Chemical Engineer Career Facts

Chemical engineers are involved in the production, use, and development of chemicals at an industrial level. Their work is directly linked to all facets of industrial chemistry, which is one of the largest areas of industrial production, research and development in the world. 

The work environment

Chemical engineering is a diverse area of business. All industrial products involve some form of chemistry, so the field for employment is very large. Chemical engineers work in virtually all industries. In this profession, the type of chemistry is often the defining factor in employment and career options. Specialization is common, and the work environment can be quite variable depending on the type of chemistry and engineering requirements of the jobs. The work of a chemical engineer includes:

  • Fabrication of industrial production equipment and conduits
  • Design and installation of filters, waste product systems, chemical extraction systems, catalytic systems and process-specific systems (some chemical processes work in particular sequences requiring a "flow chart" design) 
  • Also responsible for systems maintenance, monitoring, database systems and applications

Safe handling of chemicals

Many industrial chemicals are extremely powerful corrosives, acids or enzymes. Many are also very toxic. These chemicals require their own special systems and materials for safe use. The chemical engineer may need to design and install special systems for these chemicals.  In some cases there may be multiple systems installed. Installing safety and control systems for dangerous chemicals and other materials is also required by law. It's important to understand that people's lives literally depend on these safety systems in many industrial environments, therefore the work is very important.  

Manufacturing applications

In manufacturing, chemical treatment of products and materials is often staged throughout the production process. Separate stages of treatment may require different forms of chemical treatment, like solutions, sprays, use of paints or protective compounds. The chemical engineer designs the process and installs systems to streamline production and to ensure efficiency in all parts of the chemical processes. 

Wages and hours

There is usually a very large salary bandwidth in this profession. The lowest wage level is $50,000, upper level $120,000. Note also that consultancy and research salaries and remuneration may vary considerably. The hours may be shift work in some industries; otherwise standard hours are 9-5.

The career outlook

Chemical engineers form a relatively small part of the entire US workforce of engineers. That profile is likely to change considerably in the coming decade as organic chemistry and nano chemistry take hold in manufacturing. Employment growth is expected to be 10% during this period. 

Chemical engineering is a profession where ongoing education is a necessity. Career progression is based on qualifications, experience, and specialization. Specialization affects the areas of career progression profoundly. A chemical engineer who specializes in carbon chemistry, for example, may work in plastics, oil, coal, polymers or other major industrial areas. This provides a relatively good level of job mobility and career flexibility. 

Research is another important career area. Industrial chemistry is a major capital-intensive area of investment. Government, industrial and academic research combines to produce new science. Chemical engineers may work as researchers or consultants in this field on a contract basis.