As a Chemical Engineer, you will be concerned with the processes that cause changes in the chemical or physical make-up of substances. You'll use this knowledge to produce a wide range of everyday products, including plastics, fibres, dyes, drugs and medicines, paints, household cleaners and detergents.
Also known as
- Engineer, Chemical
- Process Engineering Technician
Video: - Elizabeth: Chemical Engineer
Video: - Kate: Chemical Engineer
As a Chemical Engineer, you will change raw materials into products that we use in our everyday lives. You'll use Scientists' laboratory discoveries and work out how to use these new findings to create products in a safe and cost-effective way.
You'll help to create and develop the processes that are used to make a huge range of products, including artificial fibres, detergents, food and drink, fuels, household cleaners, paints, pharmaceuticals and plastics.
You could be leading a specialised team of other professionals and get involved in every stage of a project.
When you are responsible for designing a new chemical process, you will need to think carefully about its eventual cost, safety and any impact on the environment that it may have. - research is an important part of your work.
To put a process plant into action involves the detailed design of the chemical reactors, heat exchangers, separation systems, storage vessels and all the other types of equipment that are used in the process plant.
You will need to pay a great deal of attention to safety. This includes managing the control systems that are needed for the safe and economic operation of the process.
Once a plant has been commissioned, you will be responsible for its management and operation, and often for leading teams of Technicians, Plant Ooperators and Maintenance staff.
You'll also work on project design, for example, deciding whether a product should be made as a solid, a liquid or a spray. Design work involves the use of computer-aided design (CAD) technology.
Chemical Engineers work closely with other experts. For example, they may be involved with Civil Engineers to provide foundations, access roads and structures to support the various plant items.
You might work with Mechanical Engineers on the design, development and installation of specialist equipment, and with electrical engineers on the supply of power.
You may also work with Scientists in process and product development, or perhaps with Accountants and marketing professionals to consider the commercial aspects of production.
You will have a vital role to play in protecting the environment. You'll work on ways to sustain natural resources, recycle materials and find new renewable resources. You will aim to develop alternative technologies to solve problems, such as climate change and acid rain.
Work takes place in offices, factories, laboratories and/or at a construction site or plant.
Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.
Personal Qualities and Skills
To become a Chemical Engineer, you need:
- to enjoy solving problems and have a creative mind to think of new ways to solve them
- to be committed to keeping up to date with advances in this fast-changing area
- to work well as part of a team
- strong communication and interpersonal skills to interact with engineers and Scientists from other disciplines
- management skills, including the ability to lead and motivate others
- an excellent grasp of modern technology
- a commitment to protecting the environment and a knowledge of issues like acid rain, lead pollution and climate change
- a knowledge of health and safety issues
Pay and Opportunities
The pay rates given below are approximate.
- Starting: £30,000 - £34,500
- With experience: £36,500 - £43,000
- Senior Chemical Engineers earn £46,000 - £50,500
Hours of work
Chemical Engineers work around 35-40 hours a week, Monday to Friday. However, early starts, late finishes and some weekend work may be required, especially as deadlines approach.
Where could I work?
Employers are firms in every industry in which materials undergo chemical or physical change, from paints, polymers and petroleum to beer and breakfast cereals.
Other employers are firms in the chemical and allied products field, oil industry, pharmaceuticals and toiletries, process plants and related equipment, energy and nuclear fuels, materials industries (plastics, metals and ceramics, etc), the water industry, and food and drink manufacture.
Opportunities for Chemical Engineers occur with employers in towns and cities throughout the UK.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Vacancies are advertised in local/national newspapers, on recruitment and employers' websites, and on Find a Job (www.gov.uk/jobsearch).
GreenJobs is a job board aimed at people interested in green careers:
Social media websites, such as LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, are a great way to network, find vacancies and get in contact with possible employers. Make sure that your profile presents you in a professional manner that will appeal to potential employers.
Take a look at our General Information Article
Entry Routes and Training
Chemical Engineers usually complete a relevant engineering degree, foundation degree or HND, such as chemical engineering. Some courses combine chemical engineering with biochemical or environmental engineering.
If you don't have the necessary qualifications to gain entry directly onto a chemical engineering degree course, some institutions offer a foundation programme, which should progress onto an accredited degree course.
It's essential to check college/university websites carefully to make sure the course you choose is relevant to the branch of engineering you want to follow.
Some graduates join graduate training schemes, which offer structured training and learning.
Depending on their level of entry, Chemical Engineers can gain Chartered Engineer (CEng) or Incorporated Engineer (IEng) professional status. Both are highly regarded by employers throughout industry.
Incorporated Engineers are less common in chemical engineering than in other engineering areas, and form a minority group in terms of membership of the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE).
To register as a CEng or an IEng, you must join a relevant, professional engineering institution licensed by the Engineering Council, such as the IChemE.
To become a CEng or an IEng, you need to demonstrate the appropriate competence and commitment. The standards for this are set out in the Engineering Council's UK-SPEC document, which can be downloaded from their website.
UK-SPEC and the engineering institution you've joined can tell you which qualifications are accredited or approved towards CEng or IEng status. Your engineering institution will also advise you on, and process, your application.
Routes to CEng status include completing:
- an accredited honours degree in engineering or technology, plus either an appropriate masters degree or engineering doctorate (EngD) accredited by a professional engineering institution, or appropriate further learning to masters level
- or, an accredited integrated MEng degree
Routes to IEng status include completing:
- an accredited bachelors or honours degree in engineering or technology
- or, an HNC, HND or foundation degree in engineering or technology, plus appropriate further learning to degree level
- or, an NVQ level 4, which has been approved by a licensed engineering institution
However, you can still become a CEng or an IEng if you don't have these academic qualifications. Further information about the assessment process can be found in UK-SPEC.
A great way to get into this career is through an internship. Take a look at our information article '
Depending on their qualification, Chemical Engineers can progress by taking on more responsibility for the management of engineering projects and teams of engineers.
Some Chemical Engineers choose to become self-employed or take contract work on a freelance basis.
Previous experience within an engineering position (such as an electrical, chemical and mechanical) would be useful for this career.
To enter a degree course in chemical engineering, the usual requirement is:
- 3 A levels
- GCSEs in your A level subjects at grade C/4 or above
- a further 2/3 GCSEs at grade C/4 or above
- maths and chemistry are usually required at A level, and either physics or biology is often preferable, although some universities are flexible with the third subject
- English, maths and a science subject are usually required at GCSE at grade C/4 or above
Check college/university websites carefully for exact requirements.
Other qualifications, such as a relevant BTEC level 3 qualification or the International Baccalaureate Diploma are often accepted.
Some universities accept the Welsh Baccalaureate as equivalent to 1 A .
It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.
If you don't have the qualifications needed to enter your chosen degree or HND course, a college or university Access course (eg, Access to Engineering) could be the way in.
These courses are designed for people who have not followed the usual routes into higher education. No formal qualifications are usually needed, but you should check this with individual colleges.
Teesside University offers a BEng (Hons) in Chemical Engineering through part-time evening classes.
The University of Birmingham offers an MSc in Biochemical Engineering by part-time study.
A number of centres offer an HNC in Chemical Process Engineering by distance learning.
Information on pathways to registration as a Chartered (CEng) or Incorporated (IEng) Engineer can be found on the Engineering Council's website.
Sponsorship for higher education study in chemical engineering is available from the larger engineering and manufacturing companies. Funding for postgraduate courses is available through universities from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
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