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How to Become a Chemical Engineer

To excel as a chemical engineer, you’ll need excellent communication skills, strong knowledge in the field, and superior observation skills. You’ll also need to be well organized. If you have an interest in chemistry and engineering, a career opportunity as a chemical engineer is a great way to employ your skills. Chemical engineers develop solutions to chemical processes by analyzing data, performing research, and testing.

As a chemical engineer, you’ll typically be designing and troubleshooting processes for making fuels, foods, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and biologicals. The development and production of almost every industrially manufactured product involves the work of chemical engineers, from energy to oil and gas to plastics, water treatment, and more.

Sample job description

Chemical engineers research, develop and manufacture chemicals, drugs, fuels, and a wide variety of other products using scientific and engineering principles. They work with dangerous chemicals, performing tests and analyzing results to ensure product safety to consumers. A chemical engineer has a solid background in chemistry, physics, biology, and mathematics. [Your Company Name] has an opening for an experienced chemical engineer to take our business to new heights. If you are highly creative and have experience researching, implementing, analyzing, and improving chemical processes, equipment, and plants, our open position as a chemical engineer might be a perfect role for you.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Use computer models and other processes to build on the discoveries of chemists by testing products and determining their safety for consumers and the environment
  • Research new methods of manufacturing chemicals
  • Estimate production costs
  • Design and implement safety procedures for employees working with potentially hazardous chemicals
  • Ensure compliance with health, safety, and environmental regulations
  • Design and plan equipment layout
  • Monitor and optimize production processes

Education and experience

This position requires a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and coursework in chemistry, physics, math, and computers. Some employers prefer that candidates have a master’s degree or PhD for certain positions.

Required skills and qualifications

  • Analytical, problem-solving, and critical-thinking skills
  • Proficient in advanced mathematics
  • Teamwork and interpersonal communication skills
  • Strong technical writing ability
  • Experience with database and spreadsheet software
  • Demonstrated expertise in solving complex technical problems

Preferred qualifications

  • Master’s degree in engineering
  • Strong attention to detail
  • Excellent mathematical skills

Typical work environment

Chemical engineers typically work in offices, laboratories, or on-site at industrial plants, refineries, and other locations. They generally work with or are exposed to hazardous chemicals and wear protective gear, such as gloves and goggles. Most chemical engineers work full time during business hours.

Typical hours

The typical work hours for a chemical engineer are usually from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday in an office setting. However, many chemical engineers work longer hours to hit project deadlines or troubleshoot production issues.

Available certifications

Chemical engineers work in a variety of industries, including manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, electronics, and biotechnology. Many institutions offer certifications to help chemical engineers expand their skills and knowledge. Here are some of the top certifications for chemical engineers: 

  • Certified Chemical Engineer. The National Certification Commission in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering offers this certification that recognizes chemists and chemical engineers who have achieved a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and chemical engineering and have 1 to 3 years of related experience. The certification is valid for 3 years, during which you must participate in continuing education in order to retain certification. 
  • Professional Engineer (PE) License. The PE license is offered by The National Society of Professional Engineers and proves your knowledge and skills as a professional engineer. The PE is awarded to those professionals who demonstrate the highest standard of competence and quality. Eligibility requirements include completion of a four-year college degree from an accredited engineering program, four years of work experience under a professional engineer, and a passing grade on the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam.

Career path

This position requires a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and coursework in chemistry, physics, math, and computers. Employers often prefer that candidates have a master’s degree or Ph.D., as well as a Professional Engineer (PE) license. Obtaining this license requires a passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, on-the-job experience, and a passing score on the Principles and Practice of Engineering Examination. Successful chemical engineers can advance to supervising a team of engineers and receive greater independence to design and evaluate projects and processes.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 17-2041

2020 Employment26,300
Projected Employment in 203028,700
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 9% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift2,400 increase

According to the industry website Interesting Engineering, one trend that will affect all engineering sectors soon, including Chemical Engineering, is the increasing use of the Internet of Things (IoT). Smart devices are impacting the metrics to measure factories’ productivity. Another growing trend in engineering is the use of renewable energy. An estimated 19 percent of power in the U.S. will come from renewable sources like wind, solar, and hydropower in 2020, and renewable energy technology is expected to become even more popular. This trend should lead to new battery technology as well as advances in power grid management.