What Do Chemical Engineers Do and How Much Do They Make?

Job Profile and Career Information for Chemical Engineers

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Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemical engineering to identify and solve technical problems. Chemical engineers work mainly within the chemical and petrochemical industries.

What Is a Chemical Engineer?

Chemical engineers use math, physics, and economics to solve practical problems. The difference between chemical engineers and other types of engineers is that they apply a knowledge of chemistry in addition to other engineering disciplines.

Chemical engineers may be called 'universal engineers' because their scientific and technical mastery is so extensive.

What Do Chemical Engineers Do?

Some chemical engineers make designs and invent new processes. Some construct instruments and facilities. Some plan and operate facilities. Chemical engineers have helped develop atomic science, polymers, paper, dyes, drugs, plastics, fertilizers, foods, textiles, and chemicals. They devise ways to make products from raw materials and ways to convert one material into another useful form. Chemical engineers can make processes more cost effective or more environmentally friendly or more efficient. A chemical engineer can find a niche in any scientific or engineering field.

Chemical Engineer Employment & Salaries

As of 2014, the US Department of Labor estimated there were 34,300 chemical engineers in the United States. At the time of the survey, the average hourly wage for a chemical engineer was $46.81 per hour.

The median annual salary for a chemical engineer was $97,360 as of 2015. 

In 2014, the Institution of Chemical Engineers Salary Survey reported the average salary for a chemical engineer in the UK was £55,500, with a starting salary for a graduate averaging £30,000. College graduates with a chemical engineering degree typical gain high salaries even for first employment.

Educational Requirements for Chemical Engineers

An entry-level chemical engineering job typically requires a college bachelor's degree in engineering. Sometimes a bachelor's degree in chemistry or math or another type of engineering will suffice. A master's degree is helpful.

Additional Requirements for Engineers

In the US, engineers who offer their services directly to the public need to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary, but in general, an engineer must have a degree from a program that is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), four years of relevant work experience, and must pass a state examination.

Job Outlook for Chemical Engineers

Employment of chemical engineers (as well other types of engineers and chemists) is expected to grow at the rate of 2 percent between 2014 and 2024, slower than the average for all occupations. 

Career Advancement in Chemical Engineering

Entry level chemical engineers advance as they assume more independence and responsibility. As they gain experience, solve problems, and develop designs they may move into supervisory positions or may become technical specialists. Some engineers start their own companies. Some move into sales.

Others become team leaders and managers.