Chemical engineer

Chemical engineers develop ways to turn raw materials into everyday products.

Salary, a pound sign Salary: £29,000 to £60,000 average per year
Hours, a clock face Hours: 40 per week

1. Entry requirements

You’ll normally need an Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) or Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) accredited BEng degree in chemical, process or biochemical engineering.

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.
You could also take an integrated master’s qualification, like an MEng, to prepare you for further postgraduate study like a PhD or EngD.

Some universities offer a foundation year for people without qualifications in maths and science. 

Cogent Skills, IChemE, IET and Whynotchemeng have more information on becoming a chemical engineer.

2. Skills required

You’ll need: 

  • 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

3. What you'll do

You’ll be involved in the design, manufacture and operation of processes that turn raw materials into domestic and industrial products.

You could work in a range of industries, like:

  • food and drink
  • pharmaceuticals
  • textiles
  • oil and gas
  • minerals
  • energy and water
  • biotechnology 

You may also research and develop new or improved products.

If you work in research and development, you’ll: 

  • 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’ll:

  • 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, developing anything from new medicines like vaccines and stem cell therapies, to sources of sustainable energy like biofuels.

4. Salary

Starter: £29,000

Experienced: £55,000

Highly Experienced: £60,000 (senior chartered chemical engineer)

These figures are a guide.

5. Working hours, patterns and environment

You’ll 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 shifts, 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 equipment like safety glasses, ear protectors or a hard hat.

6. Career path and progression

With experience, you could progress to senior process or design engineer, research and development manager. You could go on to be a plant manager, or overall operations manager.
You could also move into consultancy work.

Last updated: 10 October 2016