Chemical Engineers

Summary

chemical engineers image
Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry, biology, physics, and math to solve problems involving the production of chemicals, fuel, drugs, food, and many other products.
Quick Facts: Chemical Engineers
2015 Median Pay $97,360 per year
$46.81 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2014 34,300
Job Outlook, 2014-24 2% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 600

What Chemical Engineers Do

Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry, biology, physics, and math to solve problems that involve the production or use of chemicals, fuel, drugs, food, and many other products. They design processes and equipment for large-scale manufacturing, plan and test production methods and byproducts treatment, and direct facility operations.

Work Environment

Chemical engineers work mostly in offices or laboratories. They may spend time at industrial plants, refineries, and other locations, where they monitor or direct operations or solve onsite problems. Nearly all chemical engineers work full time.

How to Become a Chemical Engineer

Chemical engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. Employers also value practical experience. Therefore, internships and cooperative engineering programs can be helpful.

Pay

The median annual wage for chemical engineers was $97,360 in May 2015.

Job Outlook

Employment of chemical engineers is projected to grow 2 percent from 2014 to 2024, slower than the average for all occupations. Demand for chemical engineers’ services depends largely on demand for the products of various manufacturing industries.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for chemical engineers.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of chemical engineers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about chemical engineers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Chemical Engineers Do About this section

Chemical engineers
Chemical engineers develop and design chemical manufacturing processes.

Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics to solve problems that involve the production or use of chemicals, fuel, drugs, food, and many other products. They design processes and equipment for large-scale manufacturing, plan and test production methods and byproducts treatment, and direct facility operations.

Duties

Chemical engineers typically do the following:

  • Conduct research to develop new and improved manufacturing processes
  • Develop safety procedures for those working with dangerous chemicals
  • Develop processes for separating components of liquids and gases, or for generating electrical currents, by using controlled chemical processes
  • Design and plan the layout of equipment
  • Conduct tests and monitor the performance of processes throughout production
  • Troubleshoot problems with manufacturing processes
  • Evaluate equipment and processes to ensure compliance with safety and environmental regulations
  • Estimate production costs for management

Some chemical engineers specialize in a particular process, such as oxidation (a reaction of oxygen with chemicals to make other chemicals) or polymerization (making plastics and resins). Others specialize in a particular field, such as nanomaterials (extremely small substances) or biological engineering. Still others specialize in developing specific products.

In addition, chemical engineers work in the production of energy, electronics, food, clothing, and paper. They must understand how the manufacturing process affects the environment and the safety of workers and consumers.

Chemical engineers also conduct research in the life sciences, biotechnology, and business services.

Work Environment About this section

Chemical engineers
Chemical engineers generally work in offices or laboratory settings, although sometimes they must work in an industrial setting to oversee production.

Chemical engineers held about 34,300 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most chemical engineers were as follows:

Engineering services 16%
Basic chemical manufacturing 14
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 10
Petroleum and coal products manufacturing 7
Resin, synthetic rubber, and artificial synthetic fibers and filaments manufacturing 7

Chemical engineers work mostly in offices or laboratories. They may spend time at industrial plants, refineries, and other locations, where they monitor or direct operations or solve onsite problems. Chemical engineers must be able to work with those who design other systems and with the technicians and mechanics who put the designs into practice.

Some engineers travel extensively to plants or worksites, both domestically and abroad.

Injuries and Illnesses

Chemical engineers can be exposed to health or safety hazards when handling certain chemicals and plant equipment, but such exposure can be avoided if proper procedures are followed.

Work Schedules

Nearly all chemical engineers work full time. Occasionally, they may have to work additional hours to meet production targets and design standards or to troubleshoot problems with manufacturing processes.

How to Become a Chemical Engineer About this section

Chemical engineers
Becoming a chemical engineer requires a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, preferably supplemented with practical experience.

Chemical engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. Employers also value practical experience, so internships and cooperative engineering programs, in which students earn college credit and experience, can be helpful.

