Chemical engineers have an important role in almost every industry. They conduct research, analyze data and then formulate processes or design equipment that will turn raw resources into items we all use such as food, medicine, plastic, and clothes, among others. Chemical engineers use their expertise in chemistry and engineering to improve products or create new alternatives. People with a bent toward chemistry and a knack for finding solutions to problems should consider this rewarding profession. If you’d like to know more about the chemical engineering career, here’s our guide to the chemical engineer’s responsibilities, requirements, skills, training and future outlook:
What does a chemical engineer do?
The daily work life of a chemical engineer consists of a variety of activities. They conduct observation and research, and gather facts and other information on any issues and concerns. They also analyze data and appraise the results of their studies to decide on the best solution and corresponding action plan. On a regular basis, they are expected to communicate and collaborate with other professionals and workers. Using computer programs is another essential part of their job. They should be able to organize their daily activities, define objectives, and set their priorities. Chemical engineers also need to record information and keep track of the progress of their initiatives.
As for duties and responsibilities, there are many tasks chemical engineers are accountable for and they use an assortment of tools and technology to accomplish all these. They research on the current condition and efficiency of manufacturing processes and then devise new or better ways of creating products. They also come up with safety measures to ensure the protection and well-being of workers who handle hazardous chemicals. Part of their job is to utilize chemical practices in designing methods for isolating the components of gases or fluids. They use their engineering knowledge to plot the most effective layout for tools and machinery. Chemical engineers also examine and track the efficiency of the procedures used in manufacturing and production. They analyze the cause of any issues in the process and determine the best solution. To make certain that companies and other organizations are conforming to environmental and safety standards, they routinely assess the methods and equipment used.
What is the working environment for a chemical engineer?
A chemical engineer could either be employed in the research and development sector of any industry or he could work in the manufacturing field. Chemical engineers usually do most of their work in offices and laboratories. They do however also visit plants and factories to monitor processes, identify problems or implement solutions.
Full-time work is required for chemical engineers and the working hours may vary depending if you’re in a manufacturing firm. However, they may need to extend their working hours if there is an issue or problem that needs to be resolved. Since they will at times be in situations where they handle or are in close proximity to dangerous chemicals or machines, they should always be attired in the proper safety gear.
What values and skills will a chemical engineer need?
To become a successful at their chosen career, aspiring chemical engineers must have certain qualities and abilities. Chemical engineers need to be adept at analysis and logical thinking to ascertain problems and underlying causes. Since people will be counting on chemical engineers to solve issues, they need to be trustworthy and committed to their duties. They also have to be meticulous so they can pay close attention to details. When it’s necessary to share information, they must be truthful and transparent about their data and conclusions. Some problems will also take time to solve so perseverance is needed as well. Changes will eventually be done to improve any product or process so chemical engineers must be willing to adapt and grow. The job will also include accepting directions from supervisors and at the same time, giving instructions to workers so it’s important to be cooperative and maintain a positive working relationship with colleagues. Creativity and resourcefulness are also imperative to find other ways of approaching a problem or implementing a solution.
Chemical engineers must be capable of classifying and organizing information, facts and data. They should also have an aptitude for using mathematical formulas. Another useful skill is being able to foresee potential problems. In addition, they will constantly utilize a combination of deduction and induction skills to be able to put information together and form conclusions. Good chemical engineers can also express their ideas and recommendations well orally or in writing.
What kind of education is needed?
Anyone interested in becoming a chemical engineer should enroll in a program that would lead to a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. This program takes about four years and it should be one certified by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.
Students seriously considering this career should begin preparation in high school by focusing on math and sciences and aiming to receive excellent marks in these areas. In college, students will learn through lectures, field studies, projects and engineering laboratory work.
In general, students have to become knowledgeable in chemistry, engineering concepts and the use of technology including computers, mathematical formulas and problem solving, technical design, and the operation of mechanical equipment, plus management of people and resources in the business setting.
Their courses are composed of topics in biology, thermodynamics, heat and mass transport, and chemical engineering design, as well as pollution prevention and chemical process control since chemical engineers should also be environmentally responsible. Chemistry subjects specifically include organic, physical and analytical chemistry while mathematical courses which are vital for mastering formulas and developing reasoning are calculus and physics. The engineering subjects consist of the study and application of chemical processes and reactions among others.
What type of training is required?
Students majoring in chemical engineering are highly encouraged to gain hands-on experience through internships or any co-operative education program offered by the college. Students training as interns are mentored and supervised by professional chemical engineers. They learn about the application of their knowledge to real-life settings and they become familiar with business practices as well. Aside from the confidence and knowledge these students gain, and the useful skills they learn, graduates with practical experience have a higher chance of being employed. Another advantage of internship programs is that some companies who are impressed with the performance and potential of their student intern do eventually offer full-time employment.
What licenses and certifications do chemical engineers need to take?
A license is not necessarily required for chemical engineers when they start working. However, if they wish to advance in their career or provide their services to the public instead of working for a company, they will need to take the licensure exam. Upon graduating, students can take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. After they receive a passing mark, they will need to acquire at least four years’ work experience for them to take the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam. Once they pass the PE exam, they will now have the title of Professional Engineer. The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) is in charge of administering both exams. Several states may oblige engineers to continue their education for them to renew the license.
What are the career advancement options for a chemical engineer?
Chemical engineers starting out in their career will typically be supervised by more experienced professional engineers. They can gain more independence and be trusted with more challenging projects as they grow in experience and improve in skill.
To get better job opportunities and advance in their career, chemical engineers can choose to earn a master’s degree in chemical engineering. Master’s degree programs in engineering may take one to two years and afterwards, the engineer will be qualified for leadership positions in the company. He may also opt to obtain a teaching position at a college or university. There are some universities that also offer programs where you can study for both the undergraduate and the master’s degree at the same time, and it will only take five years. A PhD in chemical engineering is available as well for those who want to study further. These doctorate programs can take five to six years and will consist of extensive research and more challenging projects.
What is the job outlook for chemical engineers?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of the year 2014, there are about 34,000 chemical engineers employed in various fields. The industries that hire the most number of chemical engineers are manufacturing, followed by professional, scientific and technical services. The BLS has predicted that between the years 2014 to 2024, there will be a 2-4% growth in job opportunities for chemical engineers. Although this is slower than average compared to other careers, it still equates to about 10,000 job openings. The skills chemical engineers provide will always be necessary especially for the manufacturing industry. Additionally, chemical engineers have transferable skills which they can also use if they wish to shift to other careers like pharmaceutical or biotechnology.
How much is the salary of a chemical engineer?
Entry-level chemical engineers can expect to earn slightly less than $59,000 annually while more experienced engineers in non-supervisory positions may earn around $96,000. This is according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2014 and it’s a better than average rate when compared to the median salary across all occupations. The industries that offer the highest pay for chemical engineers are in the oil and gas sector as well as chemicals manufacturing and petroleum and coal products.