. People who want to enter specialised field of research like zoology, biotechnology, bio molecules wander in need of opportunity and career growth.

Need for government policies towards enhancing R&D.

The government has a much-focused approach and vision to uplift R&D as a segment for India for various industries. There is a lot which is happening right from infusing capital, land availability etc. From an industry perspective as well, there is a lot that is happening in every industry which requires a lot of research. We have all the possible avenues to step up and upscale in the industry.

Also, we are seeing lot of companies and organisations who are contributing towards developing and building the education curriculum and course that fits the work force. Hence many companies are collaborating with universities and educational institutes to build a curriculum which will bring the students to the level where they have industry-required knowledge before they join the workforce. Otherwise in the traditional educational system, there has always been a gap between what you have been educated in and what the industry wants. The organisations are themselves fixing this big issue today to create industry-ready work force right at the college level rather than blaming the education system by saying that there is no talent available.

Indian education is being revisited, refined and relooked at. Now it’s time for the next step- to make more opportunities available to the young generation to get into this field. We need to show them how the growth will be in this segment and that the growth will only be possible when there is a full-fledged push towards research in the field of molecular development, ingredient development, formulation development etc.

Influx of R&D job aspirants.

Candidates applications that we receive for R&D related job opportunities is somewhere between 15 to 18 percent, which is way lower than other fields. In the R&D sector, industries predominantly require junior and mid experienced candidates who are already in the market. Senior researchers are generally hand picked by companies as they are largely known in the fraternity. However, the problem is that companies expect the candidates to be thorough with the knowledge of their steam of education.

The challenge is that such candidates, who speak the language of what they have learnt, are very few. Here the R&D institutes and universities have to play a major role and make their students industry ready.

Restoring tax incentive for R&D for job creation.

The tax incentive for R&D in India has a lot of scope. The country is still waiting to hear what kind of incentives the government is willing to offer. If you look at patent and regulatory registrations, there is a lot of improvement today as compared to previous year.

Also, the 100 percent write off of revenue and capital expenditure is a very big move in the R&D field. There is also an element of tax deduction which has happened for research programme via the approval of national laboratories and universities. This has been a move in the positive direction.

Tax reduction on R&D expenditure for clinical research organisation, which is minimal India, has been quite a breather for the segment. Lastly, the customs and central excise duty exemption for the R&D industries have also helped the sector in a big way and is encouraging research activities in the country.

Supporting research in the age of ‘smart factories’.

Here also, a lot of role will be played by data science and data analysis. They will possibly help to bring in an element of ‘smart’. Today the way the data science analytics has brought in a big evolution in the industry, we need a lot of data science and data analytics to enable smart lab, which through AI and ML will be able to secure more effective results.

For instance, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) driven reports will be able to perceive the growth and development of every stage, record minute transaction and errors and add to the process to make it perfect in the first go.

Sectors that will witness major research opportunities.

Within the chemical industry, the agro chemical industry will see major R&D. At every stage there is a need to develop research and understand the ways of perfecting the crop. Agro chemical scientists are trying to find out more ways to grow a crop in a particular way, in particular shape and in particular season. There is a lot happening to grow crops organically with environment friendly fertilizers and chemicals. There are also a lot happening towards the farmer growth market wherein companies are striving towards farmer sustainability in the agro chemical industry. For eg, many technology companies are working towards constantly enabling the farmers to bring new products to the market. There is a lot of research happening towards the growth of the farming community. Right now, the idea of research and development is more towards developing products with constant analysis of the farmers market, the state of soil health, pedigree of seed etc. Hence, research is taking a more a holistic approach.

Petro chemical industry is another growth driver of the industry. However, here the research is more in the area of lubricants. With the growth of automotive industry, specialised lubricants are required, where manufacturing companies are working hand in hand with lubricant companies to create products that fit the specific requirement of their automotive.

Another developing segment for research is the covered glass segment (gorilla glass) manufacturing. Today, China is the biggest market for this segment and companies are inclined towards India to set up their manufacturing hub. Hence, this segment will see a huge growth in the next couple of years. The proliferation of the electronics market in India will further boost the growth in research in this sector for mobile screens, television glass, laptop screens etc.

The overall growth in various sectors will certainly give a boost to R&D in India, however, government, industries and educational institutes should work hand in hand to build opportunities to make research a career path for the young generation.

 

 

Oliver Davies, Business Manager, CM Industrial talks at length about the influx of young graduates in the field of research globally that can open up opportunities in the chemical industry.

Role of R&D for growth of the chemical industry.

