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April 2002
Vol. 11, No. 3
p 9.
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Workplace Perspectives
John K. Borchardt
Don’t Restrict Your Job Search

Relocation, family concerns top list of obstacles to employment choice.

opening artChemCensus 2000, the ACS census of its members in the U.S. workforce, indicates that more than half (56.1%) of all unemployed chemists seeking employment place major restrictions on their job search. These restrictions can increase the duration of unemployment and the likelihood that an unemployed chemist will leave the profession to accept a job outside of chemistry. By lengthening the job search, restrictions also increase the financial damage of unemployment.

The extent of restriction differs by gender, with 48.8% of men and only 28.3% of women reporting that they place no restrictions on their job search. Restrictions probably increase with age, as advancing years tend to increase financial and personal ties to family and community responsibilities. Some 1995 ACS data are consistent with this hypothesis and indicate that longer periods of unemployment correspond with increasing age. While age discrimination is almost certainly a factor in this trend, it is likely that increased job hunt restrictions with advancing age are also significant.

How might chemists cope with such restrictions to increase the scope of their job search and reduce the duration of unemployment or the length of time spent job hunting?

Inability to Relocate
The most commonly cited job search restriction is “inability to relocate”. In ChemCensus 2000, 29.6% of unemployed chemists reported this factor as restricting the geographic scope of their job search. It was cited by 36.9% of unemployed women chemists and 27.4% of male unemployed chemists.

Several factors may contribute to an inability to relocate. For example, two-career families mean that these families often are less willing to relocate. Should the unemployed chemist find a job requiring relocation, the employed spouse must arrange a job transfer or find a new job. Financial concerns associated with selling a house and purchasing one in a new location also often limit relocation. Finally, there is the disruption to social relations, particularly those of children, to consider.

None of these factors need be insurmountable barriers to relocating to accept another position. In the 1995 ChemCensus, covering a period of high chemical unemployment and poor job markets, unemployed chemists citing “inability to relocate” as a job search restriction numbered 21.1%. This statistic was significantly less than in the 1990 and 2000 censuses (both during better economic times), when 27.1% and 29.6% of unemployed chemists cited this restriction, which suggests that some chemists can overcome the inability to relocate.

Inability to relocate can be overcome several ways. Consider chemists with an employed spouse. Job-hunting chemists can ask a prospective employer’s human resources representative about the firm’s programs to assist spouses in finding jobs. Many firms have such programs, and the positions may be with other companies. Having reached a decision to hire a particular chemist, the firm is generally eager to have that person accept the job offer. So, having received a job offer, the chemist will be in a strong position to request the help of the prospective employer’s human resources department or supervisor in the spouse’s job hunt.

Should a new job in a distant location be necessary, the “trailing spouse” can conduct preliminary job-hunting using the Internet to collect information on employers, research employment opportunities, and apply for jobs. If the hiring company permits the spouse to accompany the chemist on a house-hunting expedition, this can be a good time to investigate employment opportunities in the new location.

Often, the spouse’s best option is to remain with his or her current employer by working in a home office or with a transfer to an assignment in the new job location. With today’s technology, working at home has become a viable option for many—and the location of that home may not matter greatly. So the spouse may not actually have to change jobs or even assignments with his or her current employer when moving to a new location, which has the added bonus of permitting the spouse to retain accumulated employment benefits.

Of course, the couple must weigh the satisfaction and opportunities of a new job against the disruption to the career of the trailing spouse. When the spouse earns a greater income or has a greater investment or emotional involvement in his or her career than the unemployed chemist, restrictions on relocation can make sense in the context of the situation.

Economic Reasons
Financial considerations can also be an important factor. Families with one wage-earning member must often relocate for economic reasons. So while a two-job family may have problems in accommodating the career concerns of both spouses, the second income can permit the longer period of job-hunting often associated with placing geographic restrictions on the job search.

Relocating can require selling one’s home and purchasing another in the new location. Chemists who rent may be more open to relocation since it means only forfeiting a security deposit rather than enduring the possibly lengthy process of selling a home and buying a new one. Since the likelihood of owning a home (with or without a mortgage) increases with age, this is a likely factor in the increased time between jobs reported by older chemists.

Some employers offer at least partial solutions to financial concerns by offering no-interest loans until the relocating chemist’s home is sold. Another solution is to provide a subsidy so the chemist can rent an apartment in the new location for a limited period while the family home is for sale. Paying moving expenses for relocating chemists is a standard benefit most employers offer.

In some cities, specialty realty firms will assess the value of a home and make an immediate purchase offer to the owner. The advantage of rapidly selling the home is offset by the relatively low price the homeowner receives; however, this tactic is not necessarily unreasonable because the homeowner receives the convenience of a rapid sale. This author is not aware of any employers that offer to provide the difference between a conventional realtor’s assessment and the amount offered by a rapid-sale firm. However, it would be cheaper than what some firms provided in the 1980s when they purchased the new employee’s home at a realtor’s assessed value and then had a realtor sell it.

Being located within commuting distance of many chemical employers is an advantage that greatly reduces the impact of the inability to relocate. Although people may prefer different areas for various reasons, relocating to an area well populated by chemical employers can reduce later disruptions in a chemist’s own life and that of family members should he or she want or need to change jobs.

Family Restrictions
Family considerations often increase with age and make chemists less inclined to relocate—they constitute the second most common reason for restricting one’s job search. This factor has increased steadily for unemployed chemists, rising from 6.6% in 1990 to 7.2% in 1995 and 10.7% in 2000. The overall increase for men (5.3 to 9.1%) was relatively greater than that for women (12.0% to 15.7%).

Younger chemists are more likely to be single and/or childless and have fewer other people to consider when evaluating relocation. However, should a chemist marry and raise a family, considering family members’ concerns becomes more important when considering relocation.

These relocation concerns include family members’ roots in the community in the form of family and friends living nearby; involvement in church and civic activities; and hobbies that might have geographic restrictions such as skiing, surfing, or camping. In particular, children may find relocating and attending a new school a very stressful experience. The quality of schools and other amenities in new locations are also important concerns. Job travel requirements, as well as maintaining adequate childcare and eldercare, are other factors in accepting a job offer.

A relocating chemist has to weigh the relative importance of a new job against the value of community roots. Doing so may lead to placing a geographic restriction on your job hunt. However, it’s a good idea not to refuse to consider relocation through inertia rather than careful consideration of the factors involved.

Part-Time Employment
In ChemCensus 2000, 3.6% of unemployed chemists seeking work listed a requirement for part-time employment as the reason they were unemployed. Among women, this figure was 3.8%; among men it was 3.0%. Part-time jobs in chemistry, except for nontenure-track faculty at some junior colleges, four-year colleges, and universities, are hard to find. The uncommon nature of part-time chemical jobs usually makes job searches for them lengthy.

A full-time job could possibly accommodate the needs of a chemist seeking part-time employment. Splitting work time between home and office or arranging for a flexible schedule are ways that a chemist seeking part-time employment may be able to accept a full-time job. Unemployed chemists should consider these options before restricting their job searches to part-time employment.

Applying to reducing job hunt restrictions the same creativity that most chemists bring to their work can help reduce the length of unemployment and associated emotional and financial stress.

John K. Borchardt is a research chemist who has published more than 100 technical papers and has been awarded 30 U.S. patents. Send your comments or questions regarding this article to tcaw@acs.org or the Editorial Office, 1155 16th St N.W., Washington, DC 20036.

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