What They Do: Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry, biology, physics, and math to solve problems that involve the use of fuel, drugs, food, and many other products.
Work Environment: Chemical engineers work mostly in offices or laboratories. They may spend time at industrial plants, refineries, and other locations, where they monitor or direct operations or solve onsite problems. Nearly all chemical engineers work full time.
How to Become One: Chemical engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering or a related field. Employers also value practical experience. Therefore, internships and cooperative engineering programs can be helpful.
Salary: The median annual wage for chemical engineers is $108,770.
Job Outlook: Employment of chemical engineers is projected to grow 6 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Demand for chemical engineers’ services depends largely on demand for the products of various manufacturing industries.
Related Careers: Explore occupations that share similar duties, skills, interests, education, or training with the occupation covered in the profile.
Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry, biology, physics, and math to solve problems that involve the production or use of chemicals, fuel, drugs, food, and many other products. They design processes and equipment for large-scale manufacturing, plan and test production methods and byproducts treatment, and direct facility operations.
Chemical engineers typically do the following:
Some chemical engineers, known as process engineers, specialize in a particular process, such as oxidation (a reaction of oxygen with chemicals to make other chemicals) or polymerization (making plastics and resins).
Others specialize in a particular field, such as nanomaterials (extremely small substances) or biological engineering. Still others specialize in developing specific products.
In addition, chemical engineers work in the production of energy, electronics, food, clothing, and paper. They must understand how the manufacturing process affects the environment and the safety of workers and consumers.
Chemical engineers also conduct research in the life sciences, biotechnology, and business services.
Chemical engineers hold about 32,700 jobs. The largest employers of chemical engineers are as follows:
|Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences||10%|
|Petroleum and coal products manufacturing||6%|
|Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing||4%|
Chemical engineers work mostly in offices or laboratories. They may spend time at industrial plants, refineries, and other locations, where they monitor or direct operations or solve onsite problems. Chemical engineers must be able to work with those who design other systems and with the technicians and mechanics who put the designs into practice.
Some engineers travel extensively to plants or worksites, both domestically and abroad.
Chemical engineers can be exposed to health or safety hazards when handling certain chemicals and plant equipment, but such exposure can be avoided if proper procedures are followed.
Nearly all chemical engineers work full time. Occasionally, they may have to work additional hours to meet production targets and design standards or to troubleshoot problems with manufacturing processes. About 2 out of 5 chemical engineers work more than 40 hours per week.
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Chemical engineers must have a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering or a related field. Employers also value practical experience, so internships and cooperative engineering programs, in which students earn college credit and experience, can be helpful.
Chemical engineers must have a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering or a related field. Programs in chemical engineering usually take 4 years to complete and include classroom, laboratory, and field studies. High school students interested in studying chemical engineering will benefit from taking science courses, such as chemistry, physics, and biology. They also should take math courses, including algebra, trigonometry, and calculus.
At some universities, students can opt to enroll in 5-year engineering programs that lead to both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree. A graduate degree, which may include a degree up to the Ph.D. level, allows an engineer to work in research and development or as a postsecondary teacher.
Some colleges and universities offer internships and/or cooperative programs in partnership with industry. In these programs, students gain practical experience while completing their education.
ABET accredits engineering programs. ABET-accredited programs in chemical engineering include courses in chemistry, physics, and biology. These programs also include applying the sciences to the design, analysis, and control of chemical, physical, and biological processes.
Analytical skills. Chemical engineers must troubleshoot designs that do not work as planned. They must ask the right questions and then find answers that work.
Creativity. Chemical engineers must explore new ways of applying engineering principles. They work to invent new materials, advanced manufacturing techniques, and new applications in chemical and biomedical engineering.
Ingenuity. Chemical engineers learn the broad concepts of chemical engineering, but their work requires them to apply those concepts to specific production problems.
Interpersonal skills. Because their role is to put scientific principles into practice in manufacturing industries, chemical engineers must develop good working relationships with other workers involved in production processes.
Math skills. Chemical engineers use the principles of advanced math topics such as calculus for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.
Problem-solving skills. In designing equipment and processes for manufacturing, these engineers must be able to anticipate and identify problems, including such issues as workers' safety and problems related to manufacturing and environmental protection.
Licensure for chemical engineers is not as common as it is for other engineering occupations, nor is it required for entry-level positions. A Professional Engineering (PE) license, which allows for higher levels of leadership and independence, can be acquired later in one's career. Licensed engineers are called professional engineers (PEs). A PE can oversee the work of other engineers, sign off on projects, and provide services directly to the public. State licensure generally requires
The initial FE exam can be taken after one earns a bachelor's degree. Engineers who pass this exam are commonly called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After meeting work experience requirements, EITs and EIs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE).
Each state issues its own licenses. Most states recognize licensure from other states, as long as the licensing state's requirements meet or exceed their own licensure requirements. Several states require engineers to take continuing education to keep their licenses.
During high school, students can attend engineering summer camps to see what these and other engineers do. Attending these camps can help students plan their coursework for the remainder of their time in high school.
Entry-level engineers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers. In large companies, new engineers also may receive formal training in classrooms or seminars. As junior engineers gain knowledge and experience, they move to more difficult projects with greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions.
Eventually, chemical engineers may advance to supervise a team of engineers and technicians. Some may become architectural and engineering managers. Preparing for management positions usually requires working under the guidance of a more experienced chemical engineer.
An engineering background enables chemical engineers to discuss a product's technical aspects and assist in product planning and use. For more information, see the profile on sales engineers.
The median annual wage for chemical engineers is $108,770. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $66,810, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $176,090.
The median annual wages for chemical engineers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:
|Petroleum and coal products manufacturing||$119,010|
|Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences||$116,250|
|Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing||$98,160|
A 2015 survey report by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers indicated that the median yearly salary of those with no supervisory responsibility was $106,300.
Nearly all chemical engineers work full time. Occasionally, they may have to work additional hours to meet production targets and design standards or to troubleshoot problems with manufacturing processes. Some chemical engineers work more than 40 hours per week.
Employment of chemical engineers is projected to grow 6 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Demand for chemical engineers' services depends largely on demand for the products of various manufacturing industries. The ability of these engineers to stay on the forefront of new emerging technologies will sustain employment growth.
Many chemical engineers work in industries whose products are sought by many manufacturing firms. For instance, they work for firms that manufacture plastic resins, which are used to increase fuel efficiency in automobiles. Increased availability of domestically produced natural gas should increase manufacturing potential in the industries employing these engineers.
In addition, chemical engineering will continue to migrate into dynamic fields, such as nanotechnology, alternative energies, and biotechnology, and thereby help to sustain demand for engineering services in many manufacturing industries.
However, overall growth of employment will be tempered by a declines in employment in some manufacturing sectors.
The need to find alternative fuels to meet increasing energy demand while maintaining environmental sustainability will continue to require the expertise of chemical engineers in oil- and gas-related industries. In addition, the integration of chemical and biological sciences and rapid advances in innovation will create new areas in biotechnology and in medical and pharmaceutical fields for them to work in. Thus, those with a background in biology will have better chances to gain employment.
|Occupational Title||Employment, 2018||Projected Employment, 2028||Change, 2018-28|
A portion of the information on this page is used by permission of the U.S. Department of Labor.