The British chemical industry is looking forward to 2013, as it shows optimism for growth, sale volumes and a general pickup in activity, following a rather difficult 2012, the latest industry survey carried out by the Chemical Industries Association (CIA) has shown.

Revealing the results from its poll in a statement, the organization — the largest UK trade association representing chemical and pharmaceutical businesses of all sizes — said that the industry is positive in its expectations over the coming 12 months, with 46 percent of those polled foreseeing higher sales volumes, compared to 2012. By contrast, only 19 percent predicted a decline in sales volumes, suggesting that the industry is more confident than it was 12 months ago.

Commenting on the findings, Steve Elliott, chief executive of the CIA, explained that 2013 is likely to remain a challenge for the industry as a whole but stated that he was confident businesses were able to face up to the challenges and achieve growth.

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The survey focused on the workforce as a key driver for growth and innovation. When respondents were asked about their training and skills improvement schemes, the majority of them stated that they were making significant efforts to ensure their employees were well trained. For example, almost half of all those interviewed provided training schemes lasting at least 12 months to new graduate employees. Opportunities for career development were also offered to non-graduates. More than a third of the CIA members had partnered with local colleges or universities, providing training courses, while another 21 percent were working together with other local companies. A quarter of the UK's chemical and pharmaceutical companies organized and managed their training schemes entirely on their own and close to three in four have taken advantage of the facilities provided by NSAPI/COGENT — government-run programs for increasing skills and competence among staff. Overall, just 17 percent of the respondents had no training scheme in place, the research found.

The vast majority of companies supported the idea of the government encouraging so-called "sandwich" courses for training and skills improvement. Some 83 percent believed that chemistry and chemical engineering undergraduates should spend time in the industry. Apprenticeships with part-time courses in further education colleges and providing better vocational education in schools were also among the attractive suggestions, each gathering more than 50 percent approval, the CIA said.

The chemical and pharmaceutical industry should be recognized as key to the national economy and young professionals need to be encouraged to join the industry, Elliott noted. The industry contributes £80 million ($124 million) to the UK economy on a daily basis and invests £5 billion ($7.76 billion) on research and development each year. More than half a million people are employed in chemical and pharmaceutical businesses across the country, providing them with secure and well-paid jobs. Furthermore, it is arguably the largest manufacturing exporter in the UK, Elliott concluded, highlighting the importance of the industry for British economic growth.