Chemical engineering is in many ways the archetypal science job, right down to the traditional white lab coat. It is also a very stimulating field of work; writing in the Guardian, Samantha Tyson of the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) described chemical engineering as “all about turning raw materials into useful, everyday products”.
Qualified chemical engineers can also look forward to decent remuneration - a recent IChemE salary survey found that starting wages average somewhere in the region of £29,500 per year. More experienced chartered chemical engineers can expect to earn as much as £70,000, or even higher in certain industries (such as oil and contracting).
But how does one become a chemical engineer in the first place?
As with other science jobs, you need the right characteristics.
Don't be fooled too much by the 'chemical' bit of this particular job title - if you wish to become a chemical engineer, strong mathematical abilities are just as important as a firm grasp of chemistry. According to Tyson, maths, physics and chemistry are the most common A-levels taken by chemical engineering students.
But you will also need many other, often more general skills and attributes to secure a job in chemical engineering. These range from project and resource management skills and oral and written communication skills to analytical skills, problem solving, and the ability to work as part of a team.
Graduates seeking chemical engineering jobs will also be expected to possess strong IT skills, commercial and business awareness and the capacity to motivate and lead a team.
What qualifications will you require?
You won't normally be able to secure a role as a chemical engineer unless you have a BEng degree or a BTEC HNC or HND in chemical or process engineering. Admission to a chemical engineering degree course generally depends on you having at least five A*-C GCSEs, as well as two A-levels (including maths and at least one science subject).
If you lack maths and science qualifications, some universities offer a foundation year to help get you up to speed. As always, you should double-check the exact entry requirements with individual colleges.
It can be advantageous for those wishing to build an especially lucrative career in chemical engineering to also possess a master's degree (MEng) in addition to a first degree in chemical engineering. Those with a degree in a different branch of engineering (or a related subject such as chemistry or polymer science) may opt to take an MSc postgraduate degree in chemical or process engineering to boost their career prospects.
Chemical engineering is an extremely diverse field of work.
It's difficult to sum up everything that chemical engineers do in just a few lines. Depending on the exact role and sector in which you work, you may find yourself...
- Designing plant and equipment configuration
- Setting up scale-up and scale-down processes
- Assessing options for plant expansion
- Applying new technologies and researching new products
...among an incredibly wide range of other potential duties.
There are plenty of opportunities for progression, too. According to the National Careers Service, these include becoming a senior process or design engineer; progressing into a research and development manager role; or becoming a plant manager or overall operations manager. Consultancy work is another option.
Remember that Hyper Recruitment Solutions is a leading science recruitment agency serving those on the lookout for all manner of engineering roles, including process or chemical engineering. Click through to learn more about our in-depth expertise in this area.