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Chemical engineer

Chemical process engineer

Chemical engineers develop and convert raw materials into a range of useful products. A chemical engineer changes the chemical, biochemical and physical state of a substance to turn it into something else, such as making plastic from oil.

Average salary*

£30000

-

£80000

Typical hours per week

39-41

How to become a chemical engineer

There are several routes to becoming a chemical engineer. You could do a university course, an apprenticeship or work towards the role.

You should explore these routes to find out which is the right one for you. Although some of these options have certain qualification requirements, many employers are more interested in people who are enthusiastic, willing to learn and can follow instructions.

You may need a Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card to work on a construction site.

University

To become a chemical engineer you will usually need an undergraduate or postgraduate qualification in chemical engineering, process engineering or biochemical engineering.

You will usually need:

  • 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent, including English, maths and science
  • 2 or 3 A levels, or equivalent, including chemistry
  • a degree in a relevant subject for postgraduate study.

To gain chartered status as your career develops, your degree should be accredited by the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE).

You may be able to do a postgraduate conversion course if you have a degree in a related area like engineering, chemistry or polymer science.

Some universities offer a foundation year for people without qualifications in maths and science, which allows them to move onto the degree course afterwards.

Apprenticeship

You could complete a science industry process and plant engineer degree apprenticeship to become a chemical engineer.

You'll usually need 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) and A levels, or equivalent, for a higher or degree apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships are open to anyone over the age of 16. As an apprentice, you will be fully employed by your company and expected to work a minimum of 30 hours a week. Your time will be split between on-the-job experience and a university or training provider.

Work

You could start as a chemical engineering technician and do training on the job to qualify as a chemical engineer.

Work experience

Employers look for graduates with relevant work experience, with many recruiting candidates from their own work placement schemes. Work experience will give you the opportunity to put the skills that you’ve learnt into practice, learn about the different areas of the job, develop soft skills and build a network of contacts.

Short work experience placements usually last between 6 to 12 weeks. Some courses offer include a year out in industry, offering the opportunity to work on more extensive projects.

Skills 

  • Additional skills which may benefit anyone considering a job as a chemical engineer include: 
  • Knowledge of engineering science and technology
  • Knowledge of chemistry including the safe use and disposal of chemicals
  • Analytical thinking skills
  • To be thorough and pay attention to detail
  • An understanding of engineering principals and mathematics
  • Strong IT skills
  • Project management skills
  • Oral and written communication skills
  • Design skills and knowledge
  • The ability to work well under pressure.

What does a chemical engineer do?

As a chemical engineer, you will be responsible for developing new industrial processes and designing new process plants and equipment or modifying existing ones. The processes you come up with will be used to create a wide range of products. You will use cutting-edge technology, helping to pioneer valuable new materials and techniques.

The job role of a chemical engineer involves the following duties: 

  • Testing new ways to develop products in the laboratory
  • Working with design engineers to create production equipment and instruments
  • Collecting data to improve and modify products
  • Using simulation software to work out the best production methods
  • Investigating and troubleshooting process problems
  • Supervising plant operations
  • Planning how to move from lab tests to pilot production
  • Researching new products from trial through to commercialisation
  • Design, install and commission new product plants
  • Assessing safety and environmental issues
  • Developing methods to safely deal with by-products and waste materials.

How much could you earn as a Chemical engineer?

The expected salary for a chemical engineer varies as you become more experienced.

  • Newly trained chemical engineers can earn £30,000 - £35,000
  • Trained chemical engineers with some experience can earn £35,000 - £55,000
  • Senior chemical engineers can earn £60,000 - £80,000+

Hours and salary depend on location, employer and any overtime you may do.

* Salaries have been collected from multiple industry sources


Jobs

Check out the latest chemical engineer vacancies: 

As these are external websites, the number of vacancies related to your preferred role may vary. New opportunities will be posted as they come up.

Career path and progression

As a chemical engineer, you could progress to a senior process or design engineer, or a research and development manager. With enough experience, you could become a plant manager or overall operations manager. 


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