Education

Chemical engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. Programs usually take 4 years to complete and include classroom, laboratory, and field studies. High school students interested in studying chemical engineering will benefit from taking science courses, such as chemistry, physics, and biology. They also should take math courses, including algebra, trigonometry, and calculus.

At some universities, students can opt to enroll in 5-year programs that lead to both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. A graduate degree, which may include a degree up to the Ph.D. level, allows an engineer to work in research and development or as a postsecondary teacher.

Some colleges and universities offer internships and cooperative programs in partnership with industry. In these programs, students gain practical experience while completing their education.

ABET accredits engineering programs. ABET-accredited programs in chemical engineering include courses in chemistry, physics, and biology. These programs also include applying the sciences to the design, analysis, and control of chemical, physical, and biological processes.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Chemical engineers must be able to troubleshoot designs that do not work as planned. They must be able to ask the right questions and then find answers that work.

Creativity. Chemical engineers must be able to explore new ways of applying engineering principles. They work to invent new materials, advanced manufacturing techniques, and new applications in chemical and biomedical engineering.

Ingenuity. Chemical engineers learn the broad concepts of chemical engineering, but their work requires them to apply those concepts to specific production problems.

Interpersonal skills. Because their role is to put scientific principles into practice in manufacturing industries, chemical engineers must develop good working relationships with other workers involved in production processes.

Math skills. Chemical engineers use the principles of calculus and other advanced topics in mathematics for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.

Problem-solving skills. In designing equipment and processes for manufacturing, these engineers must be able to anticipate and identify problems, including such issues as workers’ safety and problems related to manufacturing and environmental protection.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Licensure for chemical engineers is not as common as it is for other engineering occupations, nor is it required for entry-level positions. A Professional Engineering (PE) license, which allows for higher levels of leadership and independence, can be acquired later in one’s career. Licensed engineers are called professional engineers (PEs). A PE can oversee the work of other engineers, sign off on projects, and provide services directly to the public. State licensure generally requires

  • A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience, typically at least 4 years
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam

The initial FE exam can be taken after one earns a bachelor’s degree. Engineers who pass this exam commonly are called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After meeting work experience requirements, EITs and EIs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering.

Several states require engineers to take continuing education to keep their license. Most states recognize licensure from other states if the licensing state’s requirements meet or exceed their own licensure requirements.

Advancement

Entry-level engineers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers. In large companies, new engineers also may receive formal training in classrooms or seminars. As junior engineers gain knowledge and experience, they move to more difficult projects with greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions.

Eventually, chemical engineers may advance to supervise a team of engineers and technicians. Some may become architectural and engineering managers. However, preparing for management positions usually requires working under the guidance of a more experienced chemical engineer.

An engineering background enables chemical engineers to discuss a product’s technical aspects and assist in product planning and use. For more information, see the profile on sales engineers.

Pay About this section

Chemical Engineers

Median annual wages, May 2015

Chemical engineers

$97,360

Engineers

$90,060

Total, all occupations

$36,200

 

The median annual wage for chemical engineers was $97,360 in May 2015. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $59,470, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $157,160.

In May 2015, the median annual wages for chemical engineers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Petroleum and coal products manufacturing $110,220
Engineering services 103,600
Resin, synthetic rubber, and artificial synthetic fibers and filaments manufacturing 99,780
Basic chemical manufacturing 98,740
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 97,100

A 2015 survey report by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers indicated that the median yearly salary of those with no supervisory responsibility was $106,300.

Nearly all chemical engineers work full time. Occasionally, they may have to work additional hours to meet production targets and design standards or to troubleshoot problems with manufacturing processes.

Job Outlook About this section

Chemical Engineers

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Total, all occupations

7%

Engineers

4%

Chemical engineers

2%

 

Employment of chemical engineers is projected to grow 2 percent from 2014 to 2024, slower than the average for all occupations. Demand for chemical engineers’ services depends largely on demand for the products of various manufacturing industries. The ability of these engineers to stay on the forefront of new emerging technologies will sustain employment growth.

