Chemical engineers (a.k.a. chemical process engineers) are involved in the research, development and implementation of chemical processes required to produce a variety of products such as food, drinks, cleaning products, textiles, medicines, fuels, solvents, adhesives and plastics.
Chemical engineers are employed by organisations in various industries, such as energy and utilities, pharmaceuticals, food and beverage manufacturing, industrial chemical production and metallurgy.
If you enter this profession, your main responsibilities will focus on research and development, designing chemical production processes, testing production techniques and materials, and using computer models to evaluate the efficiency of production processes.
Furthermore, you may be responsible for managing production facilities, conducting technical audits and inspections, overseeing quality assurance and coordinating the management and disposal of chemical waste.
As you move into more senior roles, your managerial responsibilities may also extend to training junior employees and making sure all chemical engineering activities comply with health, safety and environmental regulations.
Salary & benefits
Annual salaries for chemical engineers in the early stages of their careers range between £20,000 and £30,000, while engineers with a few years of experience can earn around £30,000 to £60,000.
Senior professionals with chartered engineering status can earn up to £80,000 a year.
Although you will usually work between 35 and 40 hours week on a nine-to-five basis, you may occasionally have to work extra hours to meet project and production deadlines.
Some manufacturing organisations that have a 24/7 production cycle may even require chemical engineers to work in shift patterns. Consequently, this may mean working unsociable hours from time to time.
In order to break into this line of work, you will need to obtain an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in chemical engineering or process engineering. Candidates with MEng degrees will usually be preferred over candidates with BEng degrees.
An alternative route into this profession is to do an undergraduate degree in chemistry and then do an MEng degree in chemical engineering.
Training & progression
The majority of chemical engineers develop their skills through structured in-house training programmes, which involve formal training sessions, planned rotations across relevant departments and studying for professional examinations that lead towards incorporated or chartered engineering qualifications.
As you progress in your career, you will typically be promoted to become a senior engineer, a process manager, a plant manager and, finally, an operations manager.
Freelance consulting work in a specialist area of chemical engineering is another viable career path.