Much of the business world may be getting carried away by the feelgood factor. But graduates with a chemical bent would do well not to get too excited.

Figures recently produced by the Chemical Industries Association show that most companies reported no graduate shortages of any kind. Though the number of companies reporting no shortages has fallen over the past three years - from 82 per cent in 1994 to 64 per cent this year - the total number of graduates recruited is expected to fall by nearly a 10th from last year, to 437.

Moreover, the proportion of respondents believing there would be increased demand for graduates in various chemistry-associated disciplines over the coming three to five years has fallen from 63 per cent last year to 48 per cent. As in previous years, chemists form the largest single group of recruits - predicted to account for 34 per cent of graduates and undergraduates and 59 per cent of the postgraduates recruited in 1996. Chemical engineers are the next largest category - expected to make up about 24 per cent of the number of recruits this year. However, more chemical engineers than chemists are expected to be recruited at first-degree level this year. But there are opportunities in certain specialist fields. For instance, some companies perceive those qualified in analytical chemistry and polymer science/chemistry to be in short supply.

Perhaps more worryingly for the industry, a significant minority of companies said they had experienced some difficulties in retaining graduates. The chief reason cited was flatter company structures and the resulting fewer career opportunities for graduates. It was generally reckoned that the watershed for graduates came after three to four years; once an individual had been with a company that long he or she was likely to stay.

At the same time, graduates are likely to be concerned by the fact that nearly a third of companies had recruited postgraduates for posts traditionally taken by them. As with last year, this partly reflected the fact that more postgraduates were available for employment, but some companies had actively sought postgraduates in favour of graduates, which had not been the case last year. Accordingly, higher-degree graduates accounted for 30 per cent of the total recruited in 1995 - far more than had been predicted.

Although the figures for female recruitment seem fairly encouraging for what is in many companies still a male preserve, the 35 per cent proportion is slightly down on previous years, while the survey compilers take care to point out that "not all companies responding to the survey were able to give accurate breakdowns of male/female recruitment for the 1996 intake". Why ever not?

Roger Trapp