The RSC roadmap for the chemical sciences makes a commitment to develop solutions to the challenges which it identifies but there is one challenge which little mention in the document. Most of the challenges can be achieved only with major developments and innovations in our present capability to achieve meaningful analytical measurements. In order to have meaningful measurements we need people with expertise in analytical science and experience of the applications to which it is applied. But such people are rapidly becoming an extinct species, thanks to decades of deskilling analytical laboratories and shrinking academic analytical departments. Unless we act quickly to reverse the trend, analytical science will remain too weak to address even today’s problems let alone the future challenges of the chemical sciences. However, in the view of many laboratory managers, UK academic analytical science and teaching of measurement practice to chemistry undergraduates is weaker today than it has ever been.
How can we begin to address these issues?
- The adequacy of UK analytical education and training, now and in the future
- The state of academic analytical science in the UK which many believe has weakened, some would say it has largely disappeared, has lead to fewer chemistry graduates with adequate understanding of the fundamentals of analytical measurement theory and its practical implementation
- The trend away from teaching practical laboratory skills and downgrading their importance in an age of instrumentation
- The shortage of experienced analytical scientists cannot be blamed entirely on the academic sector whose role is to educate, not to provide graduates who are fully trained in the laboratory and other skills required by specific employers
- A key part of the laboratory workforce has disappeared due to the demise of the part time education /on the job training which was once regarded as vital for providing a steady source of analytical technicians and analytical chemistry graduates. The recent OU initiative in this respect appears to have attracted limited interest
- The shrinking skills base in analytical laboratories and how to reverse the present trends when many laboratories no longer have experienced staff who are capable of providing adequate on the job training of new recruits even where management may be willing to bear the cost of such training
- Many employers now aim during recruitment to find staff who already have the skills and experience they require but the pool of suitable candidates is shrinking. There is great reliance on the expertise of an older generation and it is unclear where the next generation will come from.