Thought Leadership: Top Talent Wants More than Just a Job

June 6, 2015 |

knaufBy Mike Knauf, CEO, Rivertop Renewables, special to The Digest

If you’re like me, you know that your ability to compete in the bio-based economy is driven by two factors – capital and people. And while we’ve all been stressed a bit by access to capital in the past few years, I think it’s safe to say that, so far, companies in our space have been able to attract talented, passionate and skilled employees.  But what about long-term?

I was concerned recently when I saw the following headline from a Bloomberg report on the best jobs for college graduates: “Petroleum engineers swim in cash.”  I thought, “Great – not only does the bio-based economy need to compete with the fossil industry for products and market share, we still need to compete for talent as well.” Bloomberg pulled its ranking from a Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, which found that petroleum engineers make “an average of $135,754 a year by their mid to late 20s—more than any other major.”

That’s the bad news. The good news is, over the long term, biology and chemistry (non-petroleum) engineers do incredibly well for themselves. The study notes, compared to all other career choices “STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) majors don’t just make more money when they start out. They also see more wage growth over their careers than any other major.”

In fact, those with graduate degrees in biology and chemistry have the biggest wage premiums for their investment in an advanced degree; they earn 63 percent more than bachelor’s degree holders in other types of careers.

So which option do graduates, already saddled with the highest amount of debt of any generation, select: a position with great potential out of the gate, or one geared toward longer-term financial success? The answer is — both. Here’s why.

Today’s graduates have a deeper understanding of the world around them and value a positive societal impact of a company more than pure financial gain. Barry Salzberg, the Global CEO of Deloitte, summarized his firm’s research on the topic writing,

“In their insistence on social principle, many millennials are not driven by money or success in quite the way their parents were. This generation wants to know what your organization stands for in improving society, what it stands for in action…Millennials want to know how they will make a positive difference in the world if they join your business, not by wearing a colorful T-shirt on a special project once a year but in their actual work….they reflect remarkable optimism and resilience, including an admirable willingness to tackle, head-on, society’s biggest issues.” 

Our industry has a wonderful combination of mission-driven companies seeking to leverage technologies to address pressing global problems and unlock a truly sustainable future. This is in exact alignment with what Deloitte and many others have found this generation really wants in a career.

What’s best is that having a fulfilling career and financial success is not a zero-sum game when it comes to the bio-based economy. A recent American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) report forecasts significant growth potential for our industry, estimating 24 times the growth of the conventional chemicals market worldwide from 2011 to 2020. And job growth in greener and safer goods and services is well ahead of the conventional chemical industry, according to the ASBC.

We’ve seen these trends first-hand as we’ve built the team at Rivertop. We’ve attracted great grad students from state universities who are pumped to be able to have a fulfilling career without having to move away from ‘the last best place.’ We’ve hired people from other states who are amazed at their ability to work at a global company all while living and exploring in the outdoor mecca of Missoula, Montana.  And we’ve been successful in bringing on board veteran chemistry and product leaders who see the opportunity to disrupt an industry.

All of us in the bio-based economy must continually remind everyone that companies in our space offer more than just a job and a competitive salary. We offer the opportunity to work on breakthrough technologies, be part of something much bigger than ourselves and leave a legacy of achievement for generations to come.

Mike Knauf is CEO of Rivertop Renewables, a Missoula, Montana-based producer of novel performance chemicals derived from all natural resources.

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