Chemical Engineers: Industries, Salary, and Career Progression

How Many Chemical Engineers Are There?

Chemical engineers work in the oil and gas, manufacturing, design, pulp and paper and petrochemicals industries. They also develop and direct facility operations.

They help to create greener, low-carbon industrial processes, upcycling and more at a scale that will change our world.

Five-year veterans often get their first taste of managerial work and more responsibility in their jobs. Many also start to focus more on people skills.

1. About 1.6 million

Chemical engineers are employed in the oil and gas, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, paper, petrochemicals and food industries. Demand for these engineers largely mirrors the demand for the products produced by manufacturing industries. This field also offers opportunities in alternative energy research, nanotechnology and biotechnology.

Chemical engineering jobs involve designing, testing and supervising industrial processes and production. Other duties include calculating costs and schedules for projects. They may also test product quality and conduct forensic analysis of equipment problems.

Those with five years of experience can specialize in design, production or technical sales. They may become supervisors or take on leadership positions. Those with ten or more years in the field have gained considerable experience and are capable of managing projects from start to finish. They can also help train and supervise new engineers.

2. About 31,700

Chemical engineers conceive and design large-scale manufacturing processes for creating chemicals, fuels, pharmaceuticals, food, paper, clothing and more. Many of these mass-produced items that ordinary people use daily – from electronics and fuel to plastics, medicine and processed foods – wouldn’t exist without their efforts.

Entry-level chemical engineers work under more experienced engineers and must complete on-the-job training as they build their skills and experience. Over time they can advance to supervisory and technical sales positions.

Those who’ve been in the field for five years have become “senior” engineers and are likely involved in research, production, or development. They have gained considerable managerial experience and are largely in charge of operations, management, and personnel. They also have a significant input in product development and engineering decisions.

3. About ten-year veterans

Chemical engineers earn a very competitive salary. Their salaries far exceed the national average for all occupations, according to 2020 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those who choose to move into management will find themselves with even higher salaries.

A comparatively small group of chemical engineers make up the CEOs of major companies, including 3M, Du Pont, Union Carbide, Exxon, Dow Chemical and BF Goodrich. They also have made the news as military leaders, political figures and sportspeople.

These skills are requested frequently by employers in job postings for Chemical Engineer positions. They are considered Hot Technologies. These are the skills that distinguish a professional from their peers. Click on a skill to see how it rates against other skills. The percentage of jobs that request a skill is shown as well.

4. Five-year veterans

Chemical engineers can work in many different industries, including pharmaceuticals and medicine, oil & gas, design and construction, manufacturing, pulp and paper and the chemicals, petrochemicals, plastics and synthetic rubber subsectors. They can also find positions in the military.

They have a reputation for being able to take on any project and make it work. They often have to be creative, however.

A career in chemical engineering requires a high level of technical understanding. A bachelor’s degree is usually sufficient, though a graduate program can be beneficial. If you want to be licensed as a professional engineer, you need to complete four years of work experience and pass an exam. A great way to get first-hand knowledge of a specific industry is through an industrial placement that is available as part of your studies or as an internship.

5. Ten-year veterans

Chemical engineers say that the profession’s job satisfaction ratings are high, partly because they are able to solve big problems. It also requires creativity and the ability to think outside of the box, as the field is highly technical.

By five years into their careers, many chemical engineers have specialized in research, production or development and gained significant management responsibility. They enjoy good salaries, but often wish they could spend more time with family and friends.

Some leave the profession altogether, choosing tangential jobs in fields like finance, data or software development. Others opt for postgraduate study in the areas of science or design, and even medicine. But most continue to thrive in the largely male-dominated field.

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