Policy: Australia needs more chemists

Australia faces a looming shortage of chemists that could endanger the emerging bio-technology and nanotechnology industries, fields that are expected to shape the nation's future economic growth.

A report by the Royal Australian Chemical Institute - The future of chemistry study: supply and demand of chemists - has found that Australia is not training enough chemists to meet the needs of the A$30bn (12bn) industries that employ them.

The institute surveyed 17 universities and 132 businesses employing over 4000 chemists.

Its report concluded that the status of chemistry in Australia was sliding, acting as a deterrent to young people joining the profession.

Since 1989, the proportion of university students studying chemistry has dropped from 2.3 per cent to 1.7 per cent.

Australian governments have invested strongly in research and development, but the report said business was miserly compared with other developed nations.

Chemistry supports a broad range of industries including pharmaceuticals, automotive, mining, chemicals and plastics, petroleum, energy, food and agriculture.

The subject is also crucial in the development of biotechnology - the application of biology in agriculture, brewing and pharmaceuticals - and nanotechnology.

The report reflects a growing national shortage of skilled tradespeople, technicians and engineers resulting from an ageing population and misdirected training policies.

The president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Sharan Burrow, has called on the country's federal government to fund 20 000 extra trade apprenticeships, which would almost double the current rate of completions of trade apprenticeships (which stand at 21 800 for the past 12 months).

Paul Robinson, Royal Australian Chemical Institute