The Chemicals, Pharmaceuticals, Rubber & Plastic Products sector employs 3.75 million persons in the EU.
Large firms dominate the sector and provide more than half of sector employment, although SMEs show the fastest growth. Despite remaining global export leader, the EU chemicals industry's competitiveness has come increasingly under threat, due to high production costs, low market growth, delocalisation of user industries and, last but not least, the build-up of efficient large-scale capacity and competition elsewhere. Globalisation, however, also provides new opportunities. Higher value added, greening and eco-efficiency are major challenges for the European chemicals industry, with innovation, regulation and scarcity of resources (oil, gas and energy) being key drivers.
The sector’s workforce is structurally older than in other sectors, with a lack of younger employees and an older generation ready for retirement, posing a potential skills gap especially where tacit knowledge is concerned in many technical functions (metal, machinery, precision workers). Generally, a trend from lower skilled to medium- and high-skilled employment can be observed. This trend is especially pronounced in the technical occupations, with a strong upgrading to the mid-educated level. This general trend of up-skilling across job functions is bound to continue in the coming years. Across all job functions soft skills will become increasingly important, especially for high skilled professional jobs. Due to the changing nature of jobs, predefined technical knowledge capabilities will become less important. Skills to adapt and learn new competences and life-long learning will be put at a premium.