Many chemical engineers work in industries that have output sought by many manufacturing firms. For instance, they work for firms that manufacture plastic resins, used to increase fuel efficiency in automobiles. Increased availability of domestically produced natural gas should increase manufacturing potential in the industries employing these engineers.

In addition, chemical engineering is migrating into new fields, such as nanotechnology, alternative energies, and biotechnology, thereby helping to sustain demand for engineering services in many manufacturing industries.

However, overall growth of employment will be tempered by a decline in employment in manufacturing sectors, including chemical manufacturing.

Job Prospects

The need to find alternative fuels to meet increasing energy demand while maintaining environmental sustainability will continue to require the expertise of chemical engineers in oil- and gas-related industries. In addition, the integration of chemical and biological sciences and rapid advances in innovation will create new areas in biotechnology and in medical and pharmaceutical fields for them to work in. Thus, those with a background in biology will have better chances to gain employment. Chemical engineers should have favorable job prospects as many workers in the occupation reach retirement age from 2014 to 2024.

Employment projections data for chemical engineers, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Chemical engineers

17-2041 34,300 34,900 2 600 [XLSX]

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of chemical engineers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2015 MEDIAN PAY Help
Architectural and engineering managers

Architectural and Engineering Managers

Architectural and engineering managers plan, direct, and coordinate activities in architectural and engineering companies.

Bachelor's degree $132,800
Biomedical engineers

Biomedical Engineers

Biomedical engineers combine engineering principles with medical and biological sciences to design and create equipment, devices, computer systems, and software used in healthcare.

Bachelor's degree $86,220
Chemical technicians

Chemical Technicians

Chemical technicians use special instruments and techniques to help chemists and chemical engineers research, develop, produce, and test chemical products and processes.

Associate's degree $44,660
Chemists and materials scientists

Chemists and Materials Scientists

Chemists and materials scientists study substances at the atomic and molecular levels and the ways in which the substances interact with one another. They use their knowledge to develop new and improved products and to test the quality of manufactured goods.

Bachelor's degree $72,610
Nuclear engineers

Nuclear Engineers

Nuclear engineers research and develop the processes, instruments, and systems used to derive benefits from nuclear energy and radiation. Many of these engineers find industrial and medical uses for radioactive materials—for example, in equipment used in medical diagnosis and treatment.

Bachelor's degree $102,950
Occupational health and safety specialists

Occupational Health and Safety Specialists

Occupational health and safety specialists analyze many types of work environments and work procedures. Specialists inspect workplaces for adherence to regulations on safety, health, and the environment. They also design programs to prevent disease or injury to workers and damage to the environment.

Bachelor's degree $70,210

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information on becoming a chemical engineer, visit

American Institute of Chemical Engineers

For information about general engineering education and career resources, visit

American Society for Engineering Education

Technology Student Association

For more information about licensure as a professional engineer, visit

National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying

National Society of Professional Engineers

For information about accredited engineering programs, visit

ABET

O*NET

Chemical Engineers

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Chemical Engineers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/chemical-engineers.htm (visited December 04, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015

What They Do

The What They Do tab describes the typical duties and responsibilities of workers in the occupation, including what tools and equipment they use and how closely they are supervised. This tab also covers different types of occupational specialties.

Work Environment

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How to Become One

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Pay

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State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's Career InfoNet.

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Similar Occupations

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Contacts for More Information

The More Information tab provides the Internet addresses of associations, government agencies, unions, and other organizations that can provide additional information on the occupation. This tab also includes links to relevant occupational information from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).

2015 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2015, the median annual wage for all workers was $36,200.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2014

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2014, which is the base year of the 2014-24 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2014-24

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

2015 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2015, the median annual wage for all workers was $36,200.