Chemical Engineer: Job Description, Duties, Salary, and Other Requirements

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With a strong background in chemistry and physics and a passion for biology and mathematics, chemical engineers design and develop drugs, fuel, food, and other products that are created using chemical components. Taking on a role as a chemical engineer is no small feat and one that requires education, experience, and specific skills and qualities. Review this guide for everything you need to know about getting a job in the chemical engineering industry.

What Does a Chemical Engineer Do?

Chemical engineers design and develop chemical manufacturing processes for a variety of products, including drugs and food. On a daily basis, a chemical engineer may be tasked with multiple duties, some of which may include:

  • Designing and planning the layout of manufacturing equipment within the production space.
  • Monitoring equipment production efficiency and making changes as needed.
  • Troubleshooting problems with the equipment or equipment design.
  • Conducting research on chemical properties and how they relate in order to create products.
  • Implementing safety procedures for manufacturing processes.
  • Estimating production costs for certain manufactured products.
  • Using controlled chemical processes to separate components of gases and liquids or to generate electrical currents.

In addition to conducting research in business, biotechnology, and life sciences, chemical engineers must have a firm grasp on how the manufacturing process works for a variety of goods and products. Some engineers may specialize in a certain field, such as biological engineering, while others may specialize in the production of a specific product, such as a prescription drug.

Work Schedule

Chemical engineering is a full-time job and some engineers may need to work more than 40 hours per week to meet demanding project deadlines or to assist with equipment troubleshooting. Most chemical engineers work in laboratories or office environments, but they may also spend time at manufacturing plants or refineries.  

Average Chemical Engineer Salary

A chemical engineer’s compensation varies based on their level of education, job title, and location. However, chemical engineering is known as one of the highest-paying engineering jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a chemical engineer in May 2018 was $104,910. This equates to about $50.44 in hourly pay. The highest-paying chemical engineering positions are usually in the petroleum manufacturing and life sciences research and development fields.

Chemical Engineering Education, Licenses, Certifications, and Training

To become a chemical engineer, you must meet extensive education and training requirements since you need to possess advanced knowledge of chemicals and manufacturing.

Education Requirements

Chemical engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in engineering, preferably in chemical engineering. A chemical engineering bachelor’s degree program usually includes lab, classroom, and field training and takes four years to complete.

Some engineering students may move on to earn a master’s degree in the field before obtaining a job. Students interested in working in research and development as a postsecondary teacher are required to earn a graduate degree in chemical engineering.

Licenses/Certifications

Licensure is not required for entry-level positions in chemical engineering and is not as common as in other engineering fields. However, if a chemical engineer wants to move to a supervisory role or to be able to sign off on projects without managerial assistance, they must become licensed as a professional engineer (PE). This requires at least four years of experience in the field and the successful completion of two exams, as well as continuing education in some states to keep the license active.

Training

After graduating from school, an entry-level chemical engineer receives on-the-job training in the new role. With advances in technology, chemical engineers are constantly receiving training on new software and systems that allow them to do their jobs more efficiently and accurately.

Chemical Engineer Job Outlook

Employment in the chemical engineering field is expected to grow 6% from 2018 to 2028, which is just as fast as most other occupations. An increase in the number of firms that manufacture products to increase fuel efficiency in automobiles may contribute to an increase in chemical engineering jobs. Explorations into alternative energy and nanotechnology may also lead to more chemical engineering jobs in the future.

In 2018, there were 33,900 workers employed as chemical engineers but this number is expected to grow to 36,000 by 2028. Chemical engineers with backgrounds in biology may be more in demand since the pharmaceutical industry is growing rapidly.

Should I Become a Chemical Engineer?

It’s important to learn about your personality traits and the traits that are needed to be a chemical engineer when deciding if this career is right for you. To enjoy this role, you must have a passion for designing and analyzing products with chemical components. A love for science, math, and chemistry is also paramount. Chemical engineers must have specific skills, including:

  • Problem-solving.
  • Interpersonal.
  • Mathematical.
  • Creative.
  • Analytical.

Chemical engineers are often tasked with creating innovative solutions to address problems relating to manufacturing and the implementation of systems. They must also be able to work in teams with other engineers or professionals to collaborate on designs and troubleshoot current systems. As a chemical engineer, you must apply engineering principles to solve manufacturing issues or production problems.

A job as a chemical engineer can be demanding because you’re expected to develop creative and organic solutions to manufacturing hurdles. If you’re not sure whether becoming a chemical engineer is the right choice for you, try taking a career test to help find a match that better suits you.


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This post was updated December 19, 2019. It was originally published December 19, 2019.