Chemical Engineers

This article acts as an extensive career guide that elaborates on the career path of chemical engineers, the job outlook, salaries, qualifications required and much more.

Updated by Rakshitha.N on 29th September 2020

What do they do: Chemical engineers are responsible to use their knowledge on chemistry, biology, physics, and math to provide solutions to existing problems in various industries. 

Working environment: they work indoors, in offices and laboratories to design, research, and develop new techniques as a solution to existing problems.

How to become: Becoming a chemical engineer requires a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering or a related field. Also gaining experience and a license will help advancing career. 

Salary offered: The average salary offered to chemical engineers is about $108,770 in 2020 which may vary based on skills, education and qualification.  

Career Outlook: The job growth of this profession is about 6 percent over the period of 2018 to 2028. The Demand for chemical engineers is increasing in manufacturing industries which work on new evolving technologies. 

Similar careers: With the same education and degree, candidates can choose other career paths based on skills, interests and career profiles. 

Top Chemical Engineering Jobs

Plant manager

The plant manager is responsible for managing the projects and the daily operations of the company’s manufacturing unit. Also working in the chemical industry, a plant manager plays roles such as directing the employees, managing the functions, improving the safety and efficiency of the processes, assigning work, training the new hires and others. The average salary of a plant manager in the chemical industry is about $87,160 and can go up to  $147,335.

Operations Manager

Operations Manager works on the product and services by directing and coordinating the operations and between various departments. Their roles include controlling organizational changes, quality assurance flow and structure, research on alternatives, increasing productivity, budgeting and accounting, and managing inventory and design of the facility. The average yearly salary offered is about $97,730 and can go up to $152,270 per year. 

Senior chemical engineer

After graduating in chemical engineering, candidates aim at becoming Senior Chemical Engineers. The roles in this profile include monitoring the progress of teams, performances of the employees, quality assurance, managing the operations and other. The salary offered on an average is about $103,548 and can range between $79,466 and $140,000 per year. 

What do Chemical Engineers Do?

Chemical engineers in a number of industries such as manufacturing, chemicals, fuel, drugs, food, and many others. Also their roles may include designing, researching, managing, planning, testing, innovating and others in their field of work. Their roles and responsibilities are listed below,

  • Apply the principles of chemistry, biology, physics, and math to innovate a solution

  • Design devices and equipment to work with chemicals and production processes

  • Research and develop a solution to problems by conducting tests and examination

  • Control the industry operation and improve the productivity

  • Overseeing the plant function and managing the teams

  • Analyzing the environmental and hazardous factors that can be caused by chemicals

  • Ensure safety and health measures of the workers while working with chemicals 

  • Design manufacturing processes that can be controlled by chemical reactions. 

  • Conduct tests of the provided solution and implement it in the plant. 

  • Developing alternate solutions with use of alternate material.

  • Estimate the production cost and manage the projects within budget

The duties can vary based on one’s specialization such as nanomaterials, polymers, composites, life sciences, biotechnology, and business services or biological engineering. Also the industry you work in such as the production of energy, electronics, food, clothing, and paper.

Working Conditions of Chemical Engineers

Chemical engineers usually work in office or laboratory settings to conduct tests, research, and others. Can often work at industrial plants, refineries, and other settings where they are directly involved in the processing and production of the desired components this also enables in finding the problems and solving them on-spot.  The working environments can also be understood in detail,

  • Interact with workers, colleagues, clients and other heads

  • Train the employees on the production process 

  • Also, explain the safety measures to create awareness among the staff.

  • Work as a team in projects or involve the individual to conduct research

  • Mostly work indoors in offices and laboratories

  • Wear protective attire and safety equipment as they work with chemicals and acids. 

  • Exposed to hazardous conditions, machinery, and acids.

  • Ensure accuracy in their work as one slightest mistake can cause serious results and injure the staff.

  • Work on a pre-set schedule which last up to 40 hours a week

  • Can also work overtime to meet the deadlines 

Also to get a clear picture, among the 32,700 jobs holder, the industries which hire most of the chemical engineers are,

  • Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences: 10%

  • Engineering services: 9%

  • Petroleum and coal products manufacturing: 6%

  • Wholesale trade: 4%

  • Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing: 4%

How to Become a Chemical Engineer?

To become a chemical engineer, you require a minimum of bachelor's degree in chemical engineering or related fields which is approved by ABET. you can also earn BS or BA in chemical engineering which includes courses such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, biochemistry, and other related subjects. After graduating you can start gaining experience through internships and training programs. This will give you an upper hand as you aim towards earning a Professional Engineering license

Prospective students can also choose to pursue higher education such as a master's or doctoral degree where you can specialise in the fields of your choice such as Biomedical Engineering, Biotechnology, Polymer/plastic engineering, materials science and engineering, agriculture and environmental science. 

Educational requirements for Chemical Engineers

The basic environment to become a chemical engineer is a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering or a related branch. 

For an entry-level job, you must earn prerequisites in Mathematics, calculus, trigonometry, algebra, geometry,  physics, chemistry, and biology. 

A bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering is a 4 years program where you should choose one which is accredited by the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology. The coursework includes Introduction to chemical engineering, unit operation, reactor design in chemical engineering and engineering ethics.

Master’s degree is a 2 years program that includes coursework on biochemical and drug delivery, chemical process design, sustainable chemical engineering, separation process, mass and momentum transfer, kinetics, viscous flow and thermodynamics. Also you can develop researching skills, practical experience in laboratory and interpersonal skills. 

Licenses and Certifications for Chemical Engineers

After completing the education requirements, you can aim at obtaining a state license to work in the public sectors. To earn a license you must research the state requirements you want to work in as it may vary from state to another. However, if you want to continue education or if you want to land on an entry-level position, obtaining a license is an optional step. 

The licensure process includes taking up two exams administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES).

The procedure to gain the Professional Engineering (PE) license is,

  • Complete a bachelor’s degree accredited by ABET

  • Clear the initial Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam

  • Work on projects or gain experience for a minimum of 4 years

  • Clear the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE)

Clearing the FE exam, you’ll be termed as engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs) where you can work under the supervision of experienced professionals and get trained for 4 years. After that you are eligible to take up the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) upon clearing you earn the Professional Engineering license. 

Professional organizations for Chemical Engineers such as the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AICE) helps chemical engineers learn the latest technologies, new skills and be up-to-date about the industry trends. The organization also hosts events where you build a network, continue education and advance your career by finding a suitable high paying job. 

Experience for Chemical Engineers: students can start gaining experience in an early period while pursuing an undergraduate degree where internship opportunities are provided and workshops. After completing education, you can choose training programs, certification or part-time jobs that offer hand-on experience in relevant fields.

Stand Out Skills for Chemical Engineers

The important skills you need to adopt in order to stand out among the other applicants are,

Analytical skills: Chemical engineers must analyse the information, requirements and come up with solutions and plan the processes which can solve problems in all perspectives. 

Technical skills: with suitable and strong knowledge on basics such as physics, mathematics, calculus for analysis, design, computer knowledge helps in innovating and research solutions to problems. 

Problem-solving skills: Also after evaluating the causes and results of existing problems, principles must be applied to solve the problem and creatively design advanced manufacturing processes and new applications in chemical and biomedical engineering.

Communication skills: As most chemical engineers work in teams and closely with workers, they must communicate effectively to answer their queries and clearly explain their views and ideas. 

Leadership skills: The duties of chemical engineers include directing and administration of the operations and teams. Hence leading the teams and workers with suitable instruction helps in increasing productivity and overall efficiency. 

Top University Programs for Chemical Engineers

  • University of California-Berkeley

  • Georgia Institute of Technology

  • University of Texas-Austin

  • Stanford University

  • University of Wisconsin-Madison

  • University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign

  • California Institute of Technology

  • University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Chemical Engineers Salary

In 2020, the average salary offered to chemical engineers for an entry-level job is about $77,914 and can range anywhere between $71,168 and $86,132 based on your education, skills, certification skills and experience. 

The average salary offered for a qualified chemical engineer is $108,770 and can range between $71,170 to $176,090.

The top industries which hire a chemical engineer and the yearly median pay offered are, 

  • Petroleum and coal products manufacturing: $119,010

  • Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences: $116,250

  • Engineering services: $112,990

  • Wholesale trade: $100,510

  • Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing: $98,160

The salary distribution offered for an entry-level job is,

  • 10th percentile: $65,027

  • 25th percentile: $71,168

  • 50th percentile (median): $77,914

  • 75th percentile: $86,132

  • 90th percentile: $93,613

The American Institute of Chemical Engineers also records that the average salary offered to chemical engineers is  $106,300 per year. However, the wages vary on the type of job responsibilities assigned. 

Job Growth of Chemical Engineers

According to the bureau of labor statistics, the job growth of chemical engineers is estimated to be about 6 percent over the period of 2018 to 2028 which is faster than the average growth of other jobs. 

The total employment in 2018 was about 33,900 and it is estimated to grow to about 36,000 in 2028 which means there are 2,100 additional job opportunities projected to be created. 

There will be increased job growth in industries that manufacture environmentally friendly products and involve nanotechnology, alternative energies, and biotechnology. The manufacturing industries have a high demand for chemical engineers, however, it could be affected by the decline in employment in some manufacturing sectors.

Related Careers for Chemical Engineers

Architectural and engineering managers:

Median salary: $98,011

They are professionals who manage, plan, control, and coordinate the overall activities of the engineering projects. The tasks also include design, analyze, and implement the changes for better progress.

Biomedical engineer:

Median salary: $60,958

Biomedical engineers apply the principles of medical sciences to create, design equipment, devices, computer systems, and software used in healthcare. Also, they give technical support for biomedical equipment.

Chemical Technician

Median salary: $44,127

Chemical technicians assist the chemists and chemical engineers to develop special instruments and techniques by researching, developing, producing, and testing chemical products.

Nuclear Engineers

Median salary: $76,160

Nuclear engineers develop the processes, instruments, and systems with suitable research on nuclear energy and radiation. These engineers can also find career opportunities in industrial and medical.