Posted in: Industry News

Closing the Gap

Posted on Tuesday, May 30, 2017

By Kevin Biller

Ohio State University recently published a study in the journal, “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” which says that the average age of scientists has increased significantly in the last few years. They observed that the mean age of scientists has increased from 45.1 to 48.6 between 1993 and 2010. What’s more, the share of workers 55 and older almost doubled between 1994 and 2010 from 17 percent to 33 percent. This conclusion was reached by analyzing data of about 73,000 employed scientists in the United States. The primary reasons for this trend, according to the research, focuses mainly on the aging baby boomer generation, employees retiring at a later age, and a sparser influx of college graduates entering scientific fields.

Looking around our industry, it’s easy to see the same trend. Amble into most powder coating labs and you will find an abundance of senior researchers. This issue was explored by Paul Mills in his article in Powder Coated Tough (Nov/Dec 2015 Buyer’s Guide issue) entitled, “The Brain Drain in Powder Coating.” Mills pointed out that nearly 58 percent of powder coating suppliers have top management and engineering employees who are likely to retire in the next five years. Furthermore, more than 50 percent of them do not have sufficiently trained replacements to fill their inevitable vacancy.

The graying of the powder coating industry personnel is a reality and steps need to be taken to stem the tide of our aging workforce. I’m pleased to report that the Powder Coating Institute and member companies have made an investment in attracting new young talent.

The PCI Scholarship dates back to October 2012, when the then Technical Committee conceived the establishment of a scholarship program to support and attract students interested coatings technology. With the support of PCI’s Board of Directors, the committee forged specific criteria to rate candidates for scholarships, which included the following:

  • Course of Studies
  • Specific Studies/Projects Related to Powder Coatings
  • Future Goals and Career Objectives
  • Unique Qualifications/Goals
  • Letter of Recommendation

The scholarship program concept was submitted to the board where it was enthusiastically received and immediately supported. The next step was to raise funds to provide money to award deserving students. Approximately $20,000 was raised, which funded the program for the first two years.

The first scholarships were awarded in 2014 to two student researchers from North Dakota State University and a polymer engineering student from the University of Akron. The Akron student, Suba Janardhanan, was working on polymers for powder coating heat-sensitive substrates. The following year we also awarded three students, this time all from Eastern Michigan’s Polymer and Coatings Technology master’s program. Atman Fozdar was granted a scholarship award for his work on conductive primers for medium density fiberboard (MDF), designed for low-temperature cure powder coatings.

One of the most rewarding aspects of this nascent program is that the 2014 and 2015 major scholarship winners are now working in the powder coatings industry. Recently, Janardhanan was hired as a chemist for a powder coating manufacturer and Fozdar took a position at a coatings consulting firm.

In 2016, the PCI Board of Directors brainstormed additional avenues to raise funds. They arrived at the concept of allowing corporate members to make donations to the scholarship program and identifying a scholarship with their company name if the company annually donated a minimum of $5,000 to the program. The response from PCI member companies was rapid and encouraging. Three PCI member organizations, Nordson Corporation, Gema USA and Axalta Coating Systems, made commitments to support the scholarship program.

One of the most rewarding aspects of this nascent program is that the 2014 and 2015 major scholarship winners are now working in the powder coatings industry.

For 2016-17, a total of six scholarship awards were given. PCI’s General Scholarship was awarded to two students from Eastern Michigan University; Nordson awarded one scholarship to an Ohio University student; Axalta Coating Systems awarded one to a student from the University of Houston; and Gema USA recently presented two scholarships, one to a student from Purdue Polytechnic Institute and another to a student attending Indiana University- Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).

While studies may show that the technical workforce in our industry is aging, PCI and the generosity of its member companies have the foresight to provide the means to close the gap between the older generations in the workforce and the emerging technologists entering industry.

To learn more about the PCI Scholarship Program, visit

Kevin Biller is technical editor of Powder Coated Tough and the president of The Powder Coating Research Group. He can be reached at