Chemical development engineers (a.k.a. chemical engineers) are responsible for the design, development and implementation of industrial production processes, which involve chemicals and chemical reactions.
Chemical engineers are employed by manufacturing companies that specialise in the production of oil, gas, food, beverages, pharmaceuticals, specialty chemicals and plastics.
At the higher end of the scale, chemical engineers undertake research and design and develop the processes used in nuclear energy production, fuel cell technology and clinical trials within the pharmaceutical industry.
Essentially, these careers are all about applying chemical engineering processes and principles for the development of new products and materials. However, these careers may also involve upgrading and modifying existing products.
If you develop a career in this profession, you’ll be carrying out research and development activities, exploring the commercial viability of a new product or process and working out the cost and resource implications of moving from a limited production batch to full-scale manufacturing.
Furthermore, you’ll be tasked with carrying out essential maintenance of chemical processing plants and ensuring that environmental restrictions and health and safety regulations are adhered to at all times.
Salary & benefits
Trainee chemical development engineers may start their careers with an annual salary ranging between £22,000 and £28,000. However, as you gain more experience, you may end up earning between £40,000 and £60,000 a year.
Chartered engineers are likely to earn around 15-40% more than chemical engineers who don’t have chartered status.
It’s likely that you’ll be working nine-to-five. However, chemical engineers who work in the oil and gas sector, or on project-based assignments, may work longer and more irregular hours.
Work is mainly lab or plant-based, but chemical engineers may be required to travel from time to time if they work for a company which has production centres in various locations across the globe.
The majority of chemical development engineers enter this profession with a degree under their belt (2:1 or higher) in a subject such as chemistry, chemical engineering, biochemical engineering or nuclear engineering.
If you enter this line of work off the back of getting an MEng degree (postgraduate) rather than a BEng degree (undergraduate), then it will take you less time to achieve chartered engineer status, as you will be exempt from certain professional examinations.
Gaining prior work experience through vacation schemes or industrial training programmes is essential, since most employers now offer these schemes to identify their future graduate trainees.
Training & progression
The majority of major employers in this industry now offer graduate development schemes to help develop new talent. These tend to last around one or two years.
An important component of these programmes is helping entry-level employees to complete the necessary requirements for becoming a Chartered Chemical Engineer and obtaining membership with the Institute of the Institute of Chemical Engineering (IChemE).
Your career progression will depend on your academic and professional background, your experience and your on-the-job performance.
The first five years of employment are usually spent working across a wide range of functions and departments. Choosing a specialist field of expertise and building experience, therefore, opens up new avenues for progression.
Alternatively, as you progress, you could take a step back from the hands-on, technical side of chemical development engineering and take on more managerial, strategic and business-focused responsibilities.