Chemistry & Supply Chain: A Chat on Careers

See the chat announcement and overview here

The first STEM Alliance Chat took place on Wednesday 13 April 2016 from 10:30 till 12:00 o'clock (CET). This chat was organised in collaboration with EPCA (the European Petrochemical Association). The goal of the "Chemistry & Supply Chain: A Chat on Careers" was to bring experts in the field closer to schools and share information on their careers.

During an hour and a half, students had the opportunity to ask topic-related questions to two industry representatives:

Michael Koch, Head of Safety, Health, Environment
& Quality (SHEQ) & Training,

Christoph Girmann, National Operations Manager
Netherlands & Germany,

More than 300 students and 14 teachers from these countries participated in this chat: Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Israel, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain. 

Experts answered various questions on different themes by referring to their involvement, their knowledge in the topic and by bringing examples. This made the chat experience very dynamic and allowed students to learn about the experts career paths and their work.

Maïté Debry, the moderator of this webinar, started asking both experts about their student years and if, when they had to choose their higher education, they had an idea of the career path they were going to take. Mr. Koch replied first saying "I already knew that I would like to do something that has to do with organisation and planning. I was evaluating my strengths but also my weaknesses, so it was quite clear that I actually could go into supply chain or for example a transportation logistics company". On the other side, Mr. Girmann took the decision after his studies: "I was always hoping to find a job which was challenging and has a global touch, with global communication; and that is how I ended in logistics in a freight forwarding company".

A teacher from France asked Mr. Koch about the ‘Together for Sustainability' (TFS) program, and wanted to know more programs for schools which address Chemistry industry and supply chains with a sustainable approach. Following this question, Mr. Koch introduced the Responsible Care Programme, which can be found find on EPCA's website (

We received a high number of questions concerning chemistry and career paths in this sector, including one from Bulgaria:"What kind of education should people have in order to distribute chemical products?". Mr. Girmann replied "To distribute chemical products or other products you need a logistics background because it is all about distribution. There are different kinds of chemical products globally distributed, the majority might be hazardous cargo, and for them you need to receive an awareness training by law. Within our company, we receive regular trainings on these dangerous cargos at least every second year."

The moderator asked both speakers if they had any recommendations for students interested in a career in the sector. Mr. Koch highlighted the importance of STEM education which "gives you a very good opportunity in a still growing market and you can at the end move around between different jobs in companies like ours" but he also mentioned that "for the main functions we have in the offices, a logistics background is needed". Mr. Girmann expressed to students that in his opinion "the most important thing is for everyone is to ask themselves what they want to do in their life" and encouraged them to make decisions.

Students from Croatia asked about the stress in these kind of jobs, to which Mr. Koch reassured the participants by explaining it is essential to find the right balance between private and professional life. He also mentions "it is about organisation and priority settings". On the other hand, Mr. Girmann affirmed that "sometimes it can be stressful, but most importantantly, I enjoy my work", and about travelling for work he declared that "it allows me to meet a lot of new people, learn about people's thoughts, people's diversity, etc.".

Students from Italy wondered what kind of technological skills are needed to be hired in the chemical supply chain industry. To this question, Mr.Koch replied that "at the chemical supply chain, depending out of which topic you are mainly focused, there is always the possibility to specialise. So, when you have a very good technical background you are more involved in technical paths, like production. From our customers, the chemical producers, they have many people with technical backgrounds in the supply chain coming to the logistics service providers to talk with us about technical solutions that can be discussed and optimised." Mr. Girmann added an example to Mr. Koch point by saying that "BERTSCHI offers specific equipment of containers, which is mainly used for liquids, and it is technical knowledge that you need to have in order to know how the products are actually loaded into the container". 

These students also asked what the role of chemistry is on land recovery. Mr. Girmann stressed that "the chemical industry is actually trying to avoid any kind of incidents. It is about preventive actions in the first place" and continued by expressing that "if there is any damage on land, Chemistry will be able to help minimizing the incident, and actually helping the land to recover".

A school in Portugal was interested to know where Portugal gets the raw materials needed for supporting the petrochemical industry comes from. Mr.Koch explained that "The flow to Portugal comes from various regions through the sea. We have connections with Portugal for almost all the harbours in the Benelux area and also good intermodal connections through France or Spain to Portugal, or deep sea ships from other parts of the world. As Spain has also huge chemical production facilities, it is clear that a lot comes by rail or roads through Spain or to Spain, to provide chemical products to the different industries."

During the chat, the industry representatives explained how a normal working day looks like for them describing the large number of tasks and responsibilities they accomplish daily. In terms of the gender balance within the chemical industry, they mentioned that there is still a shortage of women in specific areas, although in others there is more of a balance, depending on the nature of the work. 

Midday arrived and with it the session came to an end. We received many good moments in this chat with our experts from EPCA. This was the first STEM Alliance chat. Stay tuned as more chats will come in the future.

You may find the recording of the webinar here: 

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