R&D is an incredibly important component of the growth of the chemical industry. Without it, eventually there would be no growth. The chemical industry grows based on demand from other industries and society, both of which are changing rapidly. To keep up with this, constant innovation is required so that companies remain competitive and cater for the increasing demand. We must not forget that R&D is responsible for both new product development and providing the solutions to problems with existing products, or adapting products for new applications.

Graduates taking interest in the field of research.

Chemistry, chemical engineering and other related sciences continue to be popular degree courses, however, how many of these graduates are actually going into the Chemical Industry? Without up-to-date data it is difficult to know what percentage of graduates are targeting R&D positions, but from a recruitment perspective we see junior candidates usually wanting to go into commercial roles, or even taking a step from R&D to product management/ technical marketing if possible.

Current skill need-gap that the industry.

There is a gap in skills within the research function of the chemical industry. As the industry’s innovation accelerates, this gap will only become larger, unless it is addressed. More effort must be put into making chemicals research an attractive and rewarding career, which may rely on educational facilities or could also be down to employer branding and employee advocacy.

Measures taken to encourage young talents to enter the field of research.

Educational institutions play a huge part in the quantity and quality of young talent entering the research field in chemicals. It is important that universities continue to partner with local economies and companies to deliver effective research programs at Bachelor, Master and PhD level. Two key examples I come across regularly are the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research and the Zurich ETH. These universities provide a lot of talent to the German and Swiss Chemicals industry. However, I think more institutions could do this. It’s also important that universities partner with the smaller companies, as well as the larger ones. Big chemicals companies get a lot of young talent through educational institutions, but if more small companies were able to partner with the degree courses this would address the imbalance.

Policies to enhance R&D and skilled workforce in the chemical industry.

There are lots of ways governments can embrace R&D in the chemical industry. Firstly, increasing funding given to research projects which allow subsidized education but also provide important scientific data to the market. Secondly, perhaps governments could provide tax relief to companies who are taking large amounts of research graduates, which is massively helping the economy and employment figures. It may also be a good idea for universities to enter the education system earlier to talk to school pupils about potential careers in Chemistry and Polymer Science.

Influx of R&D related job aspirants.

Typically, the volume of applications for R&D positions is far lower than for commercial or operational roles. One reason for this is that the skills required for R&D positions in chemicals are less transferrable than, say, the skills required for a sales or marketing position in chemicals. The disparity between demand and applications is quite large. One example is a position I advertised recently for a Global R&D Lead which received 89 applications, compared to a Regional Sales Manager and Country Sales Director which received 453 and 157 applications respectively. With technical/research roles, the required experience or education can be very specific, which is different to commercial and operational jobs.

Supporting research in the age of ‘smart factories’.

With regards to AI, Machine Learning and Industry 4.0, I think these are things that can be trained on by individual companies, providing a solid education is present. The chemical industry is now moving rapidly into the digital space, especially in the Manufacturing and Research areas, so it makes sense to build effective training programs to ensure all employees are competent in these areas, no matter their experience level. Smaller companies could look to bring in external training on this if it was needed.

With digitalization in manufacturing, to fully understand the benefits will require good process-focused talent. For the research side, it will rely more on a good chemistry or chemical engineering education. This again is another disparate point between small and large chemical companies, as the companies with the biggest budgets can digitalize quicker. This may lead to improved candidate attraction. Given the digital nature of society, it is highly likely that chemistry graduates will be drawn to the companies that are investing heavily in Industry 4.0 technologies.

Sectors that will witness major research opportunities.

Given the huge attention recycling and sustainability are drawing globally now, a key market for research opportunities is the plastic additive space. Companies who can develop additives for traditional commodity plastics, which allow them to biodegrade or be recycled, will see massive growth – meaning a lot of R&D

employment opportunities. Many companies are investing in this area currently, creating more and more research positions and hopefully more partnerships with universities.

Advice to young talents interested in the field of research.

Consider all types and sizes of company. The large organisations can offer established graduate schemes in research, but sometimes the smaller companies are at the cutting edge of innovation, as they typically focus on less numerous, more niche areas.

Large chemicals companies can offer enhanced budgets and likely quicker digitalization, but the smaller companies can accelerate the careers of talent in research. Candidates at small medium chemicals companies will find themselves responsible for key research projects sooner, will have more access to senior management and a louder voice. Having said this, the basis of a great career in Chemicals is education and it is important that individuals select universities and courses that can offer them inroads into a research career, as well as choosing a segment of the chemicals industry that is set for growth.

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