30-40 per week
£28,000 + per year
As a chemical or process engineer you would research and design the machinery and processes used to turn raw materials into everyday products such as fuel, plastics and food. If you are interested in chemistry and enjoy solving problems then this could be the career for you.
You’ll be using your knowledge of maths and science to help you analyse problems and come up with solutions. Good management skills will help you to successfully manage projects, budgets and people.
To become a chemical engineer, you would usually need an accredited BEng degree in chemical or process engineering.
As a chemical engineer you would be involved in the design, manufacture and operation of processes that turn raw materials into domestic and industrial products, for example in food manufacturing, gas production and refining of minerals. You may also be involved in the research and development of new or improved products.
If you work in research and development, you would:
- test new ways to develop products in the lab
- use computer models to work out the safest and most cost-effective production methods
- plan how to move lab tests into a pilot production phase, then on to large-scale industrial processing
- develop methods to deal with by-products and waste materials in a safe way.
In manufacturing, you would:
- work with plant designers to create equipment and control instruments for the production process
- help to oversee the day-to-day operation of the processing plant
- monitor production and deal with problems
- work closely with quality control and health and safety managers.
You could also work in biochemical engineering which is a developing branch of chemical engineering. Biochemical engineers develop anything from new medicines such as vaccines and stem cell therapies to sources of sustainable energy like biofuels.
Depending on the size of your employer, you may only be responsible for the research or the manufacturing side. You could also be managing a team of chemical engineering technicians.
In research and development you would usually work 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. You may need to work overtime to meet project deadlines. In processing and manufacturing, you might work on a shift system, including weekends, evenings and nights.
You could be based in a lab, an office or a processing plant. In some environments you may need to wear protective clothing or use safety equipment such as safety glasses, ear protectors or a hard hat.
Graduate salaries start at around £28,000 a year.
Experienced engineers can earn around £53,000 a year or more.
Senior chartered chemical engineers can earn over £60,000 a year.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
To become a chemical engineer, you would normally need an accredited BEng degree in chemical, process or biochemical engineering.
To get onto a relevant degree, you would usually need at least five GCSEs (grades A-C), and three A levels including maths, chemistry and possibly, another science subject. Some universities offer a foundation year for people without qualifications in maths and science. Check with colleges or universities for their exact entry requirements. Visit the UCAS website for information about courses and the universities that offer them.
Visit the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) and the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), for lists of accredited courses.
Integrated master’s qualifications such as an MEng can also be studied at university. These courses incorporate more independent research and will give you a greater knowledge and understanding of chemical engineering science. They could also prepare you for further postgraduate study such as a PhD or EngD.
If you have a degree in a different branch of engineering, or a related subject like chemistry or polymer science, a postgraduate qualification in chemical or process engineering may increase your chances of finding work. Visit Cogent, IChemE and IET websites for more career information.
Visit the Whynotchemeng website to out about the career pathways of some chemical engineers.
Training and development
Once you are working, you would be trained on the job by your employer, possibly through a structured graduate training scheme.
Working towards incorporated or chartered status could improve your career prospects. As an incorporated engineer, you would specialise in the day-to-day management of engineering operations. At chartered level, you would have a more strategic role, planning, researching and developing new ideas, and improving management methods. Visit the Engineering Council website for eligibility criteria.
IChemE and IET also offer a range of short continuing professional development (CPD) courses, conferences and seminars to help you to develop your skills and knowledge throughout your career.
Skills, interests and qualities
To be a chemical engineer you should have:
- maths and science skills, particularly chemistry
- good problem-solving and analytical skills
- planning and organisational ability
- excellent IT skills
- the ability to manage projects, budgets and people
- good spoken and written communication skills
- the ability to work as part of a team
- a clear understanding of the commercial application of science.
Institution of Engineering and Technology
Michael Faraday House
Tel: 01438 313 311
Unit 5, Mandarin Court
Tel: 01925 515200
Institution of Chemical Engineers
165-189 Railway Terrace
Tel: 01788 578214
246 High Holborn
Tel: 020 3206 0400
You could work in a range of industries, which may include:
- food and drink
- oil and gas
- energy and water
With experience, you could progress to senior process or design engineer, research and development manager, or plant manager, and eventually overall operations manager. You could also move into consultancy work.
You may find the following useful for job vacancies and general reading:
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